“If it was my 18 or 19 year old self talking to you right now about putting out this album if I didn’t win the Jazz Tui award I would probably go on an internal rampage. But that’s not what motivates me anymore”
Myele Manzanza, Wellington-based but globally itinerant percussionist and jazz drummer has just released his second album One Point One. The album is a live recording of a 2014 show at Los Angeles’ Blue Whale - home to the dynamic West Coast jazz scene headlined by the likes of Kamasi Washington and Thundercat. For Myele, the album is snapshot of where he is in his quest to find his sound. It is a place less fraught and competitive than when he was a student at the New Zealand School of Music
“I had to be the best. I wasn’t angry, I was a cocky kid. I thought of the journey of music as a competitive sport.”
This approach did not help Myele, ”I was 19 and there was a bunch of first years at the NZ School of Music who decided to put together a superstar band [at the Tauranga Jazz Festival] and try and sweep the whole thing.”
Of their group Myele and bassist Ben Shepherd, who plays on One Point One, missed out on any awards “I got soundly not awarded and that night we were both pretty angry about it, Ben was ripping his singlet off in straight frustration. I was pretty despondent at the time.”
For someone who grew up at the feet of his Congolese percussionist father, Sam Manzanza, where music and drumming was a welcome and natural part of life, Myele came to realise that music was a “journey of self-discovery and finding out about who you are as a person and what you want to express.”
Apologising for sounding to esoteric and flakey, the relaxed approach seems to have presented opportunities for Myele, his latest crop of collaborations - Theo Parrish, Ross McHenry, Amp Fiddler, Jordan Rakei - hint of a professional musician establishing themselves and their sound.
And now leading a band from the drum stool, how does he harness a live, improvised sound when he’s at the back of the band? “It’s sort of democratic socialism with a splash of anarchy in there,” he laughs, explaining that it’s about all the musicians having a sense of agency to put forth ideas and having them listened to.
Artist: Myele Manzanza
Songs: Love Is War For Miles, City of Atlantis, Everybody Isn't A Long Walk
Album: One Point One
Label: First Word