By Museically Inclined Sheryl Aronson & Mikey Adam Cohen
In October 2015, I had the honor of meeting Melissa Manchester and interviewing her after her appearance on Smooth Saturdays with Aysha, which had aired on Urban Soul Radio. She had released her newest album, You Gotta Love the Life, which featured singing duets with the amazing Al Jarreau and Dionne Warwick. She also featured the musical talents of Stevie Wonder playing the harmonica, Keb’Mo’ co-produced a song and played the guitar, Dave Koz played sax, and the great Joe Sample played piano on a song just before he passed away.
You Gotta Love the Life is packed full of gorgeous original and cover songs rendered more lovely by Melissa Manchester’s delicious delivery of the lyrics and cultivated vocals.
“I’ve been doing this for 45 years. I’ve seen the record business change but what hasn’t changed is the grit of the walk,” said Melissa Manchester.
The legendary recording artist dedicated her newest single, You Gotta Love The Life to her journey across time in the music industry. Her full-bodied voice seasoned with a richness of tone combined with a raw, bluesy vulnerability, Manchester sings, “You gotta love the life, the hunger in your heart, you make the sacrifice…”
Melissa Manchester seemed at peace as I sat beside her. Although she had broken her ankle during the summer, (2015) she was still performing concerts; she was still giving her music 100% of that driving passion. Manchester embodies the “grit” and “hunger” she belts out in You Gotta Love The Life. On the other hand her persona also mirrors a grand dame: refined, intelligent, contemplative. With each question asked by this reporter, I received eloquent answers from the unfathomable creativity of the Grammy winning musician.
“You have to dig deep to be connected with the hunger. My hunger hasn’t changed since I was seventeen,” Manchester responded when asked about her newest recording adventure and performing career.
“You need to be committed to the walk. Your talent is the focal point, but day –to- day you need to reinvent your self. I am constantly reinventing, rediscovering, regenerating energy to keep moving forward. There’s so much challenge, so much disappointment, so much unsteadiness business-wise and financially in the entertainment industry.”
Melissa Manchester reigns from a musical family. Her father was a bassoonist for The New York Metropolitan Opera. She recalled going to rehearsals with her father and absorbing the sophisticated and complex compositions. Being exposed to classical music had a profound effect on the artist’s later writing and singing abilities. “For me, classical music always represented the long musical idea that allows the brain to rest. That’s so valuable incorporating into music, particularly for the youngsters these days. They’re not familiar with this concept. I teach at USC and ask the students to learn a song from the 30’s, 40’s or 50’s. I want them to listen to the compositions for melody and lyrical ideas then see what that does to their breath and body.”
When one listens to Melissa Manchester singing, a sonorous low tone envelopes your ears, which she attributes to her father’s bassoon playing. “I was raised on hearing a classical bassoonist’s sound. My voice has that deep alto ring as well.”
Going back in time, Manchester’s career unfolded in the 1960’s. Her pals were a crowd of other aspiring musicians/songwriters such as Barry Manilow, Ashford and Simpson and Patty Austin. The Brill Building in Manhattan housed the hefty creative talent of these upstarts. At seventeen years of age, Manchester was already writing songs. “ In 1968… the Brill Building was the center for song writing. Publishers would sign artists. I was a jingle singer. We all had dreams to be singer/songwriters and to be signed for a record deal. We traveled in a pack. It was no big deal to hear about your friend getting a record deal or hitting the road for a tour. I even worked as a gopher on Sesame Street and parked cars just to be around creative people. It was a thrilling time to be alive.”
Melissa Manchester’s accomplishments over a 40-year career traverses across the heavens of the entertainment industry like a luminous shooting star. She began, as a jingle singer in New York City then became a backup vocalist for Bette Midler. She received her first Grammy nomination in 1979 for singing the Peter/Allen/Carole Bayer Sager hit song Don’t Cry Out Loud. In 1980 she was the first artist ever in the history of the Academy Awards to be nominated for two songs, Through the Eyes of Love (from Ice Castles) and I’ll Never Say Goodbye (from The Promise) in the same year. In 1982, Manchester won a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for the song You Should Hear How She Talks About You. This artist has also written songs for major movies, and scored for musical theater and has appeared in films and television.
