The Manhattan Transfer


It’s been more than thirty 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. A few weeks later Hauser met Janis Siegel at a party and convinced her and Massé to be part of his nascent group. At the same time, Alan Paul was appearing in the original production of Grease on Broadway. When he met with Hauser, Siegel, and Massé, the groundwork was laid for The Manhattan Transfer, which was officially “born” in the fall of 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 self-titled debut album on Atlantic and landed their own highly experimental television show on CBS. Their next two albums, Coming Out and Pastiche, brought them a string of top 10 hits in Europe. The Manhattan Transfer Live soon followed. Massé left the group in 1978, and auditions were held to replace her. The group was completely knocked out by a young singer/actress from Mt. Vernon, Washington, 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.” The album also featured “Birdland,” the piece that has since become The Manhattan Transfer’s signature tune with lyrics written by Jon Hendricks. The most played jazz record of 1980, “Birdland” brought The Transfer their first Grammy award, and Janis Siegel took home the award for Best Arrangement for Voices. 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. The combo’s fifth outing was Mecca for Moderns. The Best of the Manhattan Transfer was released for the holiday season in 1981 and contained their hits from their early years at Atlantic Records (1975 to 1981). The album went Gold.

In 1982, they accepted another Grammy for their rendition of the song, “Route 66,” which appeared on the soundtrack to the film Sharky's Machine, and on their Bop Doo-Wopp album. In 1983, they repeated their 1982 Grammy win for “Why Not!” a cut from Bodies and Souls. 1985’s Vocalese, the group’s tour de force, is a reference to 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 which became a critically acclaimed artistic triumph and received 12 Grammy nominations, at the time making it second only to Michael Jackson’s Thriller as the most nominated single album ever. The album won two Grammy Awards. In addition to 1987’s Live in Tokyo, the group followed Vocalese with Brasil during the same year. The group worked with some of today’s most gifted songwriters, including Ivan Lins, Milton Nascimento, Djavan, and Atlantic recording artist Gilberto Gil, re-arranging and re-fitting the pieces with English lyrics. It became their first 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. In 1992, Rhino Records released The Manhattan Transfer Anthology: Down in Birdland, a two-disc retrospective of the group’s 20-year career. They followed with The Christmas Album. In 1994, Rhino Records released The Very Best of the Manhattan Transfer. That same year, the group released their first children's recording, The Manhattan Transfer Meets Tubby the Tuba. In 1995 they returned to Atlantic with Tonin’. Their third live album was Man-Tora! Live at Tokyo, released on Rhino in 1996. The Manhattan Transfer’s next studio album, Swing, was released in 1997.

The Manhattan Transfer has appeared at numerous special functions. Among their more high-profile gigs in recent years have been the Essence Awards, the Goodwill Games, the Society of Singers Ella Awards honoring Tony Bennett, and a special Christmas performance for the Pope. They scored a Grammy nomination for their vocal collaboration “Going Away Party” with Asleep at the Wheel and the legendary Willie Nelson (the song appears on Asleep At The Wheel’s 1999 Grammy-winning album Ride with Bob). The Spirit of St. Louis, released in 2000, is a celebration of the work of Louis Armstrong. Telarc released the live album Couldn’t Be Hotter in September 2003, followed in 2004 by Vibrate. At the end of 2006 Rhino released An Acapella Christmas, and The Symphony Sessions performed with their regular band plus a full symphony orchestra.
The Manhattan Transfer