As one of the top Vibraphone players in the Los Angeles area, Nick Mancini has performed and recorded with such noted musicians in the jazz, pop and classical world as Kenny Werner, Marvin “Smitty” Smith, Charles Fambrough, Bob Hurst, Jennifer Holiday and Leon Fleisher. He was recently honored by the Los Angeles Annual Vibe Summit for his contributions to the L.A. Jazz scene. Yotam Rosenbaum got a chance to sit down and chat with him about that and more!

An Exclusive Interview with Nick Mancini (click here for the audio)

Yotam Rosenbaum: This is Yotam Rosenbaum, with Earbits, and today with us is Nick Mancini, a great jazz vibraphone player who recently was honored by the Los Angeles Annual Vibe Summit. I’ve known Nick for about four years, since he moved to Los Angeles, and I’ve been always impressed by his contribution to the jazz scene, here, in Los Angeles. So, I thought it would be interesting to hear more about the things that he’s doing here. So, Nick, why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself.


Nick Mancini: Sure. I’m originally from upstate New York, a little town called Amsterdam, which is near Albany, which is the state capital. And all of this is about three hours due north of New York City. And when I was doing my undergrad at Potsdam state, which is actually eight hours north of New York City, the New York HardBop Quintet with Ralph Lalama came up and did a little residency with us up there and I was, pretty much, immediately stricken with the idea that I should probably move to New York City once I graduated. So, that spring I auditioned for Manhattan’s School of Music, they gave me a really handsome scholarship and I started at Manhattan’s School of Music, doing my masters degree that following fall; that was 1996. And I continued to live in New York City until 2006, when some work started popping up for me up in LA. And I had met a girl and I’d, kind of, given myself a 10-year plan for New York City anyway, and I had reached that point and I thought to myself, I asked myself a couple of questions — am I truly, really happy in my day-to-day life living here? – and that was an easy one to answer, that was no; and then I asked myself, do I like the weather? – and that was also an easy answer, that was no; and then I finally asked myself, well, am I accomplishing what I want to accomplish here artistically? – and I think that because my energy was so low from the fact that my day-to-day life was what I considered to be difficult, I could tell that my artistic goals were really starting to fall to the way side. My girlfriend, at the time, Adrian Duncan, said “You know, maybe you should come out in LA and, just, see what can happen, you know.” And so I did. And I moved out here in January of 2006 and I haven’t really looked back since then. It’s been great since I moved here.


Yotam Rosenbaum: Nice. I’m interested to hear your perspective about the difference in the jazz scene between New York and Los Angeles. Maybe you can talk about that a little bit.


Nick Mancini: Yeah, of course, this is a big question on everybody’s mind. They are different, there’s no doubt about that. New York City, obviously, has a much longer standing reputation for being on the cutting edge of jazz and a lot of styles of music, whereas LA generally has a little bit of a reputation for commercial music. And that is true, I think it’s also important to recognize that there are a lot of really great musicians in Los Angeles, who are making very creative music and are out playing all the time. In New York it’s easier to be aware of a lot of different things, a lot of new things that are happening, as well as, you know, being able to go see someone like Vincent Herring who is also, still, very much in the bebop tradition, but killing it. So, it’s not as large in area as Los Angeles, so it’s easier to visit a lot of different clubs and hear a lot of things going up. Los Angeles, I think, because of its size, is a little more insulated. There are scenes that seem to be surrounding each club. And that’s kind of true in New York, as well, you have certain clubs that feature to certain styles of music and whatnot, but because they’re so… they’re physically so close to one another, you can actually visit more than one on a night.




Yotam Rosenbaum: Yeah, that’s very true. What about booking gigs here in Los Angeles? Do you find it easier or harder than New York?


Nick Mancini: I’ve had an easier time in Los Angeles booking gigs than I ever did in New York. But I think, I attribute that to my state of mind here and just my general spirit here. I think I’ve done a lot of work on my personality and on myself as an individual and I’ve definitely become a happier person. And I think that people like to be around happy people and I think they like to help happy people. So, I do believe that that’s had a huge effect on my ability to book gigs. A lot of gigs that I end up booking here in LA just seem to, kind of, fall in my lap. That might be due to the fact that I’m a vibraphone player, my profile’s a little bit more easy, accessible, as opposed to waving through a sea of saxophone players or a sea of guitar players. And so when people hear about the vibes in LA, it seems as though that my name is a bit synonymous with that. So, like, for instance – the first gig that I booked at Blue Whale, I walked in and June walked up to me and said “Hey, Nick. How are you? It’s good to meet you. My name is June. We should set up a gig” and I was like “Okay”, you know, and if I think to myself what club in New York is on par with Blue Whale in terms of hipness, and I immediately start to think of, like, in terms of, like, Smalls, or The Stone, and these clubs are not easy to get into. And  certainly, if I were to just waltz into one I don’t know if I would necessarily be asked to play in the next month. For me it’s a little bit different. I have spoken to people who find that it’s hard to book gigs here in LA.


