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Matt Roy of Glen Rock, N.J. is not your typical eighth-grader. For one thing, he’s been a performer since he was eight years old. In fact, he studied at the School of Rock for five years. And, how many 14 year-old’s can you think of that have had the opportunity to perform with Jimmy Gnecco?

Who is Jimmy Gnecco? Check out what the Master, Brett Manning, had to say.

“Jimmy Gnecco is the quintessential rock singer who has few rivals,” Brett said. “He doesn’t care about fame and tour buses and sold out crowds, he cares about writing and delivering a memorable song. Jimmy inspires most rock singers I know to take more chances and explore what can be done rather that what has been done when singing rock. He’s enigmatic and charismatic on stage, yet genuine and personal off stage. Jimmy’s voice can be described as reckless yet refined.”

And get this, Matt Roy has had the pleasure of performing with this quintessential rock singer on several occasions so far, with more likely to come. Now check out what his vocal coach, BMA associate Deborah “Zuke” Smith has to say about Matt.

“Matt is 14 going on 30 with his self confidence,” she said. “He performs because it defines who he is, not simply because he wants to be a performer. When I teach Matt I know I am in the room with the next classic New Jersey rocker. Bruce (Springsteen) and Bon Jovi, move over! Matt is currently recording four of his original songs at Bennett Studios (owned by Tony Bennett) in Englewood, NJ.”

Star In The Making

Now, here’s what Matt had to say about himself when asked to provide the 411.

“I have been playing guitar, singing and performing on stage since I was eight, and during the last 6 months have been writing and recording my own songs,” he said. “I have played lots of cool clubs and with lots of great people while with the School of Rock and on my own. I also love ice hockey and have been playing since I was four years old. I have been playing for the NJ Avalanche for the last seven years and have played all over the east coast and Canada, having faced many world class teams from Sweden, Finland and Russia.”

He also likes golf and baseball, is a Red Sox fan, and loves to play his guitar every day. And, as for career goals, he wants to continue to perform his music and hopes to be thought of as a serious artist when he gets older. We think you’re already way beyond serious now, Matt.

But as his vocal coach, Zuke has found a few things to work on to help Matt power up his potential.

“It’s normal for my younger students to imitate singers rather than focus on finding their own voice, and Matt is still working on this,” Zuke said. “He loves country music; so sometimes he pulls out such a thick southern drawl I can’t understand what he’s saying. His biggest challenge right now is articulating without losing what he feels is his identity. So, we work on articulation with tongue twisters and tip of the tongue exercises.”

Growing Potential

But she’s also seen a great deal of growth in working with him, with lessons on vocal technique and with life lessons in general.

“Matt used to pull his tongue back to create a sound that to his ears was pleasing, but it caused a lot of tension in his voice,” she said. “He was quick to replace that habit with correct tongue placement and his voice just opened up as a result. Overall, his parents are pleased with his progress, and that’s proof enough for me that he is maturing musically and otherwise.”

Dad’s Seal Of Approval

Matt’s father, George, feels that Zuke has had a tremendous positive impact on his son’s development as an artist and young man.

“She has had a tremendous impact on Matt and the results have really been noticeable, almost from the first lesson on,” George said. “Before meeting Zuke he was always thought of as a good singer, but he had some really bad habits. He sang from his throat and would get extra gritty as he would often try to imitate singers that he admired like Eddie Vedder, Jim Morrison, or Bruce Springsteen. He was pulling it off, but also putting lots of strain on his throat. She has rid him of all of that and he is now really singing. He seems to have control over his own voice and sings from his chest rather than his throat. As a result his voice is strong, under control, genuine and really nice right now. He has lost the desire to imitate as he now loves his own voice.”

As for breakthroughs or turning points in his development so far, Zuke has seen one in particular that Matt took care of like the pro he longs to be and already is.

“Matt used to pull his tongue back to create a sound that to his ears was pleasing, but it caused a lot of tension in his voice,” she said. “He was quick to replace that habit with correct tongue placement and his voice just opened up as a result.”

We asked Matt about the journey he’s taken along side Zuke in developing his voice using techniques developed by Brett Manning.

Q + A

SSO: How did you come to know Zuke Smith, and what sticks out most about your first lessons with her?

Matt: Zuke came highly recommended from Mario Costabile while we were recording at his studio. What I remember from my first few lessons with her was that she was very friendly and enthusiastic, and of course, very helpful.

SSO: So how would you describe yourself before your first lesson in terms of and fear or confidence issues, as well as the condition of your voice?

Matt: I have never had fear and have lots of confidence on stage and people liked the way I sang, but I was sort of rough and throaty, and could have someday ruined my voice.

SSO: How has working with Zuke changed things for you?

Matt: My voice is more relaxed and clean and I have more control. She has helped me get rid of the grit, and I do not try to sound like my favorite singers anymore. I have my own voice and it stays strong for an entire two-hour show.

SSO: What’s it been like to get to sing with Jimmy Gnecco?

Matt: Singing with Jimmy Gnecco is really fun, and his voice is really great. Just by singing with him, he has taught me about how important it is to have a great range and that your voice is really an instrument.

SSO: What is your favorite tip, exercise, or lesson learned?

Matt: My favorite exercises are lip rolls and singing scales while Zuke plays the piano.

SSO: What are your goals as a singer and performer?

Matt: My goal is to get better with age and be thought of as a serious performer with songs that people can relate to and like. I do not dream about being famous or anything. I just focus on having fun and improving at the same time. If people like me, then that is great.

SSO: Any final comments you wish to share?

Matt: Zuke is the best vocal teacher I have ever had, and I am learning new things every week, and I see and hear the results on stage.

In The Father’s Eyes

As for the bond that exists between the teacher and student, George Roy could not be more pleased.

“I think they have a really great time while working as I often arrive to pick him up from a lesson and they are laughing or immersed in a musical conversation or debate, which I think is really cool,” George said. “She is so hip that she can easily relate to a 14 year-old kid and not have it be fake, which is a gift. My other favorite story about her is that she and her husband came to see Matt perform one night after only knowing Matt for just a few days that followed his first lesson. We mentioned it (the performance) to her to be polite, and certainly did not expect her to show up. But–they stayed for the entire show. Afterward, she said some really nice things to Matt, but also used some of her observations and critiques to help Matt improve over the course of the next three or four lessons. But my wife and I thought it was really cool that she cared enough to make the effort to come.”

Perks For The Teacher

For Zuke, care and concern are critical in her role as teacher and coach. And, just like all of the great teachers, she learns valuable lessons from each of her students.

“Matt reminds me of the simplicity and timelessness of classic rock songs and how important that is if you want to shape a career that will last through generations,” she said. “He also teaches me that although he portrays a lot of self-confidence, there is a sensitive artist underneath who still needs guidance and challenges.”

For more information on Jimmy Gnecco, visit

Deborah “Zuke” Smith is a renowned music copyist, piano teacher, songwriter, vocal coach, and self-proclaimed “East coast chick,” who credits Brett Manning’s Singing Success with not only saving her life but forever changing it for the very best it can be. In 2000 Zuke was diagnosed with breast cancer and braved the brutal battery of tests, surgeries, chemotherapy, post chemo drug regimen and physical therapy.

She believes that Brett Manning’s programs and method are absolutely essential to bringing out the full potential in any voice. You can find her on Facebook listed as Brett Manning Vocal Method: East Coast, U.S.A.

Randy Moomaw

Author Randy Moomaw

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