Interview by by Bridgid Brousseau
I think being in the “zone” is really the opposite of thinking. It’s musically following your gut feeling. ~Greg Manning~
Bridgid: Congratulations on your hit single “Cruisin Down the Road” being on the charts for more than four months now and signing with Maurice White’s music label Kalimba music. How did you celebrate those achievements?
Greg: I’m just so happy that my single was so well received on the radio. This fall and late summer so many great records came out. Everybody released a single. I have not partied too hard. I don’t take it for granted at all.
Bridgid: You started playing piano at the age of 12. However, you actually discovered your love for music after hearing “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder. What was about that song that was so captivating to you?
Greg: It was everything at the same time. Stevie’s voice, the chords, the way it was arranged, the sound, the way he used synthesizers and of course his harmonica playing. It just completely blew me away!
Bridgid: You’ve worked with so many great artist; Gerald Albright, Kirk Whalum, Jonathan Butler, Mindi Abair, Eric Valentine, Johnny Reid, Elan Trotman, Vincent Ingala, the list goes on. You’ve even work with Chante Moore who is more in the R&B realm. How did you collaborate with her?
Greg: I was on tour with her. Will Downing and Jonathan Butler were also on the tour. So I was the keyboard player for Chante Moore, Will Downing and Jonathan Butler.
Bridgid: I listen to so much Jazz and I remember the names of the artists and the songs, so when I am finally able to meet the face behind the name and the song it’s thrilling for me. Is there anyone that you’ve played with or not, that you have been or would be starstruck by?
Greg: Stevie Wonder. I have never met him, I have never played with him and I don’t think I could actually play with Stevie because I think he is just one of the greatest.
Bridgid: So do you think you would be too nervous?
Bridgid: Are you serious?
Greg: Yes! I am serious!
Bridgid: I watch musicians as they play. I watch their movements, their emotions, their eyes, and I just become so enthralled with them. They go into the “zone” as used to describe in basketball. I can just tell when a musician has just gone into a different place mentally. Describe what you are feeling when you reach that place. What are your emotions? What’s going on when you really get into that “zone”?
Greg: That’s a very good question. It’s kind of hard to describe it. I like the term getting into the “zone.” My son is very much into basketball so I like the term. I think that being in the “zone” means that you are actually not thinking. Something else takes over. You stop thinking about keys. you stop thinking about notes and you just play. You are in the moment. You listen to your band and you start to interact with everything else that’s happening on stage. I think being in the “zone” is really the opposite of thinking. It’s musically following your gut feeling.
Bridgid: When you’re in that “zone, with all of what’s going on, do you notice the audience’s reactions? Do you play off of that? Because like you said, the band members interact with each other, play off of each other, and give each other signals which are always so subtle which amazes me too. So are you able to do that and also interact with the audience’s reaction to your music? That’s a lot going on!
Greg: Oh yes! Definitely! Just feeding off of the audience is a great feeling. I think when you perform it’s basically an exchange of energy between myself and the audience. It’s just a great feeling. I’m always very aware of my audience. While being in the “zone” you start to feel everything. It’s an awesome feeling!
Bridgid: Is it the same whether it’s a large venue versus a small venue?
Greg: To me it’s totally the same. In fact when I played with Brian McKnight years ago on his “Back at One” tour. We played huge venues at the time. It was a great experience but I actually like smaller venues like Jazz clubs. I think the exchange between myself and the audience is just better and more real.
Bridgid: You grew up in Zurich, Switzerland and you have performed throughout the US, Europe, United Kingdom and Asia. How do you feel that other countries embrace and perceive American music in comparison to Americans?
Greg: In general Americans are just more outgoing and extroverted. Sometimes the audience is very polite, especially in Asia. They may have enjoyed the performance tremendously but they’re just too polite to really get rowdy and really get into it.
Bridgid: So it’s just a cultural thing?
Greg: I think so. One funny thing that I always notice here in American is that people always clap on the second and the fourth beat. And where I come from in Switzerland, people clap on the first and third beat.
Bridgid: It would be great to have Americans and the Swiss at a concert at the same time.
Greg: It would be like church clapping. American audiences are really wonderful because they really get into the music and choose to enjoy themselves. In general Europe and Asia are just a little bit more reserved but it does not mean that they don’t enjoy the music.
Bridgid: I read a post of yours on Facebook. You stated that “I know that “Spotify” is not paying fair royalties to musicians. Artists are being exploited and the laws need to change. It’s just like corporate America.” What do you think it will take for that exploitation to cease and for the laws to change?
Greg: It would literally take an act of congress to change the law and give composers, performers and musicians in general a better and fairer deal. It’s actually very difficult to get to the bottom of this. But as far as I know, a lot of these streaming companies operate under a law that was established years ago. At that time the lawmakers didn’t even know about streaming. They kind of operate in a loophole and it definitely has to be changed.
