Ken Maiuri’s Clubland: ‘Sunday Dinner’ with the Manzi family

  • Frank Manzi Frank Manzi/Facebook

Published: 12/21/2016 3:37:43 PM

When my dad was a kid, a lively crowd of Italian relatives would gather at his grandfather’s house on Sundays, get out the guitars and mandolins and play songs while the non-musicians made an artistic meal in the kitchen. The day full of tunes rolled right into a night of food. A warm weekly tradition.

For my siblings and me, those idyllic Sunday gatherings only ever existed as my dad’s memories. But local singer/songwriter Frank Manzi and his extended family have that togetherness in the here and now, singing and playing throughout the year in his Longmeadow home, and sometimes on Valley stages.

The Manzi family recently captured its close-knit sounds on a six-song EP titled “Sunday Dinner,” and the clan will celebrate its release with a multi-generational show at the Iron Horse in Northampton Dec. 29 at 7 p.m.

Frank will open the show with a stripped-down set, followed by a Manzi Family performance, then a full-band set from middle son Jake (who just released his own debut EP, “Singing To the Wall”), and for the finale, Frank returns for a rocking full-band set joined by all the family members.

Among those who contributed to the “Sunday Dinner” recording sessions are Frank’s sons Lucas, Jake and Ray (who will perform one of his first-ever songs at the Iron Horse show), plus Frank’s brother John and his son Angelo and daughter Laura.

Frank’s parents moved to the Forest Park area of Springfield when they came over from Italy in 1955, and he remembers holiday times when he was 4 or 5 years old, standing by the dinner table and its bounty of food, taking in the tumble of sights and sounds. His aunts, uncles and cousins sang “songs from their days back in the old country” — like “Mazzolin di Fiore” (“Bouquet of Flowers”) — with a bottle of homemade wine getting pulled up from between his uncle’s feet.

“As time went by I used to love listening to my father and his two brothers sing, and man could they sing,” Frank said in an interview earlier this week. “They would harmonize. This particular time it sounded so beautiful and I asked my uncles to do it again, but they couldn’t. They didn’t even know what it meant to harmonize. They were just so in tune to how the song made them feel inside. And I think that really is a common thread to how our family operates now.”

Frank, a popular Valley performer since the 1980s with five solo records under his belt, said the Manzi family members share their own original songs at their get-togethers, but also sing tunes from local bands they love (The Sun Parade is one of their faves), or maybe something more obscure, or “a classic cover that means something to us, like an old Neil Young song. My nephew does a great Tiny Tim version of ‘I’m So Happy.’ ”

Jake’s debut EP was a direct result of the Manzi Family project.

“We were going in to make this family recording and we wanted to have as many original songs on there as possible, but at the time I didn’t have any songs written,” he said. “So my cousin Angelo and I got together and we wrote the song ‘Fade Away’ that is now on ‘Sunday Dinner.’ I caught the bug from there and have continued to write, with Angelo always helping out.”

When asked about the Manzi family gatherings, Jake said, “The music and food are simple. My grandparents always lived simply. All you need is family around the table, a bowl of pasta fazul, and five dollars in your pocket.”

Frank even shared a family recipe for success: “It all starts with garlic and olive oil, then you add the tomatoes. Fry up some meatballs, add that to the sauce, and let it sit for a couple of hours on low. Put plenty of salt in the pasta water so that it tastes like sea water, and let pasta cook for 11 minutes, not one second more. Turn up the volume with a glass of wine and make sure you don’t overdo that! Then it’s showtime.”

The “Sunday Dinner” mini-album — recorded at Northampton’s Spirithouse Studio by owner/engineer/producer Danny Bernini, who also contributed the song “Family” — will be available at the show as well as on iTunes and other online musical outlets.

Ken Maiuri can be reached at clublandcolumn@gmail.com.




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