The two projects helped us not only to stay connected but offered a focus and a sense of the future.
Every now and again an album comes along that immediately makes a strong connection. One such recording for me was Songbook by Georgia Mancio and Alan Broadbent that was released in 2017. The music was so captivating and the songs so perfectly crafted that I was prompted to state that this musical meeting of minds between Georgia and Alan “as one of the most formidable song writing partnerships of the 21st century”.
Since then, I have no reason to revise that opinion but have instead had the pleasure of hearing this relationship deepen and continue to evolve as the pair collaborate on more songs, and the release of a second album Quiet Is The Star in 2021. A duet recording of such exquisite beauty that never palls with repeated hearings but once heard becomes impossible to forget as it seems to speak to the listener revealing more of its secrets on subsequent hearing.
As with so many successful partnerships obstacles often have to be overcome. With Georgia and Alan, the obvious one is the distance with Georgia living in London and Alan in New York City, so how did the two meet? “We met thanks to my oldest friend in music, bassist Andrew Cleyndert, who knowing I was a fan, suggested I contact Alan to see if he would consider doing a gig with me when he was next in Europe”, explains Georgia.
“I would have been too shy to initiate that myself but coming from Andy, it was like a validation. I discovered immediately that Alan was very open and humble, with a great sense of humour, so he made my request feel natural and welcome. We played our first gigs in November 2013.”
Continuing Georgia says, “Having heard a couple of my lyrics already (songs by Horace Silver and Chick Corea), he asked if I wanted to try one for ‘The Long Goodbye’ – a haunting waltz originally created for Charlie Haden’s Quartet West. The selection was poignantly apt as I was travelling to my dad’s house for the last time, following his death the year before. It became ‘The Last Goodbye’ and Alan clearly recognised that I wrote from the heart; our sensibilities very much aligned. He kept on sending them, I kept on writing and almost 10 years later, we are approaching 40 songs together.”
“Having begun writing songs together, the next step was to record a selection for an album, and as Georgia recalls, “The first album, Songbook, came in 2017, after a really intense writing period and thanks to Alan’s insistence that if we were to record, it should be only our originals.
There’s a lot of range in it, thanks also to the dynamics of bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer Dave Ohm, who both embraced the project and helped us lift the songs from the page. In fact, it was actually Dave who suggested the follow up, Quiet Is The Star (2021) be in a duo, which really suited the collection of songs we were writing in its run up. Both albums have benefitted hugely from the skilful production of our friend Andy Cleyndert, who really nurtured them as carefully as us.”
While not quite revealing how the magic and chemistry between them works, Georgia and Alan decided to publish a book, The first, The Songs of Alan Broadbent & Georgia Mancio, collected all 33 songs with Alan’s music and Georgia’s lyrics along with lead sheets in the female keys, so I asked Georgia what prompted the publication of the book making the music and lyrics available.
“When the world went into lockdown, we started post production on Quiet Is The Star, having fortunately recorded it at the end of 2019” says Georgia. “All the while we carried on writing, so the idea of publishing a book presented itself. The two projects helped us not only to stay connected but offered a focus and a sense of the future. We also both felt that these were songs to be shared and performed by others, and it is a great honour that they have already been covered by several other artists.”
The finished product is however much more than just a book of sheet music and lyrics. There is an introduction to the two musicians who also then go on to give an insight from their own perspective of their meeting and flourishing writing partnership. In addition, we are given an insight into each song by Alan and Georgia and some wonderful photographs from Tatiana Gorilovsky, Carl Hyde and Tony Day.
The visual imagery is also greatly enhanced by the magnificent artwork of Simon Manfield, whose work originally appeared on the album covers and was commissioned by the two musicians for the albums and then followed through to the books as well. As Georgia explains “The idea was to also create an art book, bringing Simon’s bespoke work to the fore. For the Songbook album we very specifically wanted pencil drawings to accompany the songs.
Almost as outlines or pointers to the stories behind them, that also leaves the listener room to fill in their own.” Continuing, she adds “It is to Simon’s immense credit that he then produced such vivid and contrasting watercolours to fit the mood of Quiet Is The Star.
Knowing that the first book was a real labour of love with much proof reading before Georgia was happy with the final draft, I asked her why she decided to put herself through the ordeal again and produce a second volume, this time in the male keys with the full piano accompaniment? Laughing, Georgia pauses before answering “Yes honestly, we probably underestimated the task and were particularly grateful to pianist Kate Williams who lent her expert eyes, among others, including yourself! We also could not have produced such a beautiful end product without the editing and proofreading of Adrian Pallant, and the graphic design of Rachel O’Reilly.
The second volume came again as a way to keep producing and keep connected, as due to the logistics of Alan being in NYC and me being in London, we still haven’t managed to play / tour together since 2019. It offers another way into the songs which we hope allows more people to discover them.”
As a nonmusician, Alan’s piano parts look a little terrifying. For anyone aspiring to play the piano music themselves I wondered what level of musicianship is required to accomplish this? Bringing in Alan to answer this question, he confirms that they are indeed for most of us terrifying and adding “The piano parts are intended for reasonably proficient pianists and musicians interested in an accurate harmonic setting of the songs.
With a bit of work, they can be used as stand alone piano solos similar in style to George Shearing’s arrangements of standards which are still available today and which I used as models.”
After hearing and enjoying the two albums so much, and knowing that Georgia and Alan are currently writing more new pieces can we expect more recordings anytime soon? And are there plans afoot to bring Alan to the UK for some performances?
“Definitely!”, comes the enthusiastic reply. “There is a missing part of the story that suggests these albums are actually part of a trilogy. I’ve also been thinking that where we previously gave Simon art direction, he is now very much part of the team and to let him have free reign would be fitting and fascinating.
We are currently planning our 10th Anniversary Tour for November 2023, with UK dates centred around London Jazz Festival. In that period, we will certainly record and see where that takes us.”
For more information about Georgia visit her website.
Books and CDs are available at Georgia’s Shop.
Click here to read our review of Quiet Is The Star.
Click here to read our review of Songbook.