London Jazz News

Georgia Mancio describes this years Revoice! Festival, featuring Carmen Lundy, Rebecca Parris, Sandra Nkake, Diana Torto, Vinx, and Randolph Matthews, and talks about potential plans for the future in an extensive interview with Nicky Schrire: 

“I’d like to grow the ReVoice! family and partner with more venues. [..] Also given its international identity it seems natural that at some point we could expand outside of the UK with some kind of reciprocal programming.”

Here’s the interview

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LondonJazz NewsGeorgia, a huge congrats on the 5th anniversary celebration of ReVoice! It’s a remarkable achievement and an exciting fixture on the London jazz calendar. Can you summarise the essence of the festival, taking into account the past five years and things you might have learnt/experienced along the way?

Georgia Mancio: ReVoice! is a platform for both artists underrated or unseen in UK and for more established names. It’s a space for vocalists as well as for instrumentalists (often relegated to “sideman” duties) to shine. Over the last 5 years ReVoice! has also come to illustrate its name more literally i.e a chance to voice something again. I’ve learnt how hard it is to get people out to hear artists new to them so a recurring theme has been inviting artists back (mostly with different projects) and creating another opportunity to build an audience in the UK.

On a personal level I’ve learnt and implemented skills I would previously have delegated (photography, design, website maintenance, PR). It’s such a huge undertaking every year and it sometimes becomes all consuming but the way it’s grown, the trust and support Ross Dines at Pizza Express (our co-producers) has awarded me, the audience and press response and the immense artistic development it has given me make for a unique and invaluable experience.

LJN: As the festival’s reputation grows, does it get more difficult to program (more artists, only so few slots)? Or does the exposure mean you have the pick of the litter, so to speak?

GM: I don’t think it’s become more difficult but it’s not really become easier as each edition has its own ebb and flow. The shaping of it is pretty organic as one booking informs another: sometimes things don’t work logistically and I try not to programme ‘similar’ artists together as it potentially splits an audience.

The fact that we now have a solid reputation definitely helps when pitching and I’m very proud to share my past artists’ list which includes Tuck & Patti, Raúl Midón, Gregory Porter, Karin Krog, Norma Winstone, Becca Stevens, Maria Pia de Vito etc!

I think a lot about the audiences but I don’t follow trends. I trust my gut and as I’m an artist first it ultimately comes down to whether I connect to the music and therefore will ‘sell’ it with integrity.

LJN: ReVoice! seems to be organised into three categories this year: established UK performers, international vocalists, and emerging artists. Was this balance across generations and continents intentional, or just a happy coincidence?

GM: Yes intentional! My initial schooling in jazz was playing with and learning from older/more experienced musicians. Now we also have an incredibly sophisticated young scene to learn from again. So yes it’s vital we keep crossing generations as well as genres, nationalities, cultures and sensibilities: that’s always been at the heart of ReVoice!

The programming this year has also been informed by the inclusion of our shows at Watermill Jazz in Dorking, Chris Ingham’s Headhunters night in Bury St Edmunds and the 606 Club as well as our main residency at the Pizza Express. In collaboration with each of these promoters we’ve tailored ReVoice! to suit their audiences and vision and it’s been great for me to stretch my concept again.

LJN: How did the international contingent of the festival-Rebecca Parris, Sandra Nkake, Diana Torto, Vinx and Carmen Lundy-come to your attention?

GM: Rebecca Parris returns from our very first edition in 2010. She is the archetypal jazz singer: championed by Carmen McRae with credits including Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Herman, Buddy Rich and Gary Burton and yet still ridiculously undervalued.

Also returning is Diana Torto from ReVoice! 2012 where she played the music of and with Kenny Wheeler. Her voice is at once delicate and strong and always beautiful. She continues her 10 year partnership with John Taylor to explore his arrangements of Paul McCartney’s work with the brilliant Julian Siegel.

Carmen Lundy is someone I’ve seen perform a lot over the years and it’s a great honour to host her. She has a totally individual sound and approach and where there is still a gender imbalance in this scene, she is a trailblazing and prolific composer and artist.

Alex Webb (Cafe Society Swing) mentioned Sandra Nkake quite a while ago and then I came across her work again totally (and happily) by chance. I think the combination of her dramatic, nuanced voice with her acting background and the Film Noir theme of her show will make for a standout performance.

