Jazz bass guitar player and composer Michael Manson was relaxed and in a jovial mood as he spoke to me from his home in Chicago, shortly after returning from a gig as a feature guest artist on the Brian Culbertson jazz cruise.
"Brian and I are old friends and I had a great time playing. As musicians we don’t get a chance to hang out as much as we really want to but this cruise afforded us the opportunity (to be together) for a whole week," says the man who has blown audiences and the airwaves away with his Just Feelin’ It CD released on the 215 Records label in September of 2006.
Many celebrities try to escape the public attention paid to them by their adoring fans but I wondered aloud how possible that would be on a cruise ship. Manson quickly dispelled any notion that he might share those same concerns, "Some of these smooth jazz fans are just terrific people. Just to hang with them and live with them is a great experience. You walk around saying hi to everybody and I think that is a great thing. They will leave the cruise and be our biggest cheerleaders. They will spread the word about our music and so forth. I think the hang is the greatest. If you really want privacy, you can hide in a room but I think you should be hanging with the people and talking to them because they are the ones who support your music. I met many great people on this last cruise and it will be great to keep in touch with them."
This was the fifth jazz cruise that the likeable Manson has participated in and he has formed some observations concerning the type of crowd that they attract. "You have to realize that all of these people on the cruises are fans, so much so that they pay thousands of dollars to be on the cruise to hang out with (the artists) and listen to their music. Their responses are fanatical. They are great responses because nobody really came on the cruise just to be on the cruise, they came to be with you and hear your music," he says.
Continuing to enthuse about the jazz fans who embark on these cruises he says, "At a regular jazz concert or festival some of those people come just to hang because it is an event and it (gives them) something to do. On a cruise, people wouldn’t pay a lot of money if they weren’t a true fan. The response is much greater than it would be anywhere else."
Now, however, as we spoke Manson was relaxing at home and just being with his family. "I try to make it so that when I am at home I am nothing but home. I am there for the family and that is it. I try not to do too much in music. When I am at home I am at my family’s disposal," he says.
Manson is a man whose love for family and his wife Lana bubbles to the surface continuously throughout our conversation. It is not therefore surprising to learn that the third track "It’s The Way She Moves" from his recent booklet of songs was inspired by Lana. "My wonderful wife was learning how to salsa when I was writing," he says before owning up to the fact that they are both learning how to salsa. Breaking into laughter Manson says, "I am really, really bad at it right now. She is fantastic at it and so that is where the influences for "It’s The Way She Moves", come from. We have been married for more than twenty years now and I still have this romantic heart towards her. I love to write something romantic that we can dance to and expresses my heart. She is the one."
"One of these times I am going to surprise everybody, bring her (Lana) up there (while on stage) and we are going to salsa," he says then pokes fun at himself saying, "I really have no rhythm outside of having a bass in my hands. I have no dance rhythm. Folks don’t believe that but it is the absolute truth. I am learning how to dance so maybe I will have some rhythm soon."
As he did with his first record The Bottom Line and the song "Just One Touch", Manson decided to add some Latin flair to his record, and "It’s The Way She Moves" gave him that opportunity. He called upon two friends, superb west coast percussionist Lenny Castro and Michael Ripoll (acoustic guitar), to play on the Latin Groove that should cause many a woman to turn to her husband and ask ‘Is that how you feel about me?’
We get to hear more of Michael Manson on Just Feelin’ It than we did on the CD The Bottom Line as he demonstrates his excellence on several bass instruments. Manson’s wonderfully written original charts for "Coming Right At You" features the musician on the piccolo and tenor basses. This superbly orchestrated piece of music is the kind of music we should hear more of on smooth jazz radio. The tempo is quick, light and possesses a good groove.
For the less informed (myself included), I asked Manson to explain the differences between the various bass instruments. "It is the range and sound of the instrument. A piccolo bass is very guitar like. There is only a subtle difference between the guitar and the piccolo bass. It has a thicker, fuller sound than a guitar would ever have. A tenor bass is a little lower than a piccolo but even thicker sounding, while the regular bass and acoustic bass are jazzier sounding," he says.
"I tip my hat on that song ("Coming Right at Ya") to a group called Tower of Power. I grew up listening to Tower of Power and I love the horn section. Tower of Power and Chicago are two of my favorite groups because of their horns. They were great groups. "Coming Right at You" was specifically geared to those groups," says Manson.
"Their (Chicago’s) horns still ring in my head. The flugel horn and trombone all came together in one tight sound. It’s amazing and growing up in this environment (Chicago) you have to listen to Chicago," he says.
For those who enjoy their jazz instrumentals with a spot of vocals plan to be blown away by some stunning performances from the likes of Kevin Whalum and the female trio of Amiris Palmore, Felicia Coleman-Evans and Trina Davis. Whalum appears as the lead vocalist on the Bill Whithers’ tune "Lovely Day" backed up by the aforementioned ladies. The trio also sings on "There’s Nothing Better Than Love" and by the time the song "Another Chance" spins, Candy La Flora, Roberta Sanders and Pastor Chris Harris join them.
Concerning Palmore, Coleman-Evans and Davis Manson says, "I always use these girls because they are fantastic vocalists. It is amazing that they work so quickly and efficiently together. Ameris Palmore who is a vocal arranger did all the arranging for "Another Chance" which is my favorite song from the whole CD. She is just phenomenal."
North Americans are not the only audiences growing in their appreciation for Michael Manson’s vibes as a tour of Holland in the late fall of 2006 proved. He says he found the audiences to be very attentive and cued to the subtleties in his music.
West coast audiences will get a chance to listen to Michael Manson on March 16th when he plays Seal Beach California’s Spagatinni’s before jetting to Pompano Beach Florida to appear with Oleta Adams at the Amphitheater on the 17th. Other dates to keep in mind as the bassist crisscrosses the country include an appearance at West 57 Jazz Club in Houston for two evenings March 23-24 and he draws in for a gig at the Nugget Casino Resort (Restaurante Orozko) in Reno Nevada on April 25th.