Tuesday, December 27, 2016

New Orleans Jazz Banjoist Emanuel "Manny" Sayles

A few weeks back I came across an article titled 10 Great Jazz Tenor Banjo Players To Listen To, written by David Bandrowski for the Deering banjos blog.  On that list was a musician I had never heard of named Emanuel "Manny" Sayles.  I checked out some of the records he played on and was instantly captivated by the music.  Manny is a superb rhythm player and an inspiring soloist.  Finding out about him has opened the door towards listening, appreciating and learning about traditional New Orleans jazz, and it has given me someone to focus on as a possible influence.
Emanuel "Manny" Sayles
Emanuel Sayles was born in Donaldsonville, Louisiana on January 31, 1905 (or 1907). His father George Sayles was a musician who played many instruments, including bass and viola.  Manny studied violin with a teacher in New Orleans named Dave Perkins and eventually taught himself to play banjo and guitar. He formed a neighborhood band with some of Perkins' other students and in 1924 they were hired to work in Pensacola, FL. The band became known as the Pensacola Jazzers and played all over the Gulf Coast.

In 1926 Manny returned to New Orleans where he was the banjoist in various groups for the next 12 years, including regular gigs at the New Orleans Country Club and on the Streckfus riverboats.  When electric guitars were invented Manny was required to get one for playing on the riverboat.  The electric guitar eventually took him to Chicago in 1938.  He would stay in Chicago for a decade, playing electric guitar and working as a sideman and band leader.

Manny returned to New Orleans in 1949 and by the mid 50's had taken up the banjo again and gotten back into the traditional New Orleans jazz music, which was starting to have a revival.  He subbed for the great George Guesnon at Preservation Hall and eventually replaced Lawrence Marrero on banjo in George Lewis' band after Marrero passed away.  

In the early 1960's Manny Sayles was featured on several classic GHB LPs, including Louis Nelson Big Four - Volumes One and Two, Kid Thomas/George Lewis - Ragtime Stompers, Sweet Emma Barrett and Her New Orleans Music, and Sayles' Silverleaf Ragtimers, to name a few.  These records are worth seeking out, not just for Manny's banjo playing but also for the intricate way the clarinet, trombone and/or trumpet interact in the New Orleans style of music.


I had always heard that Elmer Snowden's Harlem Banjo album was the holy grail of jazz banjo music, which it certainly is.  However, for some reason it never really captivated me.  Now, with the discovery of Manny Sayles, I have found a prime example of jazz banjo, as played in New Orleans.  Those Louis Nelson Big Four albums are doing it for me.

Sayles continued recording until the 1980's and had multiple opportunities to tour internationally in his later years.  He died on October 5, 1986.  Manny wasn't the flashiest of players or one of the most well known, but his musicianship is certainly among the best of the 20th century New Orleans jazzers.

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