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Matt Darriau: Who is Manny Blanc?

Over the years Matt Darriau, the composer and reed player for the Klezmatics and the Paradox Trio, has had an enormous influence on both the Balkan and Yiddish music revivals. His current and past projects have included tribute to Yusef Lateef (Yo Lateef); early Duke Ellington (Ballin’ The Jack); Celtic music (Celtic Eclectic) and many more. His new project is an homage to Manny Blanc, a wholly original – and nearly forgotten – musician who released an astonishing LP in 1961 called Jewish Jazz.

Manny Blanc was born into a musical family – his dad played Klezmer but also owned a music store. Manny attended Juilliard and the Curtis Institute, became a serious classical composer all the while working as a drummer for Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and others. Little is known about his Jewish Jazz album, which was released on an independent label. The intricate arrangements are a far call from the usual Catskill fare – and were clearly influenced by some of the Exotica orchestras of the time. Manny Blanc also used an unorthodox panoply of instruments – two electric guitars, chromatic harmonica, bassoon, duck call. Manny Blanc could be the R.D. Burman or Esquivel of Jewish Music, but until now had inexplicably failed to get noticed. As an interesting footnote, after years working as a musician, Manny Blanc became a full time painter, studying with Charles Seide at the Brooklyn Museum Art School.

Matt Darriau’s homage, recorded live at Pioneer Works during the April 2016 Second Sunday celebration, brings the music back from oblivion. With Matt Darriau – reeds; Gary Schreiner – harmonica, accordion, piano; Brian Drye – trombone, Yoshie Fruchter and Avi Fox-Rosen – guitars; Jonathan Singer – marimba/perc/toy piano,; Ari Folman Cohen – bass and Chris Stromquist – drums.