Matt Zimbel: American Bravado, Canadian Modesty

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Manteca: Matt Zimbel

Hi there my name is Matt Zimbel and our social media advisor told me to write something about myself. Over the course of our renewed social media life I have enjoyed writing about my band compatriots immensely… writing about me, not so much. You see I was born in the United States and moved to Canada when I was fourteen so I have a lot of that American bravado mixed with that Canadian modesty. You might say I’m conflicted but I’m fucking awesome at being conflicted. I’m also super good at being modest, one of the most modest people I know, me.

I guess one would have to say I’m an optimist, I lead a nine-piece world jazz band with two crew members… but you know, when I’m on stage and the nine of us hit a shot at the same time, and I can hear the notes decay into the silence of the air between and I can hear the precision of the front of house mix bang off the wall at the back of the house and a bank of lights land right at that exact moment allowing me to see that look on the face of the audience, that look that says, “you just sucked all the air out of the room”, well then I think, “no, I’m good, with the 11 of us. I’m real good with that”.

Our band and crew works very hard to thrill our audience and I am extremely proud of everyone on this team. That’s me. Out!

Well, I thought that was “out” but the social media advisor (aka “my employers”) have effectively told me that this missive “will have to be re-written before it is good enough to be rejected” (a quote by the famous editor at The Toronto Star, Ralph Allen).

The question was posed… ”when you are not doing Manteca – what are you doing?” Ok fair enough. Last year I co-wrote and co-directed a feature documentary about my father the photographer George Zimbel. You can watch the trailer for Zimbelism here where you will recognize the music… Also last year I wrote and directed a documentary for Canal D about how I learned how to speak French. One of the things that I did during the doc, was challenge myself to do a set of stand-up comedy in French at a huge comedy festival in Quebec City. It was the scariest thing I have ever done in my life. You can read about it at the Montreal Gazette. Last year I also had the incredible opportunity to work with CBC Sports as the producer of the opening for the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games, which was created by Cirque du Soleil… which you can see a clip of here.

One other thing I do when I’m not touring or recording with Manteca is that I love to write and you can find a recent piece here at



Fun Fun – A Night in Montreal – 2008

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Fun Fun A Night in Montreal is a live CD we recorded in Montreal at the wonderful old vaudeville theatre “Le Tulipe”. This was the second night of our 2007 tour. I remember this show well, the band was so polite with each other, time for a fill?, no, please after you, I insist. Lots of “air” in this show and we like air… it’s the space in between the notes, if you can hear the air that means we’re tight! That night we were tight, we were loose.

Many thanks to my co-producer on this record the wonderful Frank Opolko, who is a great trombone player and producer. Jeff Wolpert mixed this for us. He was in one of his “no reverb” periods…the engineering on the live recording was so tight that he just was basking in the sounds. The mix turned out very separate but very dry. At mastering we put a little verb on the whole mix…not usually done that way but I think it gives the record a real impact. It was broadcast as a show on Canada Live on CBC. John Johnson, Steve McDade, Rob Gusevs, Henry Heillig, Mark Ferguson, Art Avalos, Charlie Cooley, Kelly Jefferson and me. The cover photo was taken by my father George Zimbel, it’s called Fun Fun for obvious reasons.


Monday Night at the Mensa Disco – 2013

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Mensa is an international organization open to all… There is only one requirement to get in, you must have an IQ in the top 2% of the population. Piece a cake! You can do the test online, it’s fun, it’s easy! Only 30 questions. Here is a sample question.

Four years ago, Jane was twice as old as Sam. Four years on from now, Sam will be 3/4 of Jane's age. How old is Jane now?

My answer: Dead

Their Answer: 4 years ago Jane was 8, Sam was 4. In 4 years from now, Jane will be 16 and Sam will be 12.


I got 53% and ran out of time. 53%! …and I’m a percussionist! I know that must be shocking.

