“What I do comes from my heart, comes from my spirit and is dedicated to Him. It can be at a jazz concert or anywhere. I had to come to grips with that. In fact, I even stopped playing for a while to pray about that situation and to pray about my commitment. I always wanted to be committed to Him but I felt that I was not being true to the relationship because of some of the things that I was playing and because I wanted to play jazz. I took almost a year off and around that time was when I really made a commitment to follow His lead, to follow His direction and to acknowledge Him in all (ways),” says phenomenal jazz bass guitar player and composer Michael Manson before paraphrasing a passage from Proverbs, “Acknowledge Him in all ways and He shall direct thy paths.” I just gave it over to Him and said my music is dedicated to Him.”
Michael Manson has blown away listeners, radio stations and audiences with the music he has created for his first CD The Bottom Line and his current project Just Feelin’ It released in September of 2006 on the 215 Records label. His first single from The Bottom Line “Outer Drive” climbed to the number ten spot on the R&R smooth jazz charts. Mixing smooth and contemporary jazz vibes Manson’s groove oriented charts are lush and well orchestrated. With songs such as “Coming Right At You”, the Latin flavored “It’s The Way She Moves”, inspired by his wife Lana, the remake of an old hymn “Tis So Sweet” and the gospel missive “Another Chance” Manson has found a way to connect with listeners from diverse backgrounds.
“I think when people hear your music they want to know where it comes from. They want to know all about you. They kind of get a feeling from the music but I think that the people who hear your music should know you and should know all about you. To me music is humans sharing. It is one human to another just sharing. If they are going to know my music, they are going to know about me and if they are going to know Michael Manson they should know that Michael Manson is a family man, is a married man, is a Christian man, they should know the whole story. In that way there is a connection and I think that is what this music thing is all about, it’s being able to be connected. If we are connected it becomes less and less about the celebrity thing and becomes more about human sharing,” says Manson.
That sense of connecting has carried over into Manson’s new arrangements for “Tis So Sweet”. “My goal was to have a really intimate, not overly boisterous setting for the entire hymn. It has minimal instrumentation. It is two friends sitting by a fire and talking. That was my goal,” he says.
Often those in the spotlight will remain aloof from their fans and try to avoid interacting with them in public to protect their privacy; however, Manson has endeared himself to his listening throng by taking the opposite tact. In describing the fans he encounters on the jazz cruises he says, “Some of these smooth jazz fans are just terrific people. Just to hang with them and live with them is a great experience. As you walk around saying hi to everybody, 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 the people because they are the people who support your music. I met many great people on this last cruise. It will be great to keep in touch with them.”
Continuing to enthuse about the cruise ship fans he says, “You have to realize that all 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 the music. The (way they) respond is great because nobody really comes on the cruise just to be on the cruise. They come to be with you and hear the music. They come to hang out with all the artists and that is why they are there. The response is unbelievable. At a regular jazz concert or festival, some of those people come just to hang. They just come because it is an event and it (gives them) something to do. The people on a cruise pay a lot of money and they wouldn’t do that if they weren’t a true fan. The response is much greater on a cruise than it would be anywhere else.”
A look at Manson’s tour schedule quickly reveals that he has immense popularity on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean as he completed a tour of Holland in the late fall of 2006 and is crisscrossing the United States throughout 2007. At the time of our conversation, he had just returned from his fifth jazz cruise this time as a featured guest artist with Brian Culbertson.
Despite all the notoriety and quickly approaching celebrity status Manson’s message remains loud and clear. Speaking about his original composition “Another Chance” he says, “There is rarely a day that I miss listening to that song because the lyric says that whatever we didn’t get right the day before, God has given us another chance today to get it right, to tell that person that you forgot to tell that you love them. (We) get to clean up a wrong that we did the day before. You have another chance. Until we pass away we always have another chance.”
“In the Word of God it says that His mercies are renewed every morning so the stuff that we did yesterday we have another chance to get it right today. I get up in the morning and I listen to that song,” he says.
“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.”
Palmore, Felicia Coleman-Evans and Trina Davis give spectacular vocal performances on “There’s Nothing Better Than Love” and the Bill Withers’ tune “Lovely Day”. Kevin Whalum is the lead vocalist for “Lovely Day”. Candy La Flora, Roberta Sanders and Pastor Chris Harris join the trio for “Another Chance”.
With his own projects and the projects, he works on for other artists Manson always requests Coleman-Evans, Palmore and Davis for vocals. Unfortunately, for the rest of us those projects are likely the only time we are going to hear the trio because Manson says they rarely sing together outside of the studio. All three of them are praise and worship leaders at the churches they attend.
Whether he is leading his family in their Saturday devotional or on the road, quietly praying to God Michael Manson is sure of one thing and that is his relationship with the Lord. It was when he was in his mid teens that Manson first entered into a personal relationship with Christ but like a lot of us, it was two steps forward and two steps backwards. “It really wasn’t until I was twenty years old that my relationship became stable and I realized that the gift of music that He has given me is always for His use,” he says.
Copyright © 2007 Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved. This material may not be redistributed without prior written permission from Joe Montague. Joe Montague is an internationally published freelance journalist / photographer.