London Jazz News

Songbook interview

Singer Georgia Mancio (who also organises the ReVoice! Festival at Pizza Express) has a new project: she’s written the lyrics to pianist Alan Broadbent’s music to create 15 songs. Alison Bentley interviewed her about the forthcoming tour and recording plans.

London Jazz News: Tell me about your background in jazz.

Georgia Mancio: My grandparents were both professional classical musicians; I played the flute as a child and my parents listened to a lot of music at home- mainly classical and some jazz. Somehow, though, that leap of making a career in music seemed unreachable and I ended up studying film-making. I walked into Ronnie Scott’s one very rainy night in September (20 years ago!) to ask if they needed waiters and worked there part-time for 5 years. Seeing and hearing music every night, and meeting working musicians helped me realise that yes, music is a passion and a calling, but it is also a job and hard graft. I was lucky to be encouraged by a couple of musicians who helped me make a demo and start getting gigs. It slowly snowballed, and I filled in gaps in my knowledge with courses and private tuition, but I still feel I really learnt (and continue to learn) on the job.

LJN: Did you hear any singers at Ronnie’s who inspired you?

GM: Even before I fully understood what jazz singing was I knew Betty Carter was truly special. She commanded a unique respect from all of us, and despite her onstage demeanour she was really sweet off stage! Then definitely Liane Carroll, Ian Shaw, Claire Martin and Christine Tobin, all of whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with as a professional.

LJN: How did you start working with Alan Broadbent?

GM: Bassist Andy Cleyndert mentioned Alan had just played at the Watermill, and knowing I was a fan said, ‘Why don’t you email him and ask him if he’ll do a gig with you?’ Despite feeling a bit foolish sending in effect a fan letter, he replied straight away and said, ‘Let’s see if we can make something work.’ So we did a couple of dates in 2013, including the London Jazz Festival, and then the Pizza Express Jazz Club last year.

LJN: Has he worked with many lyricists before?

GM: Mark Murphy wrote lyrics to ‘Don’t Ask Why’ and we performed Alan’s ‘Heart’s Desire’ with Dave Frischberg’s lyrics, which prompted me to ask if there were any other originals of his we could play together. In response he sent me ‘The Long Goodbye’ written for the Charlie Haden Quartet West album ‘Haunted Heart.’ He said, ‘You’re welcome to try a lyric but don’t be offended if I’m not keen on what you do.’ I completely understood, because it’s a very generous and trusting thing to allow somebody else into work you’ve already realised.

LJN: It became ‘The Last Goodbye’?

GM: It coincided that when Alan sent the song I was en route to Thailand to finally sell and say goodbye to my father’s house. He had lived there for several years and died the year before. It took me a month to get the lyric down, and though I was nervous about Alan’s reaction, I knew I had written from the heart. He asked me to change one word which led to the rewriting of the bridge, and though it’s very personal to me, it was important that the story could be read in several ways.

After that he sent a very different sweet, old fashioned bossa, then a swing tune and we just got into a groove completing 15 songs together in about 10 months. I’ve never written so prolifically and while I’ve previously collaborated with Tim Lapthorn, Kate Williams and Frank Griffith, I’ve also just written lyrics for songs which the songwriter has never seen.

LJN: You wrote lyrics for a Pat Metheny tune.

GM: Yes he approved my lyric to ‘Question and Answer’ (on my album ‘Silhouette’) which gave me a lot of confidence. Writing with Alan has been a real masterclass though. I found it surprisingly easy to let go of any ego and not worry too much about the outcome. Whenever Alan suggested changes- a line, a last 8, digging a little deeper emotionally- I trusted it and took real pleasure and pride in perfecting what I already had. Because we didn’t start out with the intention of making an album of original songs there was no pressure; it was purely writing for writing’s sake. Having taken a sabbatical from the ReVoice! Festival I’ve really been able to immerse myself in the process.

LJN: When Alan sent you the charts, what inspired you?

GM:: For me the titles are always the starting point, in as much as they give a clue to what the writer had in mind. I only changed one title completely- ‘Sing a Song of Dameron’ became ‘The Cherry Tree’ (so I didn’t have to be distracted thinking about Cameron rhyming with Dameron!) I just listened over and over to the demos Alan made to find a way in with maybe a word or phrase. In life I’m a terrible decision maker- in restaurants friends will often pick something from the menu for me to spare us all! But with lyrics most of the time I stick with and trust my first ideas. I write in quite a strong and simple style with intentional repetition, nothing overly descriptive. And maybe as a hangover from my film studies I like stories and characters.

LJN: You use a lot of rhyme- as in the coda of ‘Someone’s Sun.’

[Some cohere, some pioneer and/some steer clear, some persevere./

Some will fear the searing sun and some will cheer.]

GM: That song title immediately intrigued me (we think it’s from a Shakespeare sonnet) and the obvious response to me for ‘Someone’s sun’ is ‘someone’s rain’ which then sparked the whole lyric summarised: “You will find that someone’s loss is someone else’s gain”. It’s a bright samba with great rhythmic subtleties so I tried to use my rhyming dictionary judiciously and not just go for the lazy, obvious rhymes.

LJN: Which lyricists do you admire?

GM:: I think Jon Hendricks is incredible. I first admired his erudite vocalese but realised his true genius with his lyric of Bruno Martino’s ‘Estate’. It’s heartbreakingly poetic, simple and beautiful and also a faithful translation of the original Italian. I’ve done a couple of translations and appreciate how hard it is to get that balance right.

LJN: Your song ‘One For Bud’ (the boppy one) made me think of Jon Hendricks.

[Wherever I go, the doctors don’t know which cure to give or which kind

of pill./They say it’s a shame but bebop’s to blame: it seems I’m hooked for better or ill.]

GM: Thank you! It’s great fun to follow that tradition and yes, I’ve definitely drawn inspiration from him several times in previous lyrics of mine: to Horace Silver’s ‘Strollin’, Chick Corea’s ‘Bud Powell’ and Miles Davis’ ‘Deception’. In that vein I also love Georgie Fame’s lyrics and vocalese and the brilliant witticisms of Dorothy Fields, Bob Dorough and Dave Frischberg. I think Ian Shaw is an underrated lyricist who can scorch your heart and Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln, Johnny Mercer, Harry Warren and Fran Landesman have made indelible contributions to the art form.

LJN: You mentioned that the theme of the album is built around childhood and growing up, growing older, like the song ‘Just Like a Child?’ [Take me back again to when fun was fun./Things were simple then: as a child one plus one.]

GM: I realised that tropes were perhaps subliminally creeping into our songs so when we decided to make an album we both liked the idea of a central theme. Some exist for their own sake (like ‘One For Bud’) but there is a lot about the ageing process and growing whether spiritually or physically and change (seasonal, personal). ’Just Like a Child’ (originally ‘Chris Craft’ instrumentally) is the last song we wrote and it’s an epic so I tried to encompass everything that had gone before. It’s a light hearted piece and yet sometimes the lyric goes deep: “We’re all frantically coping/intervening between death and birth/ Open up your mind and go back/Think just like a child.”

LJN: Do you have a date in mind for the new album?

GM: We’re recording Sept/Oct so hopefully releasing Summer 2016.

LJN: What’s the line up?

GM: Both the gigs and album are arranged for quartet and I’m really excited to have Dave Ohm joining us on drums and Oli Hayhurst on bass. Rob Barron has been rehearsing the arrangements with us and doing a great job standing in for Alan until we are all finally in the same country! What I love about Oli and Dave is they have so much musicality and artistic maturity there is no ego, they just want to serve the songs and deliver all the beauty and nuance in the music and the words.