“A local treasure,” says Eric Paulsen, anchor of WWL TV’s top rated morning show in New Orleans. “Phillip is in a class by himself,” this from Richard Bourcier of Jazz at a Glance. After a sold out performance at Yoshi’s in Oakland, California, The San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “Manuel sang the wordless melody as if it were a prayer. His ethereal high tones suggested Bobby McFerrin, his sensuous low ones, Billy Eckstine.” From New York to Los Angeles; from Portugal to Paris, Phillip Manuel has graced the worlds’ stages with some of the biggest stars in jazz. His voice has been described as dramatic, warm and full of soul. One critic said his voice charms and seduces and his range sounds effortless.
To say that Phillip Manuel’s talents are diverse is to state the obvious. While his musical abilities are obvious, Phillip is also an accomplished actor, writer and sought after voice over talent. Musically, recent performances attest to his unique ability to cross genres without missing a beat His current CD, for example, finds him at his soulful R&B best, performing 12 original compositions—a marked departure from his other jazz recordings. A concert with the Mobile Symphony orchestra in January, 2009 featured Phillip singing American classics in a program entitled “Songs of the South.” A few months earlier he performed Duke Ellington’s Sacred Mass along with Charmaine Neville, of the iconic Neville family. Phillip wowed the audience at the New Orleans Jazz Fest in 2008, performing his Nat “King” Cole retrospective to rave reviews. In a further test of his talents, on a world tour with trumpeter and film composer, Terence Blanchard, Manuel sang the entire tour in Portuguese. The tour was in support of Blanchard’s Grammy nominated album, “The Heart Speaks,” featured the music of Brazilian songwriter, Ivan Linns. The following year, Phillip accompanied Blanchard on tour following his Sony release, an album of Negro Spirituals featuring classical vocalist Jubilant Sykes. In addition to his current CD, Phillip has an impressive body of work including his 2001 release, “Love Happened To Me,” for the MAXJAZZ label; “Swingin’ in the Holidays” Phillip’s Christmas release in 1999; The soundtrack for the movie, “Cane River,” filmed in Louisiana and as featured guest on compilations, and CDs with other artists.
Phillip Manuel’s thespian abilities garnered him a lead role in the bebob opera,“Lulu,” featuring the original music of jazz great Jon Faddis and the libretto of MacArthur Genius Award Winner, Lee Breur. And in 2004 Phillip was nominated for a best actor “Big Easy” Award for a remarkable performance as ground-breaking vaudevillian, Bert Williams in the two-man play, “Williams and Walker.”
Looking back, Phillip says he feels fortunate not having to make the decision about what his career path would be. "I was born a singer," says Phillip. "And, I come from a long line of them, my father being the most gifted of them all.” While Phillip counts many singers with inspiring him, he says his ultimate role model as a singer is his father. “Listening to him taught me a lot about subtlety and understatement. He also gave me a daily example of how powerful and compelling singing could be." Manuel says his father’s voice was so sweet and soulful that people would literally stop in their tracks when he sang. "We sang at home, at the neighborhood store--I'd sing for my dad's friends, whenever. We were always singing.
If coming from a gene pool of highly talented singers wasn't enough, Phillip was fortunate to grow up on the same block with the Nevilles. "After my father, Aaron was really my first mentor," said Phillip, talking about the legendary Aaron Neville. In fact, Manuel says his first wife and Neville’s, now deceased wife, Joel, were sisters. "Aaron used to love to hear me sing Jackie Wilson's version of Danny Boy. I had a really high voice when I was younger, and I could hit all the notes." Phillip recorded his first record when he was 16, called “Will you marry me girl.” It was around this time that Phillip would meet legendary New Orleans song writer, Allen Toussaint who began to use him as a background vocalist on various projects. "One of my favorite memories is spending a good portion of the month of December working with Patti Labelle on a record that Allen Toussaint was producing.” Phillip would go on to work with Toussaint and other artists like Fats Domino, Dr. John and the Meters. In 1982, Phillip was chosen to arrange and produce the soundtrack for a motion picture being filmed in and around New Orleans. The movie, called “Cane River,” enjoyed modest local success, but the soundtrack received rave reviews and brightened Manuel’s already shining star.
Phillip would record his first jazz CD in 1992 for the AFO label. “A Time for Love” featured Manuel with the all star New Orleans group, the Astral Project. In 1996, after deciding to go back to school, Manuel received a call from trumpeter and film composer Terence Blanchard. Manuel would subsequently be featured on two world tours with Blanchard. Phillip would go on to work with Nicholas Payton, Ellis Marsalis, Jon Hendricks and a host of other jazz greats.
In 1999, Phillip recorded and released a Christmas CD called “Swinging in the Holidays.” His work with Blanchard and his growing body of recordings soon caught the ear of the MAXJAZZ label out of St. Louis. He signed with the label and In 2001 released the much acclaimed, “Love Happened to Me.” Phillip’s new release, “PM,” features 12 original songs in the Contemporary R&B genre. The first single charted at number 17 on the internet’s Soul and Blues Report.
A self proclaimed “portfolio person,” Phillip continues to explore his creative talents across a wide spectrum of pursuits. As creative consultant he regularly writes and produces radio and television commercials. He is a sought after narrator and voice talent who can be heard on video productions and local and national radio and television commercials. Phillip Manuel’s first love, though, will always be singing, and he continues to perform both locally and around the country. “It is a very special gift, of which I am probably guilty of taking for granted, occasionally,” said the singer. But when that happens he recalls an encounter with an elderly woman after a Christmas concert. “This little old lady walked up to me after the show and said, ‘Mister, I didn’t want to come here today because I was in so much pain from arthiritis, but I want to tell you that you made me forget the pain for a while today.” Manuel considers it the highest compliment he’s ever received. He says it brings him back to the sound of his father’s voice “and the beauty and power it had.”