I can see you running to the website, so cocky and sure of yourself…anyway, go ahead, knock yourself out. (

When I was on the site doing the test I got bored and started looking around and I found this little promotional blurb: “Mensa has many events for members including leadership workshops and dances…"

Dances? Did they say dances?

So it struck us that if smart people, really smart people like to dance they must have special dance needs. Which means, there’s a niche market in music no one else is serving! So we started writing music for this exclusive group of smart asses, music that uses odd time signatures, music that is constructed in unconventional forms, music that screams “give this one a whirl Einstein !”

We were getting more and more excited about this idea, so we presented it to our record company. The marketing department wanted to know if we thought that given how the record business is these days, was it really that smart to target a CD to only 2% of the population. Well, I told them, “Smart? like I got 53% on the freakin’ test how do you expect me to answer a question like that?

Once the CD was written we wondered where our music might be played, where do smart people hang out? I mean a smart person wouldn’t book a Ball Room at the Ramada, would they? Right! There must be a Mensa Disco. And if there is a Mensa disco there must be a doorman. And if there is a doorman at the Mensa Disco he would no doubt say; “yeah, I can let you in, but I’m gonna have to see some IQ.“

Matt Zimbel
Montreal July 2013

Thank You Toronto, For Making Manteca Great Again

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Photography by Kris Frostad

Opening Monologue Nov. 10, 2016 - Young Centre for the Performing Arts.

Thanks everyone, thanks for making Manteca great again.

I'm thinking about the meeting Obama had today with Trump at the white house and it starts early in the morning when President Obama openings his eyes in bed at dawn, thinks about his upcoming day and groans, "Fuuuuuuuckkkkkk"

I know one thing for sure, you know the Obama's "when they go low, we go high". Obama is going to be unfailingly polite to Trump, he will call him Mr. President Elect, he will shake hands, "not so small really! ". But you can be sure he’s going to try and pysch him out you know that… he’s gonna leave the birth certificate on the coffee table, he’s going to have his assistant call on the red phone and pretend to be Putin and Obama will take the call, listen for a minute and then tear Putin a new asshole, in Fluent Russian!

This week I’m thinking we have older white males with no college education to thank for this. Hey wait a sec, I’m an older white male without a college education. (My girlfriend says I skipped a lot of grades). I voted for Clinton, it wasn’t hard to do, you don’t need a fuckin PhD to know the Republicans have never done a god damn thing for working folks…as Obama says, "come on, man!

The only educated question you need to ask yourself is this… who would you trust more your government or your insurance company?

You know Melania met with Michelle at the same time... " I love vhat you’ve done wif de place. Any udder of dos tings, you know doz word tings, yeah de speeches! Any more speeches hanging round here you vont be needing?

And then in Texas, George W. wakes up looks at Laura and says,
"Laura, Laura wake up, I’m not the dumbest US president any more …sombitch!

No Net – 1996

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This is a live album taken from various performances in 1993 and 1994 in Canada, Europe and the United States. These are board mixes, meaning that they were recorded on the live console by our front of house engineer at the time, the brilliant John Lacina. There is no remixing on this album, as it was played, so it remained.

Band members on No Net
Matt Zimbel, Henry Heillig, John Johnson, Art Avalos, Charlie Cooley, Steve McDade, Mark Ferguson, Phil Dwyer

Onward! – 2007

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Recorded in 2006 released in 2007. Our first album after the hiatus. For this record, we had trombone for the first time which was a great thing, as it seemed to lock the rhythm section to the horn section. We also used bass clarinet and alto flute, which changed the Manteca sonic palate substantially. This record was nominated for two Juno Awards, for Best Jazz Album and for Best Engineering… We did not win but you should have seen the gift bags!

