Like many of his musical peers, Joseph “Wingy” Manone had an enthrallingly eventful rise to fame; a rollercoaster railroad ride, documented in his 1948 book Trumpet on the Wing. But the rail-riding jazzman eventually settled down to have a family, living out his last days in Las Vegas, Nevada, with his children and grandchildren. We can hear Wingy’s take on a remarkable career, thanks to the biography he penned with Paul Vandervoort II. Now The Syncopated Times can bring you a fascinating insight into his personal life, thanks to the trumpeter’s grandson Jimmy Manone.
Jimmy inherited Wingy’s passion for music; the multi-instrumentalist toured with several rock and funk groups in the 1990s, playing the Las Vegas strip as well as teaching guitar professionally, but later swapped full-time music for the steady paycheck of a digital engineer. Still, this did not dull the lifelong love of melody encouraged by his legendary grandad and he still gigs regularly near his Tuscon, Arizona, home.
The younger Manone was just ten in 1982, when Wingy passed away, but spent his early life under the same roof as his famous grandfather. “He lived in our home,” said Jimmy, “or we lived in his, so I knew him quite well.” Wingy survived to the grand old age (in jazz circles) of 82. His last years were fairly typical, Jimmy recalls, often stopping in his room to watch the TV he loved so much. But his lifelong love of jazz persisted. “In the later years he kind of kept to himself,” said Jimmy. “But I remember one time when I was young: we had a storage room on the side of the house which my parents would tell me to not go in, as there were spiders in there.
“One morning I was up by myself and I happened to have this little xylophone. So I started hammering out a melody and singing: ‘I see the spiders in the store room, store room, store room.’ It was very much in the vein of my grandfather’s swingy melodies, because we listened to a lot of his music back then. Well, he came out of his room while I was playing and singing this; he was so ecstatic to hear it!”
Although Jimmy’s musical tastes veered off towards rock, they would eventually swing back to the hot jazz Wingy fought so hard to preserve when “sissy music” (Wingy’s words) dominated the pop charts. “My influences have been much different,” said Jimmy, “but my grandfather influenced me greatly in terms of showmanship. I don’t have much experience of playing his songs, but I loved all of his work. As a kid, his music just sounded so happy and bouncy to me.”
He added: “I suppose my ultimate favorite song of his, if I had to choose, is his version of ‘When You’re Smiling’ on his album he did with [Danish trombonist] Papa Bue. His humorous numbers really stand out for me, too, like ‘The Awful Waffle Man’ and ‘Where Can I Find a Cherry For My Banana Split.’ One of these days I may try my hand at covering one of his songs, but I find that his feel and approach was so distinctive that it would be difficult to do them any justice.
Jimmy’s grand-pop wasn’t just a musical sensation; he was a movie star too. (Jimmy remembers reporters from the Review Journal stopping by, in his retirement.) In 1940, he appeared in the musical blockbuster Rhythm on the River alongside Bing Crosby, Mary Martin, and Basil Rathbone. “It was an awesome piece of film,” said Jimmy. “You could see in it just how provocative Dixieland was considered to be at that time. He and his group were seen how a heavy metal act or rap act would be seen now.” He added: “He was very funny in that movie; it demonstrated his natural sense of showmanship and humor. And it includes some excellent jams with his band.”
Right until the end, Wingy remained “highly opinionated” when it came to music. “He wasn’t too much into the more modern styles of jazz,” said Jimmy. “I remember when some of my father’s musician friends came over and asked what he thought of bebop. My grandfather went and got his horn out and he started playing through a whole tone scale and then said: ‘This is what I think of bebop; all those cats do is play hide the note.’”
The Dixieland disciple’s biggest bugbear ought to have been swing smash hit “In The Mood,” for which Glenn Miller is remembered (even though Edgar Hayes had a first bite at it in 1938). Wingy penned its iconic riff as “Tar Paper Stomp,” but he never saw a cent in royalties. Yet, the only reference he makes to it in his book is that it caused “a little legal trouble,” leaving little clue as to how he really felt. Here, Jimmy can once again shed some light.
“He was said to have referred to Glenn Miller’s version as ‘In The Mud,’” said Jim, “so I don’t think he was a huge fan.” About the legal specifics, he can only speculate based on vague memories. “From what I remember, Mills Music gave him some nominal cash offer for exclusive rights to the song.
“I don’t think he saw the potential in the song that they did, as he had a modest hit with it previously,” he added. “So the cash offer was probably good for a song he thought would go nowhere. Based on what I remember hearing, there were no royalties; it was some kind of flat rate he received. There doesn’t seem to be a trace as to what kind of deal he made, but it appears that there was one.”