Yotam Rosenbaum: So, as I mentioned earlier you were recently the honoree of the Los Angeles Annual Vibe Summit. Let’s talk about that a little bit. What exactly is the Annual Vibe Summit here in LA?


Nick Mancini: Sure. Yeah, every year the Los Angeles Jazz Society helps coordinate, what is called, the Los Angeles Jazz Vibe Summit. 18 years ago, this gentleman by name of Mal Sands, who is a great lover of the vibraphone, he set up this Annual Jazz Vibe Summit, mostly for himself, just because he wanted to hear his favorite instrument played by as many different people in one day, as possible. And he got the idea that, maybe, each year they should honor a different vibes player, for whatever reason. Sometimes it’s just because they’ve been doing it,or as long as they’ve been doing it, and in other cases it’s because they’re profile’s very high because they’re very great, or whatever, you know. And this year I was asked to be their honoree. And I believe I might be the youngest person that’s ever received the honor. I’m very flattered that I was asked. You know, the people that have shared this honor with me are, like, Terry Gibbs, Bobby Hutcherson, and Gary Burton and Joe Locke, it’s a pretty a pretty rarified erring and I feel very lucky to have been recognized.


Yotam Rosenbaum: Well, I know that you deserve the honor. I’ve been to many of your gigs and I’ve always been impressed by your playing and dedication to what you’re doing, so congratulations.


Nick Mancini: Thank you, man. I appreciate that.


Yotam Rosenbaum: So, these days you’re working on a new project with Katisse Buckingham, it sounds very interesting. Why don’t you tell us about it?


Nick Mancini: Yeah, it’s more Katisse’s gig that I’ve kind of really taken to the challenge. And, basically, what we’re doing it’s… I don’t know that it’s really groundbreaking-ly new, we’re just taking tunes that would be called on a gig, under normal circumstances, but we’re putting them into 11-13-15 and 17A. And it’s quite a challenge, and some of these larger time signatures are not that easy to wrap your brain around.


Yotam Rosenbaum: Yeah. I’m definitely happy that I’m gonna enjoy this from the audience’s side and not from the bands stand trying to figure out how to play this stuff.


Nick Mancini: It’s complicated but, you know, I don’t really feel like, well, I shouldn’t say I don’t feel like I don’t have to practice for a four anymore. I probably… there’s always stuff to practice there, that’s for sure. But it is nice to dig into something that’s a little bit different and feel like, you know, I get a great sense of accomplishment from being able to, just, kind of, like, get together on a gig with these guys – the drummer is Chris Wabich and the base player is Jerry Watts – and just get together and Katisse is like, no one will notice that it’s 11… and we get into them and do it, and we can just do it, and everybody can blow beautifully over it and it sounds like a band. I think the most important thing is we’re not really geeky about it. We’re just trying to play them as though… as naturally as we would play them if they were being called in 4-4, but it’s different meters, and we’re getting there. It takes time as a band, as well; once you’ve learned it as an individual, that’s one thing, but then getting it together as a band is a whole other bottle of wax. So, I think we’re probably gonna be releasing a record at the end of this summer.


Yotam Rosenbaum: Oh, that’s very exciting. Please do let us know when that happens and we will play it also on Earbits. Now, what about upcoming shows with your band or with the Katisse band?


Nick Mancini: Yeah, as a matter of fact, this band will be playing on Thursday at Curve Line Space, which is at 1577 Colorado Boulevard, in Eagle Rock.


Yotam Rosenbaum: That’s Thursday, the 21st, right?


Nick Mancini: Thursday the 21st, yep. There’s two sets that night, one is at 8 o’clock and that’s a Jay Matsueda, the songwriter, and, actually, that band is gonna back up Jay for the first set. And then the second set is gonna be that band playing all of our material. And that’s part of a performance series called Elastic Hour that I’m actually creating at that space every Thursday in July and August. And then, also, another thing that I’m really excited about is on September 30th, I’ll be performing at The Zipper Hall as part of the Angel City Jazz Festival. And, I think, this is the fourth or the fifth year that the festival’s been taking place. So, I’ll be doing some duets with Otmaro Ruiz and I’ll be playing some tunes with my trio, and then I’ll bring Otmaro up and we’ll do some quartet stuff. So, I’m very, very much excited about that. That’s Zipper Hall on September 30th.


Yotam Rosenbaum: Great, then all the information about the shows that you were talking about is actually below this page below the fold, and I definitely recommend everyone to go see Nick playing live. It’s a great experience. Before we say goodbye, let’s pick one of your tunes and listen to it together. Which tune would you like us to play, Nick?


Nick Mancini: Why don’t we listen to “Mobius”?


Yotam Rosenbaum: Sure, that is the second track on your recent release that is called “Now”. Thank you very much Nick for taking the time talking to us and good luck with all your upcoming projects.


Nick Mancini: Thank you, Yotam.


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