Band members on Onward!
Matt Zimbel, Henry Heillig, John Johnson, Aaron Davis, Art Avalos, Charlie Cooley, Steve McDade, Kelly Jefferson, Mark Ferguson

The House With Leonard Cohen

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Manteca with Leonard Cohen
The House with Leonard Cohen


When I finished last nights Manteca concert at the Young Centre for Performing Arts, Lyne told me Leonard Cohen had passed away. Can one be down to earth and utterly elegant? Leonard could and it was not the suit, it was the man, his generosity of spirit, his kindness and his respect for others and his deep respect for words.

Here is a story I posted last year on my site.

U is for Ubiquitous. In 1993 my long-time friend, composer and collaborator Doug Wilde and I were co-leaders of a band called “The House”. Named thusly because we were the house band on a national CBC weekly “variety show”, as they were called in those days, hosted by Ralph Benmurgui. The producers had invited Leonard Cohen to play on the show to coincide with the release of his 9th studio album “The Future”. He was not yet touring, had just finished the recording and was nervous about playing with a house band. He agreed to do the show but wanted to play with his pre-recorded album tracks, the kiss of death for a live TV show. The producers asked me if I would write Leonard and lobby him to perform with our band by sending some recordings of the group. Easily done. I had met Leonard in 1988 while interviewing him for a BBC/ABC/CBC music show I co-hosted called “Wired”. Leonard is a master interview subject; present, measured, funny, philosophical. His vocabulary is striking, but not in a pretentious way; for example, he might call a tour, “an enterprise” or an abandoned idea would “overthrown”, to get out of something, one might “extract “ themselves…He speaks slowly, allowing himself time. to. consider. what. to. say. next*. It is a journalistic seduction – one starts to wait for the considered words of the poet with great anticipation. But unlike so many of the famous, his willingness to connect appears so genuine. During our interview, I truly believed there was no place he would rather be than talking to me.
I bragged to my journalist friends, ‘oh man, wait until you hear the interview I did with Leonard, it was incredible, he was so charming, so engaged…no question this is the best interview I have ever heard him do”.
“Really?” they would say, “he did a pretty great one on our show too”.
“ Yeah, right!”
And then I would hear the interview on their show and it would be the same interview, just as warm, just as revealing, just as exclusive feeling… but not exclusive at all, God damn it.
In my letter to Leonard that accompanied the recordings of the band, I reminded him of our previous meeting and in a couple days he got back to the producers and confirmed that he would be delighted to play with the house band and would be performing “The Future” and “Closing Time”. We had copies of the recording and were told that Leonard would bring the charts with him.
The day before he arrived I convened the band for a rehearsal and we learned Leonard’s tunes…in great detail and with a kind of live impact that the studio recording did not have. I told the band that when Leonard arrived they were to look his charts over and ask all kinds of questions, giving the impression they had never heard the tunes before….”when we get to the second chorus, does the pre-chorus repeat or do we just go right in? “Do you want the feel in the bridge to be more staccato”? “Do you want us to pick up the horn shots in the last chorus or play through?”
Leonard and his musical director were extremely gracious in answering our numerous queries and when all was set, Leonard turned to the band and said with his with his ever present elegance, “well, friend’s, shall we give this a try?”
Our drummer, Charlie Cooley, shouted out the count with über confidence; “…click, click, in, two, three, fooooouuur”! The band landed on the downbeat like a train, after the first 8 bars Leonard turned to us with a huge smile on his face….it struck me that he had not heard this song played by a live band before and he was both relieved and filled with joy.
After we performed, Leonard sat with Ralph for the interview and could not stop breathlessly talking about the band, “wow, I really appreciate your band, really grateful…they’re really great. Wow. ” Since this adventure, I have run into Leonard a few times at the grocery store, but I have never told him of our cheatin’ ways.
*When I teach public speaking I always show my students two speakers, Bill Clinton’s convention speech in 2012 for Obama for plain spoken message and Leonard Cohen in interview for pace… I tell them that during their speech, a tiny version of me is going to sit on their left shoulder and whisper in their ear: STFD, STFD, STFD…slow, the, fuck, down, slow, the,fuck, down.


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