Manhattan Transfer Biography
Last updated: 01/15/2013 12:09:40 PM
It's been more than 28 years since Tim Hauser paid his bills by working both as a marketing executive and a New York cabbie with dreams of creating a vocal group. One night in 1972, Hauser's taxi fare was an aspiring singer named Laurel Massé, who was familiar with JUKIN', an album Hauser had made with an earlier Manhattan Transfer combo. A few weeks later Hauser met Janis Siegel at a party. Although Siegel was then performing with another folk group, Hauser convinced her and Massé to be part of his nascent group.
At the same time, Alan Paul was stirring hearts on Broadway, appearing in the original production of "Grease". When he met with Hauser, Siegel and Massé, the groundwork was laid for The Manhattan Transfer, which was official "born" on October 1, 1972.
In its formative years, the group developed a strong cult following while playing such New York clubs as Trudy Heller's, Reno Sweeny's, and Max's Kansas City. In 1975 they cut their Atlantic debut album, THE MANHATTAN TRANSFER and landed their own highly experimental television show on CBS. They were particularly successful in Europe, where their next two albums, COMING OUT and PASTICHE, brought them a string of top 10 hits. A live album, THE MANHATTAN TRANSFER LIVE, soon followed.
Massé left the group to pursue a solo career in 1978. Auditions were held to replace her, and a young singer/actress from Mt. Vernon, Washington responded to the call. The group was completely knocked out by her dazzling performance, and Cheryl Bentyne was immediately invited to join the group.
Their next album, EXTENSIONS, earned them their first domestic pop hit: "Twilight Zone/Twilight Tone," penned by Alan Paul and Jay Graydon. The album also featured "Birdland," the piece that has since become The Manhattan Transfer's signature tune. Jon Hendricks wrote the lyrics to Joe Zawinul's stirring jazz fusion instrumental, and Siegel arranged the vocals. The most played jazz record of 1980, "Birdland" brought The Transfer their first Grammy award (Best Jazz Fusion Performance, Vocal or Instrumental), and the award for Best Arrangement For Voices, which Janis took home.
In 1981, The Manhattan Transfer made music history by becoming the first group to win Grammy Awards in both pop and jazz categories in the same year. "Boy From New York City," which broke into the top 10 on the pop charts, garnered them the award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, and "Until I Met You (Corner Pocket)" earned them a Grammy for Best Jazz Performance, Duo or Group. Both of these appeared on the combo's fifth outing, MECCA FOR MODERNS.
THE BEST OF THE MANHATTAN TRANSFER was released for the holiday season in 1981 and contained the best of their hits from their early Atlantic Records years, 1975-1981. Naturally, the album went Gold.
In 1982, they accepted another Grammy, for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Duo or Group, for their rendition of the classic ode-to-the-road, "Route 66." The song appeared on the soundtrack to the Burt Reynolds film Sharky's Machine, and surfaced three years later on their BOP DOO-WOPP album. In 1983, prior to "BOP's" release, they repeated their 1982 Grammy win in the same category for the "Why Not!" cut from BODIES AND SOULS.
However, it was the 1985 release of VOCALESE, produced by Tim Hauser, that became known as the group's tour de force effort. Vocalese is the style of music that sets lyrics to previously recorded jazz instrumental pieces. Jon Hendricks, the recognized master of this art, composed all the lyrics for the album. "VOCALESE" included some highly complex material that ably tested the quartet's capabilities -- a challange which they met magnificently. The album became a critically acclaimed artistic triumph.
"VOCALESE" received 12 Grammy nominations -- at the time making it second only to Michael Jackson's "THRILLER" as the most nominated single album ever. The Transfer's opus won in two categories: Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Duo or Group, and Best Arrangement for Voices for Cheryl Bentyne and Bobby McFerrin for "Another Night In Tunisia".
"VOCALESE" also saw the group venturing out into the world of music video. The group made five videos to the album, which were available commercially and also shown on Cinemax. Also, when The Manhattan Transfer toured Japan for the Vocalese tour, a recording was made of the shows and the group's second live album LIVE IN TOKYO was released in 1987. An accompanying video of the live show was available commercially as well.
Then came BRASIL, their 1987 recording, a ground-breaking re-contextualization of Brazilian music that pre-dated efforts by American artists such as David Byrne and Paul Simon. The group worked with some of today's most gifted songwriters, including Ivan Lins, Milton Nascimento, Djavan and Atlantic recording artist Gilberto Gil. The pieces were re-arranged, and then re-fitted with English lyrics which made them strikingly relevant, distinctly American, and "Transfer-esque" -- while still preserving their Brazilian flavor.
"BRASIL" became one of the group's greatest achievements to date, and one which they remain particularly proud of. It also became their first entire album to win the Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.
In 1991, The Manhattan Transfer moved to Columbia Records for a two-album stint. The first, THE OFFBEAT OF AVENUES, was produced by Tim Hauser and marked the first time the majority of songs where either written or co-written by Transfer members. They walked away with a Best Contemporary Jazz Performance Grammy for "Sassy," a piece boasting lyrics by Janis Siegel and Cheryl Bentyne and music by Siegel and Bill Bodine.
