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Interview: Mrs. Shelly Manne

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Flip Manne, Shelly Manne's wife, was born in 1921 in Vermont, rode horses and took dance lessons from an early age. In 1939, she moved to New York and eventually took a job dancing at the Roxy Theatre. She soon auditioned at Radio City Music Hall and won a position in the fabled Rockettes, who back then danced in four shows daily. She met her husband in the early 1940s. Today, at 95, Flip is president of the Los Angeles Jazz Society.

Flip recently reached out to me by email following my post on her husband. Fortunately, I had a chance to catch up with her...

JazzWax: How did you meet your husband?

Flip Manne: World War II was in full swing, and the husband of one of my mates at the Music Hall was going into the service. He played in the pit at the Music Hall and was one of the people who introduced Shelly to jazz. His wife threw her husband a going-away party and Shelly, who was already in the Coast Guard, came with a date. After we were introduced, he took her home and came back to the party. We started dating after that. He was funny and always at the center of things.

JW: How did you get that cool nick-name?

FM: When I was very young, I had several aunts named Florence, which is my birth name. They were all called Flo. For some reason I hated the name. My mother started calling me Flip Flop because I was always leaping around, long before I began taking dance classes. Eventually I dropped Flop.

JW: How did Shelly learn to play the drums?

FM: Shelly's father was in an administrative position at Radio City Music Hall. He had been a percussionist. As a result, Shelly grew up in the Music Hall. At one point he was even an elevator operator back stage. Billy Gladstone, the legendary drummer in the pit band, was a close family friend. One day when Shelly was in the orchestra room, he expressed an interest in the drum set. Billy showed him how to hold the sticks. he put a Count Basie record on and told Shelly to play. Then he left the room. That was how Shelly started. Then he sat in with various groups.

JW: Did he know how to read music?

FM: Not at first. He taught himself to read. Up until then he had thought he might go into sports. He was a New York City cross-country champion in high school and at some point represented an athletic club in a table tennis tournament.

JW: When did you and Shelly move to California?

FM: We moved out to Los Angeles in 1951, bought a plot of land in Northridge, in the San Fernando Valley, which was all we could afford. We built a one-bedroom house. The area was lovely then—all walnut and citrus trees. We had horses, dogs, cats and a big garden.

JW: Whose band did he like best—Stan Kenton's or Woody Herman's?

FM: Stan's and Woody's bands were, of course, totally different. I never heard Shelly compare them. He liked both very much.

JW: Shelly was on drums in the Neal Hefti recording with Charlie Parker of Repetition in Carnegie Hall at the tail end of 1947. Were you there?

FM: I was. I remember that Charlie Parker was late, the band was playing, he walked in, picked up his horn and started playing without warming or anything.

JW: Which arrangers did Shelly dig most?

FM: Shelly was very fond of Neil Hefti. He admired him a lot. Also, Johnny Mandel. He loved Van Alexander and was on one of his early bands.

JW: What did Shelly think about the West Coast-East Coast jazz rivalry?

FM: Shelly wasn't happy with that . He was born in Manhattan, played everywhere, and thought that it was an artificial division.

JW: Why did Shelly start Shelly's Manne-Hole in 1960, at 1608 N. Cahuenga Blvd. until 1972, before relocating it to the Wilshire are and closing it the following year?

FM: He started the club to have a place for everyone to play, including his groups. While he had [co-owner] Rudy Onderwyser there every night, Shelly enjoyed it. I was never thrilled with the idea.

JW: Why not?

FM: It took him away from home. He did make time to go to week-long horse shows several times a year with me—we both showed—and sometimes I was able to go to Europe or Japan with him.

JW: What do you miss most about Shelly?

FM: I'm going to skip that one. It's too painful.

JazzWax note: If you're in Los Angeles, grab lunch at Kitchen 24, which is the proud occupancy of the old Shelly Manne-Hole. Go here.

JazzWax clips: Here's Shelly Manne on Jazz Scene USA in 1962 with a superb quintet...

 

Here's Shelly Manne and Art Pepper on Henry Mancini's arrangement of Charleston Alley from Combo! (1961), with John Williams on harpsichord...

 

Here's Shelly Manne with Sonny Rollins in 1957...

 

And here's Shelly Manne in 1962 with Fantan...

 

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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