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Joe Maneri Dies at 82

Barre Phillips, Joe Maneri, Mat Maneri

Multi-reedist, composer and educator Joe Maneri died on Aug. 24 at a hospital in Boston. He was 82 years old. For most of his life, Maneri toiled in obscurity, spending his time as both a student and teacher of creative music. Although he retired from public performance for various stretches throughout his life, a series of recordings for the ECM, Hat Art and Leo labels during the ’90s helped to bring him a certain level of recognition among jazz aficionados and musicians. Author and graphic novelist Harvey Pekar championed Maneri and even insisted that his music be included in American Splendor, the film based on Pekar’s life. (Pekar also profiled the reedman for JazzTimes in 2000.) Maneri is perhaps best known for his passion for microtonal music, the use of 72 notes per octave. In 1995, fellow educator Ran Blake said about his colleague, “Along with Jimmy Giuffre and perhaps tomorrow’s Don Byron, Joe Maneri is one of the 20th century’s greatest clarinetists.”

Maneri was born in New York City in 1927, the son of Sicilian parents. Ironically, this artist, who would devote much of his life to music education, had little formal training and dropped out of school at a young age. He later attributed his problems at school to attention deficit disorder. He told Pekar in JT: “Without knowing what was wrong, I had to leave high school and went on the road playing clarinet and saxophones, sometimes together [à la Rahsaan Roland Kirk] and scat singing. I had difficulties. The difficulties I had in school continued in real life. I had to count my money 15 times to make sure I had it all, and read things over and over until I knew what they meant. It even bothered me in reading music.”

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