You Gotto Love The Life marks Melissa Manchester’s return to the public’s eye in a big way.
It’s her first new studio album since her 2004 album, When I Look Down That Road. This record marks her only collaboration with Hal David for what turned out to be his last recorded lyric. One of her student’s from USC, Barry Harris, offered to promote her music by using the social media world, and created a crowd funding campaign. Harris was confident that Melissa’s fans wanted to hear some new work. It was time for Manchester to share her craft of writing hit songs that have thrilled the music world for over 40 years.
“I wanted to return to making an album with artists I’ve admired and musicians I have collaborated with over the years. On this new album I have guest artists such as Stevie Wonder playing the harmonica, Keb’Mo’ co-produced a song and played the guitar, Al Jarreau and Dionne Warwick sang duets with me, Dave Koz played sax, and the great Joe Sample played piano just before he passed. I also have musicians I’ve played with before, John Lewis on drums, Abraham Laboriel, Sr. on bass, John Proulx on piano, Stephan Oberhoff on keyboards, Lee Thornberg, on trumpet and Terry Wollman played guitar and co-produced the CD. It was beautiful.”
Melissa Manchester treasures the artistry of writing songs. When asked how she developed her style, she said, “I was raised in the era when you listened to great singers sing great songs that were fashioned for their voice. Judy Garland and Ella Fitzgerald were my musical godmothers. I also loved Nat King Cole plus Sinatra. They’re all voices in my head. The singer sang the lyric, not just the melody. There was no filler. There was a reverence and a deep connection to the lyric. This is what I teach my students at USC.”
Allowing a long lyrical silence… the interview continued… the artist went deeper into her explanation. Melissa’s pensive eyes reflected intense passion while her voice remained tranquil. Her gift to tell stories and write heartfelt lyrics still was feeding that hunger to create.
“As my body is getting older and the deeper I am getting into my career, the more I am connected to the song form. Songs are largely dismissible in our society because you listen for about three minutes then move onto something else. What I am trying to convey when I perform is the Reverence for the ink, not just the composition.”
Awaiting on the musical horizon for Melissa Manchester is a performance in November at the club 54 Below located in New York City and on March 16th, 2016 the opening of a new musical she has scored, called Sweet Potato Queens, at Tutts Theater in Houston.
However, the artist wanted to concentrate on one aspect of her career right now: promoting You Gotta Love The Life CD and the new video coming out to feature her album. She said, “The 3rd video from the album is coming out next week. I’m not moving my brain much more forward than that because I want to turn over every leaf and stone to support this effort.”
Melissa Manchester ‘s hunger for creating her music is still apparent after forty-five years. And we, as an audience want to feast on her gourmet banquet of compositions.
For more information about Melissa Manchester go to: http://melissamanchester.com/
The Mike Parlett Radio Show
Jamming With Melissa Manchester & Terry Wollman
by Sheryl Aronson
“My radio show is organized chaos,” said radio host/musician, Mike Parlett. “We never know what’s going to happen here but it’s all fun.”
Mike Parlett Radio Studio, Los Angeles, 10/31/15 – For the next two hours the airwaves captured the improvisational jam of Mike Parlett, a prominent British musician/composer/producer as he spun the air waves while interviewing Melissa Manchester, Terry Wollman and this entertainment reporter, arranged a music session as he played along side Melissa Manchester and Terry Wollman, engineered the soundboard, talked to his world-wide audience, ran back and forth to his house to fetch instruments, and kept his beloved dog entertained. Parlett is a whirlwind Renaissance man who enlivens his weekly two hour radio show with his droll sense of humor and extensive musical knowledge, He welcomes top musicians from the R&B and contemporary jazz scene to join him on www.solarradio.com from 2-4pm every Sunday.
I captured the whole fun time here on my slide show. The song I used is, “Let’s Face the Music and Dance/From this Moment On” off Melissa Manchester’s CD, “You Gotta ,Love the Life,”