Feature (2021), Arts Meme

broadbent & mancio, a musical partnership by intuition and osmosis

One of the most sublime vocal albums of this, or any recent, year was released a few months ago. London-based singer and lyricist Georgia Mancio and pianist Alan Broadbent committed duets of nine of their own songs onto Quiet Is The Star (Roomspin). The collaboration is one of the all-too-rare instances where voice, text, piano and music all come together seamlessly to form a chunk of what portends to be a significant songbook. Their collaboration is born of seeds planted nearly fifty years ago. Like the songs themselves, the pairing came about naturally, and timely.

With the late singer Irene Kral, Broadbent ushered in the practice of singers recording with only piano accompaniment. In the era of production-heavy disco and “crossover jazz,” their deeply soulful Where Is Love? (Choice, 1974) was a quiet sensation–due to the high level of musicianship and Spartan production. After her passing in 1978, Broadbent was in demand for his orchestral arrangements and conducting for such as Natalie Cole and Diana Krall (no relation), and his piano accompaniment.

Over the years, Broadbent privately composed songs, but seldom had anywhere to put them. (“Heart’s Desire,” with lyrics by Dave Frishberg, is a notable exception.) Occasionally he’d show a few to lyricists, but wasn’t satisfied with the results. “They weren’t true to the music,” says Broadbent, from his New York home, “They’d want to add syllables and things. I had forty years of tunes that all meant something to me, but they had no life. They stood outside of time.”

One fan of the Kral/Broadbent canon was young singer Georgia Mancio. She knew that music before she turned professional. In 2013, Broadbent was touring Europe, and she reached out to see if he’d consider some gigs. “Perhaps, subconsciously,” Mancio says from London, “there was a circle I needed to close.” Finding musical kinship, they hit it off. “From there,” says Mancio, “we played a couple of festivals and—quite organically—Alan started to send me songs to put lyrics to.”

Walk out your front door these days, throw a rock in most any direction and you’re liable to hit a female jazz singer. The market is saturated like no time in history. But try to find one who sings in tune, knows the song’s harmony, puts the tune before her own ego, stays away from melisma and scat, and doesn’t resort to vocal tricks. You’ll be looking for a long time. Mancio is one of the few.

Her lyrics impressed Broadbent immediately. “Georgia knows what a standard should sound like,” he says. “I instinctively identified with what she came up with.” Mancio’s text is graceful and musical, as on the title song:

As day turns to night, I watch the sky, I see the clouds go by,
They seem to tell us, we too will pass,
We’re only traveling from first to last.
And as they flow, in tomorrow’s glow, so quiet is the star

“I think my lyrics come from a mixture of intuition and osmosis,” says Mancio. “I’m primarily a vocalist, and years of singing other people’s lyrics goes in very deep. I knew what I wanted to say, as much as what I didn’t feel needed repeating.”

Tierney Sutton sang a handful of the songs during Broadbent’s June 2019 Jazz Bakery-sponsored weekend residence at the Moss Theatre. It’s probably the only time the Mancio/Broadbent tunes have been performed on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. Just prior to the Covid shutdown, Mancio and Broadbent reunited for a sold-out night at Ronnie Scott’s in London. The evening had a special meaning for her—she used to work at Ronnie’s, and had dreamed of singing there.

Seven years on, Mancio still marvels at the partnership. In Broadbent, she finds “beauty, depth, emotional engagement, wisdom, patience, honesty, and an acknowledgement that though we are on a quest for perfection, the true character of humanity is often in the flaw.”

“We recognize in each other” she says, “the absolute necessity to be truthful in music and art and life. Thirty-three songs and two albums later, I’m thinking that email was one of my better instincts.”