60 Seconds interview: Georgia Mancio

Georgia Mancio by Lara Leigh 2011 1mb (2)Georgia Mancio is an award-wining vocalist, songwriter and organiser of London’s international voice festival, Revoice! The annual event, which is now three years old, ran over nine nights in October and featured a host of musicians and singers from the world of jazz and beyond.

American jazz vocalist Gregory Porter played his first UK show at the event in 2011 while other high profile performances have come from the likes of Tuck&Patti, Raul Midon and Karin Krog. Georgia manages and promotes the festival as well as performs. She regularly sings at jazz events throughout the rest of the year and has released three solo albums on her own Roomspin Records.

What are the main concerns facing the jazz genre?  

The age of the audience – in London you get a younger, more diverse crowd but elsewhere there doesn’t seem to be this sense of renewal. Musicians are getting more professional from a younger age because of the college route. The standard of playing is also very high and there is a wealth of amazing talent out there. However, it feels like the audiences are the same ones from 15-20 years ago. What do we do when that generation is no longer around? How do we attract a younger audience and more interest in the art form? That’s a key problem.

A TV appearance has a huge impact on the make up of an audience. When I booked Gregory Porter in 2011, it was his first UK appearance. He was completely unknown. Between the booking and his gig, he performed on Jools Holland and Jamie Cullum’s radio show. Suddenly he was a name. You could tell from the audiences – they weren’t the usual “jazz” crowd. It was a whole new set of people but those who could still really appreciate great live music. Maybe they wouldn’t even think about the improvisational element of it – but there certainly was and they loved the gig.

There’s still a stigma attached to the genre suggesting that jazz is difficult to comprehend, as there’s little exposure to these artists and their music. It’s an old fashioned notion as the music isn’t like that – it really is with the times. There are just fewer chances for audiences to hear it and more importantly to see it, see the interaction between musicians and feel the excitement of a live performance.

London’s jazz scene seems in good health – is it the same outside of the capital?   

Manchester and Birmingham and certain places in Scotland have very strong scenes – there’s a lot going on. However, it does seem to be London-centric. Many musicians move down to London and it is where events get talked about in the press – scenes elsewhere probably get a little bit forgotten about.

Despite this, there is a healthy amount of people playing, wanting to learn about and wanting to hear the music. Even if it is just a bit London-heavy – the scene needs to expand and reach new people. It’s certainly not for the lack of great artists all over the country making and playing the music.

Is there anything which can improve its health?

The change to the Live Music Act [which removed the need for small venues in England and Wales with a capacity of 200 person or less to require local authority permission to host live music between 8am and 11pm] should be a bit of a lifeline – if you wanted to have music but were put off before – or if you did have it. Previously, we definitely lost venues who didn’t think it was worth their while paying for it. I’m hopeful that this change might make up for what’s been going on with the recession – there’s definitely been a loss of work.

The problem in the UK is in the culture of listening to this music. We’re so centred on pop music and have been since the sixties. There’s just something about the appreciation of jazz music. In Europe it’s something to take notice of, to applaud and respect. Here there just isn’t that mindset. People will go to rock and classical shows – but there isn’t a cultural context for this music in-between. That’s the fundamental problem. Until we have that woven into the cultural fabric, jazz musicians are always going to be the ones stuck in the bar who you can talk over.

The Revoice! festival saw you sing with a different performer every night – does this collaborative spirit impact your songwriting?  

I think there is a (perhaps subliminal) impact. In ReVoice! I mainly work with just one other artist each night, which means it’s a really intense conversation. The sonic landscape we create definitely informs more than just my performance on that particular night: I think it has a linguistic and melodic influence too as I’m still carrying those artists’ ideas around in my head. That suits my way of writing – at the start it’s very organic, then I’ll really hone my style and craft.

When did you start writing your own compositions?

The first lyric I wrote was actually the title track to my first album Peaceful Place nearly 10 years ago. It’s a beautiful tune by the pianist and composer, Tim Lapthorn (he’s in my band) and he suggested I try writing a lyric as I liked it so much. It took me a year to get it right and then the next tune he gave me literally took 10 minutes: I’ve found a slightly more realistic middle ground now. I still prefer to work from a starting point of the music whether in collaboration with other writers or penning a lyric to an existing song. I also like to work on translations which is a huge challenge: to keep the meaning of the original language but still make it read coherently and poetically in another.

Is there much new jazz material being written and released?

Absolutely! I think jazz has always been at the forefront of songwriting by the very nature of improvising which is, in effect, instant composition. There are so many talented jazz musicians working at the moment and the music is getting ever more sophisticated. Writing is definitely a big strand to musical development and I think jazz is sub-dividing more and more, meaning its influences are broader than ever.

Are there any new musicians we should be looking out for?

Kwabena Adjepong is an amazing singer. He recently supported Plan B on tour and has the most incredible voice for a young man. It’s so soulful. There’s so much feeling and maturity in it. I can imagine him reaching a wider audience which wouldn’t be limited to just a ‘jazz’ crowd. He has a mightily impressive voice and presence. I hope he makes it.

Read Georgia’s interview with M about the Revoice! Festival

Image by Lara Leigh