Greg: Luckily I tour and I can play concerts but think about all of the great songwriters and composers that don’t tour. There are basically no licensing or royalties. This is their livelihood. If that is gone, what are these people going to do? They have families, they have children and I think it’s up to us to educate the audience because a lot of people think artists write all of their own songs which is partially true but artists are also surrounded by a songwriting team and those people don’t go on tour. Those people don’t make any touring money.
Bridgid: So it’s like a trickle-down effect. I personally miss going to Circuit City or Best Buy and buying a CD. I liked having the physical CD. I wish we could just go back to those days.
Greg: Bridgid, it just puzzles me we that have an industry with basically no physical outlets anymore. I don’t know what happened.
Bridgid: It’s fast becoming our downfall because we’re losing that human interaction and it’s becoming a generational thing. The younger generations have access to all of these electronic devices. There’s very little family interaction and that’s where it’s starts.
Greg: I totally agree with you. It used to be fun to go into Tower Records and just check out records, meeting other people, talking to other fans and just interacting with people.
Bridgid: Yes! That’s when they had the headphones where you go just go and hang out for hours. I loved those days.
Greg: Same here.
Bridgid: What was the most difficult musical hurdle you have had to overcome and how did you overcome it?
Greg: My hurdle for many years was that I wanted to play like Herbie Hancock. It took me about twenty years to realize that I will never play like Herbie Hancock but that I should learn how to play like Greg Manning. It took me a long time to realize that. For young musicians out there, it’s very important to study history and to study all of the masters but and the end of the day you have to do your own thing because otherwise you’re just going to be a cheap copy.
Bridgid: Your music reminds me of just a little bit of Joe Sample.
Greg: Oh, Thank you! I was a huge fan of Joe Sample. What a great piano player!
Bridgid: I’m really going to miss his music and that of George Duke also. Did you ever get a chance to meet or play with George Duke?
Greg: That’s one of my biggest regrets. Another musician, Ricky Lawson passed away. I was friends with Ricky and he said “hey Greg, I know George really well, let’s go to his studio. I want to introduce you to him.” I was too shy. I wasn’t ready yet and six months later he passed away.
Bridgid: Why did you feel that way? You have such a great resume and you’ve played with all of these greats. Why the hesitation?
Greg: I was in the middle of finishing my record and I didn’t want to play the demos for him I wanted to play the finished music. I should have played those demos. I had met him before. What a great piano player!
Bridgid: Yes! He was a great composer also. I was always a fan but I was surprised to learn of all of the songs that he had written that were among my favorites when they payed tribute to him at this year’s Playboy Jazz Festival.
Bridgid: How do you decide which songs to record and/or include in performances and tours?
Greg: I have a few standards that I always play, especially my singles that have been successful on the radio. I think when people come to my gigs they do want to hear those. Otherwise I go with my gut feeling. If I feel the audience is ready for more ballads or something more up tempo, I adjust accordingly.
Bridgid: I’m a Bonnie Raitt fan. You did a rendition of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” in which you play and also “Nick of Time”which is a saxophone rendition. Did you do the arrangement for “Nick of Time” or produce it?
Greg: I’m a huge fan of Bonnie Raitt and on my first CD, “The Calling” that came out in 2010 I did my version of “Nick of Time” and for the my latest CD that came out this summer I redid “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” She is such a great artist and so unique.
Bridgid: Who would you like to sit down and have a drink and conversation with outside of the music world?
Greg: Probably President Barack Obama.
Bridgid: What would you ask him?
Greg: I would ask him how it really is. I voted for him twice. He really likes people. I think he has to give in to a lot of pressures. I would be so curious to find out how much power the President of the United States really has.
Bridgid: Aside from your keyboard obviously, what is the one material possession that you cannot travel without?
Greg: It’s kind of silly because it sounds like a cheap commercial for Bose headphones but I really love my Bose headphones. They are noise cancelling and on airplanes it’s just a Godsend.
Bridgid: What is one of life’s questions that you ponder that you would like to have answered before you depart this earth?
Greg: I’m also into Science, especially with neuroscience and with real time brain imaging and MRI’s. It sounds kind of crazy but some people think that human beings are actually a glorified machine. They think that there is no soul and that God was not involved in our creation and I would like to know the answer to that. There’s so much horrific stuff going on that it really makes me wonder.
Bridgid: On a scale of 1 -10 how are happy are you?
Greg: Eight. I have a son who is 12. I wish I could say I see the world through pink glasses and everything is going to be okay but we have so many challenges from climate changes, immigration, religions, all of the crazy violence and water resources. There are so many challenges for the next generation. I hope everything is going to be okay but I simply don’t know.
Bridgid: Tell your fans something that we may not know about you that you would like us to know.
Greg: Although I’m best known for Smooth Jazz I actually like all kinds of music. I would like them to know that it’s kind of dangerous to be stuck in just one genre. Listen to a broad range of Jazz most of all but listen to all kinds of music including classical music and orchestral music. There are so many incredible new composers out there. Many people say that there’s no more good music out there. If you dig a little deeper there is good music out there, it’s just not advertised.
Bridgid: Greg, it has been a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much for taking time out share so much with me!
Woodshed Jazz Magazine
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