Gill Manly

Gill Manly

Gill Manly
Jazz vocal

A jazz singer who has been described as "an amalgam of Bessie Smith and Sarah Vaughan".


    Gill Manly began singing at an early age, never believing that she would one day rub shoulders with the great Eartha Kitt, whilst performing in Chelsea.  Raised on a diet of jazz records by her father, Gill naturally began to immerse herself in the Great American Songbook.

    Aged 18, she headed for London to Drama School where she began to perform. Encouraged by her voice teachers, Gill tried her hand at opera and auditioned for the Royal College of Music.  Turned down she decided to leave drama school a year early and get down to the business of working.

    Chosen to perform in various fringe musicals in London's West End, Gill soon discovered that her real love lay in musical theatre and the great Broadway Shows. Thus the singer was born.

    Gill went on to devise shows that were performed at The National Theatre, Barbican Centre and Royal Festival Hall.  However, she soon committed herself to singing. 

    On meeting Ian Shaw in 1983, Gill became convinced that interpreting jazz standards in a new way was her true path.  The duo have been friends ever since. They went on to share bills with fringe performers of the era like Barb Jungr, Julian Clary and Rory Bremner. Together, they discovered the 606 Club and this was a turning point. Here they met other jazz musicians and Gill forged links with pianists such as Bill LeSage who became a mentor and teacher. She also began to collaborate with musicians like John China, Nick Weldon, Clarke Tracey and Robin Aspland.

    She then met a young pianist, John G Smith, at a jazz course at Wavendon, who immediately invited her to become the vocalist for his group featuring Alec Dankworth and horn player Dave O'Higgins. Gill was introduced to a whole new gamut of jazz - from Chick Corea to Al Jarreau and Charlie Parker to Keith Jarrett as well as singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell.

    Gill began giving concerts at The National Theatre Foyer, The South Bank Festival, The Royal Festival Hall, The Barbican, Bulls Head and L'Escargot.  From 1986, Gill held a three year residency at Kings Road club Stocks alongside pianist Alan Clare.  Here she came into contact with visiting artists notably Tony Bennett, Eartha Kitt and Blossom Dearie, all of whom encouraged her greatly.  During this time, she further expanded her repertoire and understanding of harmony.

    Jazz FM radio was born and Gill became involved in many related projects and concerts. She hosted weekly jazz gigs at Smollenskys, introducing new and established singers live on various broadcasts.  A very young Claire Martin performed with Gill live on radio, the singer having been inspired as a 16 year-old, when hearing Gill in a local club, to become a jazz artist.

    In 1991 Gill was introduced to Mark Murphy.  He became friend and mentor and was her inspiration in terms of improvisation and ballad singing. 1995 saw Manly release her debut album "Detour Ahead" on Parrott Records for which she received a nomination for "Best Jazz Vocalist".  This led to more work on festivals and radio.

    1996 was a turning point in Gill's personal life.  A health crisis and mounting disillusionment in her career path led her to Tibetan Buddhism. By 1999 she had completely retired from jazz and performing.  She immersed herself in a more spiritual path and attended a pilgrimage to India. Here she met the Dalai Lama and sang for him in Tibetan thus fulfilling a deep wish and connection to her "spiritual Father".

    Upon her return to London, Gill involved herself in the work of her own community café in South London.  She still loved jazz, but was content that her performing career was behind her. However, she still loved the music and organised Sunday lunchtime gigs in the café gardens for the visitors. 

    She was eventually enticed out of retirement to sing and host a weekly jazz show at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Her first performance in years took place in March 2007. Watched by a full house of old fans and new friends including Ian Shaw, Claire Martin and Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, she nervously launched into 2 sets of new and old material...the performance served to kick-start her singing career.

    Simon Wallace her accompanist gently re-introduced Gill to the recording studio and after a year of reacquainting herself with her sound she recorded "With a Song in my Heart" in Feb 2008.

    Conceived as a personal reflection on the work of Ella Fitzgerald, the album features Guy Barker on trumpet and a duet with Mark Murphy - a beautiful collaboration between two dear old friends. Gill is incredibly happy to now be working with Linn Records to promote this CD and is planning her tour for 2009.