Jimmy says that, in the late 1990s, he met a music attorney who showed an interest in untangling the legal web. “From then on, she dodged my calls and everything,” he said. “But this was in New York, so it’s hard to say if she was an actual music attorney; everyone wanted to be perceived as a big player of some sort in the music industry, back then.” He added: “All I really know is that, had my grandfather inked a better deal, I might have flown over to the UK to do this interview in person! Still, I think Wingy’s ‘Tar Paper Stomp’ had a much more down-home feel then the slick, polished version you hear Glenn Miller perform.”
But Wingy did not let this injustice keep him down; Jimmy says the the star was every bit as “warm and funny” at home as he appeared on record and film, even if he had “grouchy moments.” The youngster’s hijinks were seldom appreciated. “Once, while he was sleeping in his room, I snuck in and tried to light a match between the toes of an exposed foot,” said Jim. “Thankfully it didn’t work, but he wasn’t too enthused about that.” Another prank involved dumping cold water on granddad while he slept. “That didn’t go over so well either,” said Jimmy. “He emerged from his room with a curtain rod in hand, chasing me around the house to teach me a lesson.” But Wingy’s quick-talking humor did continue after coming offstage, Jimmy insists. “My earliest years, I remember him saying rhymes like ‘ouch get off the couch,’ or ‘Jimmy, Jimmy, take all you gimme.’ When I try to repeat this, he would laugh and laugh.”
The bandleader, whose early career involved rent parties and fish fries aplenty (detailed in his biography), was also “a hell of a cook,” especially when it came to Italian food. “He spent hours in the kitchen whipping up some of the tastiest dishes one can imagine,” said Jimmy. “His simple spaghetti is still one of the tastiest things I can remember. He would take that one arm and crush the garlic on the counter.” But Wingy’s magnum opus was “chicken in the pot,” which he often cooked up for family. “It was essentially a chicken soup, with rice and tomatoes, but with a spice profile that made it nothing short of mindblowing,” said his grandson. “And of course he was the king of red beans and rice with ham hocks. To this day I’ve found nothing that comes close.”
Sometimes the legend’s food and humor would collide, in the kind of anecdote which causes Jimmy to remember Wingy so fondly. “One time there was a huge party with a lot of celebrities and my grandfather volunteered to cook,” he said. “He made an Italian braciole, which is a type of wrapped Italian roll. It was a smash hit and when people asked what it was he replied: ‘Feet braciole.’ Well it didn’t take people long to figure out that since these little wraps had to be tied, he couldn’t have done them with just one arm.”
Famously, in a long-running shared gag, the violinist Joe Venuti sent his one-armed namesake a single cufflink each Christmas. “A rarer story involves the time they were on a crowded subway,” said Jimmy. “Unbeknownst to my grandfather, Joe had taken his fake arm and slid it into the door as it was closed, so the door was partly open with his wooden arm wedged in it.
Aside from music, movies, food and fun, Wingy is famous for his jive talk. “I believe that was nothing more than his Louisiana accent, not a schtick,” said Jimmy. “It’s funny that lots of people tried to emulate him, without much thought to its origins. He had a swagger within his bones too, so it really wasn’t an act so much as it was him being as natural as could be on stage or off stage. I really think that’s what resonated with his fans, more than anything else.
Jimmy added: “His jazz voice was deeply influenced by those across the swamps,” said Jimmy. “He would stand waist deep in the swamps with his horn in his hand, listening to what was going on across the way. He’d then come back and teach his band the melodies to perform in their neighborhoods, blowing people’s minds. As it was heavily segregated back in those days the locals where he lived never heard any of this type of music, and he saw something in it that was worthy of incorporating into his own style.”
While the rest of the world remembers Wingy for this unmistakable style, Jimmy remembers his grandfather as “genuine, through and through.” He added: “When I remember my grandfather, I remember his warmth and humor. Seeing his performances on film remind me how genuine he was; the way he addressed the audience, his bandmates, and his special guests were exactly how he would act with us at home. Or with the mail delivery person, for that matter.”
It came as no surprise to Jimmy, reading his granddad’s biography, that he spent years defying death on the rails to reach his dream. “Often those who are revered in the music industry are known to be arrogant, maybe due to pressure to live up to what they’ve done in the past, but I never saw that in him,” said Jim. “He just knew instinctively how to go with the flow, and while he faced great obstacles throughout his life, he always let it roll off his back and take the stage with that characteristic swagger.”