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.


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.


Dolby Atmos Listening

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Manteca: Dolby Atmos

Mission accomplished! Bravo! Really a remarkable experience thank you everyone! This could not have been done with more precision, more craft, more warmth and kindness and more taste.

L to R

Front row: Jeff Wolpert – Engineer, Matt Zimbel – Manteca/ producer / Composer, Anthony Montuno – Dolby Atmos Mixer, Charlie Cooley – Drummer/Manteca

Second row: Colleen Allen – Sax/Flute/Manteca, Doug Wilde – keyboards/Composer/Manteca, Michael Nunan – Dolby Atmos Mixer, Walter Vanafro – Jazz FM Host

Third row: Ben Escobedo, Justin Auld, Doug Spears. All 3 from Sennheiser (Ben is Sennheiser USA, the other 2 gents from Sennheiser Canada)

Far right: Norman Verrall, HHB Canada representing Merging Technologies

Doug Wilde: I’m The Architect, He’s the builder

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Manteca: Doug Wilde


Doug Wilde and I have been working together, co-writing, touring, creating shows, leading bands on TV, doing music for film and advertising now for I guess about 40 years. In all that time we have never had a fight. More importantly, I think it would be fair to say that we have always been proud of what we have done. This collaboration has taken us and the music around the world from Australia to Italy to China to the US and throughout Canada. Doug describes our co-writing collaboration as; I’m the architect, he’s the builder. Which is not the case all the time, sometimes he’s the architect and the builder and I’m doing a little light landscaping over the septic.

Writing this album, The Twelfth of Never was a two-year process that began at his house in Toronto listening to what we called “records that changed music”. It was an eclectic mix, Miles (Blue), Moby (Play), Laura Mvula (Can’t Live With This World), Maria Joao, Oregon, Eddie Harris and Les McCann, Elizabeth Sheppard. Baaba Maal, Värttinä, Manni Sandhu & Jelly Manjitpuri. It was a crazy mash up of stuff, in many cases, it might not be entire songs that interested us, it could be just a groove or a background vocal part. The listening mission was to explore. We wanted the Manteca album to be less structured than our previous work, we wanted to “meander” through the charts, not be in such a hurry to get anywhere. We wanted our new guitar player Nick Taiteshi not to just get parts, but to “cast” the guitar as a character in the songs.

Over the years of working together, one of our most bizarre collaborations was when we were asked to audition for the Conan O’Brien show back in the early 90’s. That story, and it is quite a tale of death and resurrection and re-death is told here. Here is the audition which includes Manteca’s Charlie Cooley on Drums, the remarkable Neil Chapman on Guitar, Collin Barrett on Bass, Phil Dwyer on Sax, Dave Dunlop on Trumpet, Gord Myers on Bone, Doug on keys and me on percs.


Pope of The Lower Octaves: Will Jarvis

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Manteca: Will Jarvis


In 37 years only three people have sat in the bass chair. No, wait a minute, no one “sits” in a bass chair in Manteca, if the groove don’t move the “bass person” (note gender neutral) Houston we have a problem. Henry Heillig, was the founding bassist (sounds like founding father, not gender neutral, but I’m in Charlottetown today hence the reference), in 2012, after 34 years of dedicated service Henry took the massive buyout option to concentrate on his awesome band the Heillig Manoeuvre. His last album is a gem among many great releases, and you can find it here.

Pat McBride followed Henry for the Monday Night at the Mensa Disco record and he burned it up! I was always happy to have Pat in the band for his playing and sense of humour but also because he came from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Our drummer, Charlie Cooley comes from Halifax, Nova Scotia. I don’t know how much you know about the centuries of ethnic fighting between Haligonians and the Dartmouthians, a people separated only by a bridge, but it is fierce, ugly and tragic. To unify these two guys in the same rhythm section, despite years of sectarian violence, I thought positioned Manteca very well for a prize, no, not the Juno, the Nobel Peace Prize…yeah, whatever! Bob Dylan.

Pat and Charlie got along great and my next assignment is to fix the Middle East, but Pat had too many things on the go and eventually the band was summoned to the secret hall where we have a ritual similar to the Papal Enclave and after 30 seconds of discussion, the white smoke was emitted and the adoring crowds were introduced to the new Pope of the lower octaves, Will Jarvis.

Now Will has played with everyone from Steve Gadd to Tito Puente so we were mighty happy to get him. We sent him charts and tracks so he could get up to speed on the Manteca book, which as you know is very simple, nothin’ to it really. He shows up for the first day of rehearsal, sets up the amp, sets up the pedals, tunes the basses but no music stand and no music.

“Hey Will, did you bring your charts?”

“Nope, don’t need ‘em, memorized it.”

“Okay then”.

So then we’re all asking him questions about the form of the new tunes…on his first day of rehearsal…”do we repeat A before we take the coda, I forgot?”


Will has been a joy to have in the band on so many levels and has just released his first solo recording a superb CD called, Con Gracious, which has received critical acclaim and a remarkable audience response.

Charlie Cooley Cheated on His Audition

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Manteca: Charlie Cooley

Charlie cheated on his audition. Well how do you cheat on an audition you might rightfully ask, I mean it’s not like passing off your neighbors urine sample for your own… you either play it brilliantly or you don’t. Stay with me here for the reveal, but first let’s back up.

Everyone was talking about this young cat from Halifax who was killing the drum chair in Long John Baldry’s band. It was 1985. Our drummer, Dave James had decided to move back to Halifax. I went to see Baldry’s band and Charlie was exactly what we were looking for… a really musical, tasteful rock drummer who listened intently and drove that band like an express train. Why would a jazz band that played a lot of salsa and samba want a rock drummer? Classified, can’t tell you that, sorry.

We asked Charlie to audition. He showed up at the audition and nailed it, all of it, the samba, the salsa, the merengue, the jazz…we hired him on the spot.

For 31 years and 9 albums Charlie has been deep in the pocket counting in the band, forever positive and always the most musically considerate person you could imagine. Time for a fill? “oh, no, please, after you, I insist!”

Two years after he joined the band we were on some scotch hazed evening on the tour bus leaving LA and he revealed to us that prior to auditioning, he had never played a samba or a salsa groove in his life, so he went and workshopped with his old teacher Dave James (see above), who was our old drummer who had all of our charts of course.

These days they indict people for less, but I always admired him for his gumption and because, well, we’ve never told him this, ever, but we weren’t going to audition anyone else. He was sentenced to drum in Manteca. End of story.

Official Portrait For Onward

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The official portrait for Onward, our 2007 release. Denise Grant who has done many beautiful portraits of us did this one at her studio in Toronto. In the age of photoshop many people thought that the apples were photoshopped in but no – we actually threw them in the air, Denise fired the shutter and most of us caught them. Getting nine people all looking good in a portrait at the same time is not easy, getting all the apples in the air at the same time while they look good is even harder.

Bottom Row: John Johnson, Matt Zimbel, Henry Heillig
Top row: Charlie Cooley, Aaron Davis, Steve McDade, Kelly Jefferson, Mark Ferguson, Art Avalos