Both Jazzwise and Jazz FM suggested Vinx and when I read Stevie Wonder’s testimonial – “Vinx is the gift you give to someone you really care about” – I couldn’t ignore it! He’s a hugely skilled and entertaining vocalist and percussionist who’ll be performing in duo with acclaimed tap dancer Lee Payne – an exciting first for ReVoice!

LJN: And then there is the charming, compelling Randolph Matthews. Have you admired his work for a while or is he a recent discovery for you?

GM: I first heard Randolph a couple of years ago at singer/songwriter and BBC London presenter Jumoke Fashola’s all-encompassing Ronnie Scott’s residency Jazz Verse Jukebox. He combines his many musical talents (from jazz, soul, chants, ethnic beatbox) with heartfelt storytelling and proper audience interaction.

When Steve Rubie and I were developing the ReVoice! @ 606 night we decided to explore the collaborations between 3 singers and a top class rhythm section. Alongside myself and Randolph is the stunning singer/songwriter, Sara Colman, who recently sang BVs for Laura Mvula’s BBC Prom with Esperanza Spalding! We’re all very different vocalists so I think the 2014 finale will be a very creative and multi-faceted one.

LJN:  You are also an accomplished musician with something to offer. I really take my hat off to you because you manage to achieve the balancing act of combining the roles of performer and organizer with great panache and success. What do you find most challenging and rewarding about planning, executing and performing in ReVoice!?

I work on ReVoice! for approximately 10 months of the year so maintaining stamina, enthusiasm and concentration whilst (often simultaneously) wearing the different hats – curator, copy writer, designer, photographer, PR, PA, host and of course performer – is undoubtedly challenging. I’ve also discovered that not everyone embraces my OCD approach to attention to detail!

The most rewarding aspect is the music: whether it’s pushing myself as an performer; being inspired by and learning from what I hear or the pride in seeing a room full of people who have really shared a profound artistic experience.

LJN: There’s no doubt audiences will be enthralled by the vocal talent you’ve gathered for this year’s celebration, but you’ve also included some of the UK’s finest instrumentalists who will be performing duo with you. Can you tell us a bit about what drew you to them/makes you excited about working with them?

Thank you for asking that as it’s the other big side of ReVoice! that often gets overlooked. Musicians in a vocal context can get sidelined but as a singer whose whole career has been built on learning from, playing with and listening to musicians it’s not something I understand.

I really think carefully how the two parts of the evening will complement and contrast each other and it’s important to work with people who appreciate that a seemingly innocuous 30 minute opening set is actually a feat of concentration and confidence! The UK has such a wealth of musical talent right now that it’s never hard to find great collaborators who I know will push me to a higher level. This year I’m playing again with the mighty Michael Janisch; debuting new sets with amazing pianists Robin Aspland, Tom Cawley, Dave Newton, Andrew McCormack and Chris Ingham and the immensely talented guitarist Colin Oxley. My bravest/maddest moment yet is a duo with a long-term collaborator, flautist Gareth Lockrane.

I’d like to mention the two superb rhythm sections: James Pearson and Mark Hodgson with Rebecca Parris and Rob Barron and Larry Bartley at the 606 finale. My partner, drummer Dave Ohm, is playing with both sections. He deserves a special thank you as he graciously experiences the minutiae of my ReVoice! journey and offers unparalleled support.

LJN: What are your hopes for ReVoice!? It has already expanded hugely in capacity and duration over its five years in existence. Do you hope it will grow further in this regard?

Georgia Mancio: Yes I think growth and change are important especially when I am confident now of the basic premise.

I’d like to grow the ReVoice! family and partner with more venues. I love the idea of pop up events in unexpected spaces that don’t operate exclusively as music venues (something inspired by the fantastic Rural Touring Scheme). Also given its international identity it seems natural that at some point we could expand outside of the UK with some kind of reciprocal programming. I think there are still too many barriers between us and the rest of Europe and I don’t just mean musically.

The other aspect I’d love to explore is the inclusion of other art forms: spoken word and literature and following on from this year more dance and (because I’m a fanatically amateur trapeze artist) aerial!

LJN: The press release is fantastic and the line-up speaks for itself. But if you had to convince someone to attend the festival in a sentence or two, what would your “sell” be? And….go!

GM: ReVoice! is dialogue, drama, renewal, innovation, surprise, emotion, chops, quality and quantity. It is for absolutely everyone because skilful, heartfelt, creative, inspiring, joyful art is something we all need much more of in our lives.