singer/songwriter/guitarist/keyboardist DAN MANJOVI
Review & Interview by Robert Urban for GAY GUITARISTS WORLDWIDE
with photos by Barry Morgenstein
New York City based singer/songwriter musician Dan Manjovi has just released his new 2008 CD - Woke Up This Morning.
"I've had the pleasure of working with singer-songwriter/keyboardist Dan Manjovi both in the recording studio and in a variety of live performance situations. It's always a fun, exciting challenge to share the stage with such a commanding pianistic presence. With a grand, precise, steely-fingered keyboard technique, Manjovi infuses sweeping power and exactness into all he tackles. In his hands, standard blues and simple pop song forms are transformed into expansive anthems - belted out with broad, showtune-style expressiveness. His genial, everyman rock/broadway tenor hits every note dead center.
As a singer/songwriter, Manjovi draws deeply from the well of pop's soulful, rhythm & blues greats. This listener hears influences ranging from Jackie Wilson to Bonnie Raitt to Blood, Sweat & Tears to the great seminal white funk rock band Rhinoceros. Oh, yes - and by way of a finale remix of the track "Celebrity" - some old school disco ala the likes of Sylvester and Two Tons of Fun.
Manjovi's often dark & humorously sardonic lyrics mirror the more theatrical interpreters of the R & B pop genre - think Better Midler and the composers of modern pop musicals such as Rent, Chorus Line and Spring Awakening. In fact, the song lineup on Woke Up this Morning plays almost like a broadway musical show score - one might imagine set changes in between the tracks - as Manjovi offers up songs evoking song & dance "specialty" numbers ("Give 'em What You Got" and "Daddy Longlegs"), 11 o'clock wake-up songs ("I Fall Down") and houselights-down, spotlight-on solo ballads ("Things'll Get Better"). As with many broadway show tune soliloquies, Manjovi's lyrics are often sung in the first person. There's that kind of "man against the world" delivery - a guy conflicted about on the ups and downs of fame, and of the stuggle to find one's place in modern life. This piano man has musical theater in his blood and it shows.
In addition to his piano, vocal and songwriting input on the nicely-produced Woke Up This Morning, Manjovi also plays some mighty fine organ, Fender Rhodes keys and acoustic guitar. Oh, yeah - and by way of some witty, tongue-in-cheek political commentary by Manjovi in the prelude to "Things'll Get Better", check out his surprise guest vocalist - President George W. Bush!" - Robert Urban, URBAN PRODUCTIONS, NYC
- What brand/model/year instrument(s) do you record and play out with?
A: I've tended toward both Yamaha and Roland keyboard gear. When playing live, I use the Yamaha S-80/90 series when possible. Being a pianist, I like the feeling of a weighted keyboard when I'm playing, so the S-80/90 does it for me. At about 78 pounds, it's truly worth its weight! When traveling light, the much lighter S-03 synth is my choice. At home I have a vintage Roland D-50 synth that I use as a midi-controller.
My acoustic guitar is a rather basic steel string Washington that I got at Manny's for about $350 bucks. I used it for all the acoustic guitar parts on "Woke Up This Morning", and was pleasantly surprised at how well it recorded. Also, I love Fender Telecaster guitars, but don't own one at the moment. If anyone ever wants to sell one, let me know!
Any special/favorite amps/instrument tones/effects/approaches/techniques you've used/discovered in recording and/or performance that you really like?
The more I perform and record, the more I try to aim for an immediate, intimate, "live" sound. Most of the time, I find this easy to achieve when performing live, as I love the immediacy of interacting with the audience. When recording, since everything tends to be done in layers, with vocals last, it's more of a challenge. I still go for that immediacy, though, as though the listener and I are there in the same room together.
- Who are your main influences as an instrumentalist? Which artists? Which bands? Instrumentalist? Which artists/bands were your favorites in your youth?
I absorb whatever it is I happen to be listening to at the moment, so my ears are always absorbing stuff. More specifically, as a kid being a pianist, I naturally gravitated toward solo pianists. On the pop side of things, Elton, of course, was probably one of my biggest influences, especially with my being a gay performer-in- training! Billy Joel, also; Stevie Wonder, Sting, Steely Dan, Prince. Also, I was always a huge fan of the Beatles, George Harrison in particular, probably because people frequently underestimated him. I always looked forward to hearing his beautiful lines and sing-able solos.
But I also listen to and play a lot of classical and jazz as well. Vladimer Horowitz, Oscar Peterson, Keith Jarrett, Art Tatum. I'm also a huge Sinatra fan. Even though my music is not at all related to his, my performing style has been greatly influenced by him. Right now, I'm listening to John Mayer a lot at the moment, as well as the recent Springsteen record.
