Two for Tuesday: The Manhattan Transfer

When I first saw and heard The Manhattan Transfer sing “Java Jive” on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in the mid-Seventies, I really liked them. They were doing music that was far removed from anything I or any of my friends were listening to at the time, but I really enjoyed the vocal harmonies and the songs that they were doing. One of my friends said that he thought they were the best thing to happen to music in years, and I had to agree with him. Over the years, they’ve covered nearly every style of music and won multiple Grammy awards, and it’s a testament to their popularity that the group is still performing and recording over forty years later.

Named for John Dos Passos’ 1925 novel of the same name, The Manhattan Transfer has been around since the late 1960’s. After the first version broke up, the group reformed in 1973, with Janis Siegel, Laurel Massé and Alan Paul joining original member Tim Hauser. They developed a following after their many performances at Max’s Kansas City in New York, and were signed to a recording contract by Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegün. Their eponymous first album included the gospel-flavored “Operator,” their first hit. It’s our first video here, and comes from their summer replacement series on CBS in 1975. Laurel Massé was seriously injured in a car accident in 1978, and was replaced by Cheryl Bentyne, who appears in our second video today, a cover of Joe Zawinul’s “Birdland,” originally recorded by fusion band Weather Report, with lyrics written by Jon Hendricks. The recording, on 1979’s Extensions, earned their first Grammy Award in 1980 for Best Jazz Fusion Performance, with Janis Siegel earning a second Grammy for her arrangement. Their latest project is a retrospective of their forty-plus years together, called The Vaults.

Enjoy The Manhattan Transfer, your Two for Tuesday on this January 8, 2013.

3 thoughts on “Two for Tuesday: The Manhattan Transfer

    1. They were really visible in the mid-Seventies, then kind of dropped out of sight in the Eighties, although they’ve been recording and getting into all kinds of genres, from fusion to Brazilian to R&B. Sadly, a lot of venues that would have featured them (the variety shows in particular) were pretty much gone by the Nineties; I don’t think they did any music videos, and even if they had I doubt they would have found their way to MTV or VH-1. The key to their popularity is probably one-on-one: someone hears one of their songs and says “who is that?” When they find out, they buy the albums and spread the word among their friends. I’ve gotten into a lot of music that way.

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