In 1992, Rhino Records released a 2 CD set of the group's work over their 20 year career. THE MANHATTAN TRANSFER ANTHOLOGY: DOWN IN BIRDLAND is an excellent compilation of the group's work up to that time.
In the winter of 1992, the gift that millions of Manhattan Transfer fans had eagerly awaited for finally arrived -- THE CHRISTMAS ALBUM. Destined to be a holiday classic, this album was co-produced by Tim Hauser and Johnny Mandel, who also did all the orchestrations. The group's soulful harmonies on such traditional favorites as "The Christmas Song" (with Tony Bennett) and "Silent Night," as well as the sweetly touching Lennon & McCartney classic "Goodnight," resound with sonic purity.
In 1994, Rhino Records released THE VERY BEST OF THE MANHATTAN TRANSFER. Why another "Best Of"? Well, the "ANTHOLOGY" package was a bit expensive for some, and the first "BEST OF" album came out 13 years earlier and thus missed many hits such as "Ray's Rockhouse," "Soul Food To Go," "Spice Of Life," and "Route 66." Plus, the newer CD format allowed for a much longer album than Atlantic Records' 1981 collection.
Also in 1994 the group released an album that was an enticing departure from anything they had done previously. THE MANHATTAN TRANSFER MEETS TUBBY THE TUBA, the group's first children's recording, was hailed by USA Today as a "charming rendition" of the 1945 Paul Tripp/George Kleinsinger classic. Accompanied by the Naples Philharmonic, the group humanized instruments (such as Peepo the Piccolo and Captain Bugle) to deliver the story's important message: "Be yourself, you can't be anybody else." Commented the Los Angeles Times of the project, "One of the world's great jazz quartets turns a children's classic into a rediscovered treasure."
Their 1995 studio album, TONIN', marked the triumphant return of The Manhattan Transfer -- contemporary music's premiere vocal ensemble -- to the Atlantic Records' fold. "TONIN'" finds Cheryl Bentyne, Tim Hauser, Alan Paul and Janis Siegel embarking on a project as ambitious as any of their past work, while retaining a distinct sense of fun. "Tonin' is a term associated with the vocal groups of the '50s and early '60s," notes Paul. "It conjures up images of a few guys standing in a tiled bathroom or on a street corner, just belting it out in harmony -- they're tonin'. This album consists of songs we grew up on, music that really sparked us as teenagers."
The list of guest performance sitting in on the "TONIN'" sessions would spark any music fan, as it includes: Phil Collins, Bette Midler, Ben E. King, Ruth Brown, Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals, Frankie Valli, Smokey Robinson, Laura Nyro, Chaka Khan, B.B. King and James Taylor.
Their third live album is called MAN-TORA! LIVE IN TOKYO. "On the 1983 Bodies And Souls tour, the singers peformed 22 dates in 11 major Japanese cities, including Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama, Sapporo, and Hiroshima... The set contained here (released on Rhino Records in April 1996) was recorded by FM Tokyo radio on November 22 and 23 at Tokyo's Nakano Sun Plaza theater and later broadcast stateside on the Westwood One Startrack radio program. The MT's enthusiasm in their performance is inescapable, and the set list as diverse as their repertoire." --from the liner notes by Curt Gathje.
The Manhattan Transfer's next studio album was released in 1997. SWING has its emphasis in 1930s era swing music. The thirteen tracks contain some of the most classic songs of the Twentieth Century. "Sing Moten's Swing," "A-Tisket, A-Tasket," and "Java Jive" were recorded with Asleep At The Wheel. "Sing A Study In Brown," "Topsy," and "Clouds" were recorded with The Rosenberg Trio. "Clouds" (adapted from "Nuages") also features Stephane Grappelli. Ricky Scaggs is featured on "Skyliner" and "It's Good Enough To Keep (Air Mail Special)". Mark O'Connor is featured on "I Know Why (And So Do You)," "It's Good Enough To Keep," and "Choo Choo Ch' Boogie." About half of the tracks feature lyrics by Jon Hendricks. SWING was produced by Tim Hauser. It debuted at #1 on the Billboard Jazz Chart and stayed in the top spot for nine weeks, and on the chart for over a year.
No one in the music business has more class and style than The Manhattan Transfer! They are often asked to appear at many special functions, and recent appearances include The Essence Awards; the Goodwill Games; the Society of Singers Ella Awards honoring Tony Bennett; and a special Christmas performance for the Pope. Their latest honor came earlier this year in the form of a nomination for a Grammy Award for their vocal collaboration "Going Away Party" with Asleep At The Wheel and the legendary Willie Nelson. This song appears on Asleep At The Wheel's Grammy winning Ride With Bob release.
Just released in October 2000 is The Manhattan Transfer's newest album, THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS. This album is a spirited interpretation of the music of one of the greatest musical figures of the 20th century, Louis Armstrong. Produced by Craig Street, THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS captures the vocal group at its best, with strong individual and group performances wrapped around evocative arrangements that are both a nostalgic pastiche from the 1920s to the 1950s, and a completely modern take on Louis. This is a loving homage to a unique voice in musical history.
What's next for The Manhattan Transfer? Even though they have been together for over 25 years, they aren't slowing down! They continue to tour, delighting audiences worldwide with their music. The singers also have many other solo and collaborative interests, but their focus invariably comes back to making beautiful music together.