Webster University alumnus Joe Mancuso graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music in the fall of 1989, but the singer is not the only Mancuso to relish the rhythm of jazz.
His daughter, junior Chela Mancuso, is majoring in music with an emphasis in vocal jazz.
Both Joe Mancuso and Chela Mancuso share an interest in performing as jazz vocalists, which Chela Mancuso said she believes is just something that runs in the family. Like her dad, she likes being able to entertain people and interact with an audience.
Chela Mancuso grew up hearing jazz, so when she came to Webster and had to decide between classical or jazz, she said it was a no-brainer. What she said she likes about jazz is the spontaneity of it.
“One thing that I think is really cool is that you almost never play a song the same way twice because it’s so fluid and always changing,” Chela Mancuso said.
Joe Mancuso said performing jazz is euphoric. He loves the feeling of expressing thoughts and emotions through song and the energy he shares with the audience and bandmates.
“It’s almost the feeling of being high,” Joe Mancuso said.
Joe Mancuso made a vow on Jan. 1, 2011 to pursue his music career. The jazz vocalist put his music dreams aside a few years after graduation. After his 15-year hiatus, he said he could no longer live with those aspirations sitting up there on the shelf.
“The deaths of my brother and godson basically made me realize that life is way too short, and you can’t put your dreams on hold because time will just fly by,” Joe Mancuso said.
The vow Joe Mancuso made was just five years ago and, since that time, he has landed countless gigs, many with Webster alumni and faculty. Joe Mancuso has performed with all of his past music teachers, many of whom Chela Mancuso has as teachers now.
Joe Mancuso was interested in learning to record and engineer music. His first semester at Webster was in the first year a class that taught audio production and jazz was offered.
“Back then it had a really long name, Jazz Studies/Commercial Music with an Emphasis in Audio Production, so they shortened it to Jazz Tech since then,” Joe Mancuso said. “Me and one other student were the very first graduates of that discipline.”
Chela Mancuso said her dad always encouraged her to sing and write music when she was a child. There are recordings of her when she was five and six years old writing and playing songs with him.
Apart from occasionally playing with her father, and a few years of piano lessons when she was young, Chela Mancuso said she had no formal music experience before coming to Webster. When she went to audition for Webster’s music program, Chela Mancuso said everyone she talked to had a good four to five years of formal training under their belts. She said she felt like she dove into it, only having taken voice lessons the last semester of her senior year of high school.
Similarly, when Joe Mancuso got accepted to the music program, he did not have a formal musical theory background and did not know how to read or write musical notation. He said he had no idea what was in store for him because it was four years of hardcore learning.
“Webster really opened up my whole musical world,” Joe Mancuso said. “Until then I had no formal training, so I was really thrown into the deep water. But, I did really good because that’s what I wanted to do.”
Although Joe Mancuso is a jazz vocalist, he said a lot of people have an impression that he is only a Sinatra-type singer, but that is not really what he does. He said he has more rock ‘n’ roll roots than anything.
“I just happen to be going through a phase of singing the standards because I’m having a blast doing them,” Joe Mancuso said. “I’m in no way a Sinatra imitator, I just love performing those tunes, but I do them in my own style.”
In 2014, Joe Mancuso’s record Cut to the Chase won Best Album in The Riverfront Times Readers’ Poll. He said the record was a time capsule of what his band was doing at the time. They recorded on a small budget in just two sessions for the rhythmic section at the drummer’s house, and Joe Mancuso overdubbed the vocals after.
“I knew we needed to go to the studio and record a record because we’d been developing this sound, and I didn’t want it to disappear,” Joe Mancuso said.
Also in 2014, Chela Mancuso formed a five-person band called Crystal Lady. They perform all over St. Louis and started recording for their upcoming album, which they plan to release in December.
Chela Mancuso describes her jazz style as incorporating rock energy with undertones of hip-hop and R&B. She likes throwback artists like Amy Winehouse and pulls a lot from Stevie Nicks and The Beatles. She also puts Frank Sinatra on her list of inspirations.
“My whole family is just obsessed with Frank Sinatra,” Chela Mancuso said. “[That’s] one of the things that pushed me to get involved in jazz.”
Although Joe Mancuso and Chela Mancuso have been on the same bill for various shows they have put together, they have never performed a duet.
“A lot of people tell us to do a Natalie Cole and Nat King Cole thing,” Chela Mancuso said. “We plan to, it just hasn’t happened yet, but we’re going to eventually.”