Behind The Scenes with Manteca

Worldwide tours, a Juno award, a career that spans 30 years - Manteca is the quintessential new world jazz band. We got an inside look at being a musician, the creative process for a 12 member band, and the CBC's role in the band's evolution.

CBC is proud to be the presenting sponsor for the Manteca performances at the Glenn Gould Studio, September 22nd and 23rd.

For tickets and more information, visit

How would you describe the current jazz scene in Toronto, in your hometown in Montreal, in Canada, and worldwide?

Well it seems that there are always two jazz scenes, one above ground and one underground. The above ground scene is very singer driven right now, instrumental music in general, never mind that challenging instrumental music tends to have a harder time getting heard. But underground, players need to play, writers need to write and they do so however, wherever. There's some pretty innovative stuff going on. When we play a festival we often play in front of 4000 or more people who are just beyond excited, and I look out and see parents, kids, grandparents, couples, singles, everyone having a great time and I think, "Who says jazz is not 'popular' music, capable of attracting a big slice!"

You once said to the audience "I'm not sure whether this is the last show or pre-production for the reunion tour". This premature break-up turned into a hiatus - what inspired the band's rebirth?

Money. A little known fact, but if you want to make a lot of money, start a nine piece band, with a four person technical crew, play instrumental jazz that blends world, funk, and big band in composer driven original songs...the money is astonishing! Um, actually, not really.

I was in Halifax in 2006 for the Junos and was struck by how many people came up to me and told me how much they respected our work and missed our presence. It was very touching. One of the creators from Trailer Park Boys, told me his first date with his (now) wife was at a Manteca show and somehow it helped close the deal! And then a hard core rock executive from the music biz came up and told me in the early 90's how much he admired our stage show - production values etc and called it the "Best Rock Show Never Gave". So all these things led me summon the band...we had $235 left in our bank account - it had been there for 9 years...I said "Let's drink this and see what happens...." We gathered at a pub on John St. and three years later we are so happy we did this as we have performed and recorded what we really think is our best work and we have been having great fun doing it.


What's the CBC connection? How has the CBC played a role in the band's evolution?

Well let's see...tough question: How 'bout this..."No Manteca". CBC has been with us for the past 30 years, always and forever supporting what we do, long before anyone else. Our first real concert was in Winnipeg recorded by the CBC produced by then CBC producer Ross Porter. It was a big moment for the band as we were flown to Winnipeg, stayed in a hotel! (Yeah a real hotel!), headlined the show on a huge stage with great live production, sold out, standing ovations, killer reviews in all the was kind of like a window on what our future could be...and in fact did turn out to be.

Our last record Fun Fun, a Night in Montreal was recorded by the CBC for Canada Live and co-produced by Frank Opolko, a CBC producer and dear friend and it is a record we are very very proud of.

When I was very young and first learning how to play, the CBC is what fed me new music and sometimes obscure music but very important influences.

Now the CBC has not only done this for us, but thousands of others...writers, musicians, artists...unfortunately the CBC rarely gets the credit it deserves for innovation and risk know what they say "Every Canadian knows how to do their job and run the CBC!"

Favourite live music spots in Toronto?

I have always loved the has gone from "venue" to "institution", a place where an artist can present a mini concert...with beer! Andre and David who run the joint are some of the most elegant, distinguished folks around.

What do you wish you could tell yourself at the beginning of your career?

Should have bought real estate in Toronto the late 70's. Honestly, people ask us this all the time when we do workshops for music students and it is a good question...the answer is simple: do not think East to West above the 49th parallel...when you are young and willing to sleep on floors, play in the US, play anywhere you can...because fame in Canada only has a best before date attached to it.

Tell us about the band's creative process.

Including the crew, who are actual members of the band, there are 12 of us and we see our roles as being "in service of the show". When we do a record we write pieces that we know will be fun and challenging to play live. When a tune is added to the live book it has to displace something that is already that means it has to have a role in the "narrative" of the show...What does it do? Excite? Allow for dreams? Showcase a player? Showcase an "ensemble within the ensemble"? They are all various things that we look for.

Since re-forming I really wanted to change the "sonics" of the band...I wanted to use instruments that we played but had not played in the Manteca context before, bass clarinet, alto flute, acoustic bass, cajone - how could we create a new voice with these sounds...

The band is a collective, Henry Heillig and I drive but everyone has a say in what roads we take and there is a lot of trust and respect and willingness to work however hard it takes to is a pretty inspiring bunch of people to be around.

Why make music?

Making cars is too complicated. Mind you, you should hear Frank Stronach play the bongos! He kills!

Matt Zimbel
Montreal Sept. 1, 2010


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