- Smooth Jazz Network
Greg Manning: Behind the Beats
Each week we'll take you 'Behind the Beats' to learn more about the artists that play on our airwaves. This week: Greg Manning.
Greg Manning recently released his compelling and emotional new single “A Song For Peace.” We grabbed a few minutes this week and caught up with the talented keyboardist.
Greg, congratulations on the new single “A Song For Peace.” Tell us about your personal connection with this tune.
A Song for Peace is my most personal composition to date. I was feeling helpless in the face of war abroad and senseless killing of children in the homeland. What can I do as a human being to bring about lasting change and peace in the world? It is a daunting question, but pressing at this time.
My answer lies in music and it’s not just a shallow cliché to me. I deeply believe in the healing power of music. It can change people and it opens hearts & minds.
And you have Grammy winning artist Kirk Whalum featured on sax.
Kirk and I go back to 1998 when I did my first tour in the US with Jonathan Butler and Kirk. They were part of the Guitars & Saxes tour and I was one of the keyboard players. I’ve been a huge fan of Kirk’s ever since. His deep roots in Gospel and Jazz are amazing to me and when I hear his horn I hear a singer. So lyrical!
I’m thrilled that Kirk is featured on this song, along with veteran guitarist Ray Fuller. Both musicians played on Whitney Houston’s single of the century “I Will Always Love You”.
You are also a successful music director, having worked with Jonathan Butler. Jonathan is one of my favorite people on the planet. What has it been like working with Jonathan?
I went to Berklee College of Music, but the education I got from being on the road with Jonathan is priceless. I’ve learned so much by being his keyboard player and then Music Director for almost a decade. I’m grateful he saw or heard something in 1997 that I didn’t know I had in me.
JB is completely self-taught. He plays what he hears with no limitations by music theory or preconceived rules. It was very liberating to be on stage with him and learn how to be “in the moment” every night. We’ve never played the same show twice and I love that adventurous spirit. To me that’s the essence of Jazz! Although Smooth Jazz has some restrictions when it comes to free improvisation, I try to keep that spirit alive with my own band now. I definitely wouldn’t be the musician I am today without his mentorship. He was also the catalyst for my move to LA in 2002.
You’ve also played with singers Will Downing, Brian McKnight, Chante Moore and others. How has working with them shaped you as a performer?
I’ve always loved singers. The human voice is the ultimate instrument. Nothing is more expressive and personal than a voice. Working with singers also prepared me for “Music Star”, which was the Swiss equivalent of American Idol. I was the Music Director for the show for 5 seasons.
You are truly a person of the world… Being born in Nigeria (along with Sade!), raised in Switzerland and now based in Las Vegas, NV. How have your world travels impacted you as an artist?
Traveling and learning about different cultures is a huge perk. It has definitely broadened my horizon as a human being. It opened my eyes and ears to new sights and sounds. Learning about new cultures also forces you to explore your own cultural background and figure out where you belong. Different cultures do see and experience the world differently. There’s no right or wrong, but I think it’s important that dominant cultures don’t overstep the boundaries and respect other points of view. It can be a difficult balance, but life is a dance! At the end we all care for our families and have the same human emotions. That’s why music is able to tap into those realms and connect people from all walks of life.
And you’re an alum of the famed Berklee College of Music. Please share your experiences while attending.
I almost immediately bought a return ticket back to Switzerland when I arrived… lol. I’ll never forget that first night I went down to the practice rooms and heard all these young kids blazing on their instruments! It was a mix of everything: Classical, Jazz, Funk, R&B, but all on a very high level. I thought I could never be on the same level as these 18-year-old kids fresh out of HS, but I hung in there and met some amazing people and musicians. Mindi Abair was one of them and we’ve been friends ever since. My ear training teacher was none other than Walter Beasley. He also made sure that I got into his weekly recording ensemble that he taught. It started my love for all things related to recording studios. It’s a magical place for me to this day!
Tell us about your project “Between The Sun and the Moon.”
That’s my baby! I started the project more than ten years ago with no preconceived ideas about what music I would write, or any other commercial considerations or limitations. It’s just pure music from my heart. If you take the time and listen to the 66 minutes of music you’d get a pretty good idea of who I am as a person. I call it a Sonic Spiritual Journey in 10 movements. It took so long to complete because in a way music technology had to catch up to what I was hearing in my head. I finished the project during COVID and released it in May 2022. It’s an anomaly because I conceived it as a concept album in a time of singles and fast-moving music. BTSATM is a slow-moving meditative journey. Some people tell me it’s a soundtrack without a movie.
What advice do you have for young artists looking to pursue a career as a professional musician?
There’s a saying in Buddhism that one has to kill the Buddha to be truly free! Let me explain…lol. I’d recommend to every young musician out there that you study and copy the masters. There are musical giants out there that have created and defined the language of certain genres. It’s imperative to learn their language and become fluent in it. Once you’ve done that you can start developing your own language and syntax, but it has to be based on something with substance hence study the masters and then abandon them!
The business side of the music industry is also important, but I see a tendency to put the carriage before the horse these days. Musicians are consumed by social media likes and channel subscriptions, but the focus should always be on the music first. Everything else will fall into place if the music is strong.
Learn more about Greg Manning on his website, here.