- Tell fans about your luv for your particular style of music, as opposed to other styles - how it became your favorite style, etc.- Well, it's been a journey to get here! As you can tell from my above answer, I've had a lot of disparate musical influences. Both musically and personally, I'm kind of a renaissance guy at my core. I've had a lot of very different professional experiences during my career as a performer, including a fair amount of theater and acting. Turning all those experiences into something that has become my own particular style has literally taken just about the entirety of my lifetime. I guess all that is to say that I'm a product of my influences. And I've learned to enjoy every second of the journey! And who knows what's to come?!
- Do you play/compose/record only your own original music? Do you do any other work in music - e.g. teaching, recording session work, hired gun, producing, etc? Does your playing appear on recordings of any other artists?
-In addition to my original work as a singer, songwriter and musician, I'm also quite active as a working musician and singer. I'm featured on keys on Morry Campbell's upcoming release, The Long Way Home. I played keyboards on two tracks "Frightful Weather" and "Ace of Diamonds". I'm also pretty busy and active as a vocal coach here in NYC. As such, I'm currently involved in playing and producing a recording project for Grace Hightower De Niro, and I am also her vocal coach as well. Grace sang one on my songs at the CD release party for my first record in 2005, at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival, and we've since done several gigs together at the Café Carlyle, and the Beacon Theater.
- Is there a particular favorite solo or part you played on a recording, or a certain piece of composed music you wrote, that you feel represents your finest work?
I'm most proud of my work on this latest CD "Woke Up This Morning". I feel that it is the most honest writing, playing and singing I've done recording-wise to date. It's polemic, yet fun, and captures my honest views about life in our country and world at this moment. I think in all the songs I'm trying to coax the listener to take in the totality of the message and the music.
I have been very gratified by reaction that people have had to the song "Give Em What You Got (Takin' It Back)", which addresses homophobic asshole Buju Banton. I had lots of fun with "Daddy Longlegs!" . . . "Celebrity" . . . "I Fall Down", "Is Anybody Watching", "Things'll Get Better" "Agenda"…they all tell a story. Being primarily a keyboardist, I'm proud of the acoustic guitar work. And it was fun to use the Hammond B-3, which I've never really played before. Also, I think my horn arrangement "Daddy Longlegs" is really tasty and fun! I guess I'm saying I'm proud of this one, and I hope people have as much fun listening as I did recording it! ?
Any special thoughts on your instrument, and what it's meant to you in your life?
The piano has always been (and still is) my special world in which I love to lose myself. When I was a child, I realized rather early on that I was "different" - that is, gay with a bent for music and the arts. I was also the youngest of three boys, and so when I was a kid, my music always felt like it was the one thing that no one could ever take from me. I have always felt that it was truly a gift that I was given, blessed with if you will, and as a result I've always been protective of it.
Can you relate any special feelings or experiences about being a glbt player in the mostly straight music world... especially regarding your formative/learning years on your instrument?
I think as a young gay person, like many gay kids, I was often lonely. I felt rather isolated during a large part of my childhood. I grew up in Brooklyn, and in my neighborhood there weren't many boys who were gay and musical. I went to a rather academic private high school where the students didn't gravitate towards careers in the arts, so I took refuge in my music and the challenges that learning music has to offer. And to this day the special feeling or experience of particular theme that comes up frequently in my lyrics is the feeling of loneliness- For a glbt player - how does the overall music scene differ today
from years ago?
-Happily, I've found that there is much more acceptance in the pop/rock and professional music scene now. First of all, the internet (and Google!) has made it possible for LGBT musicians to find each other worldwide and form a group like Gay Guitarists Worldwide with just a couple of clicks of the mouse (not to mention the hard work on the part of the moderator)! Anyway, now as a result of technological advances not available just a short time ago, we can network, share our ideas and creativity with each other and put it out there for everyone in the world who is looking as well.
- How is the overall music scene in your locale?
New York City has, and will always have a vibrant music scene, but the business has been affected by economic realities and changes in technology. Rising rents clearly make it harder for talented players and club owners to remain here. Everything is turning into a bank or a stupid Duane Reade.
- Any advice for young glbt players?
Get out there, be who you are, master your craft, and find out who you are as an instrumentalist, singer, writer, or whatever! Keep trying to stumble on to what makes you different from everyone else. Find your "voice" whether it's your instrument, your literal voice or your songs. And when you do, treasure it and really own it! When you find something that makes you unique, exaggerate it. I once read a bio of the opera singer Beverly Sills who said "do something no one else can do."
- What are your current and future musical projects?
Well, the next few months are all about the release of the new CD. It's out and available on March 11th. I'll be performing solo at The Sidewalk Café in NYC on Thursday, March 20th, and the official CD release show with my full band will be on Wednesday, April 30th at the Bitter End in New York. There will be out of town dates as well. Also in the works later this year is the debut of a new musical I've written.
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