The Manhattan Transfer Biography
The Manhattan Transfer is an American vocal group established in New York City in 1972. It is famous for its mixing of jazz, big band, and popular music styles.
The group was founded by singers Alan Paul, Janis Siegel, Laurel Massé and Tim Hauser. In its early years, the group developed a cult following while playing such New York clubs as Trude Heller's, Reno Sweeney, and Max's Kansas City. In 1975 it released its first album, The Manhattan Transfer. An album named Jukin' was made earlier, in 1971, but it was not the same group back then, and therefore The Manhattan Transfer should be considered The Manhattan Transfer's debut album.
The group soon met with particular success in Europe, where its next two albums, Coming Out and Pastiche, brought it a string of top 10 hits. These were followed by a live album, simply titled Live and captured the group's extreme popularity in Europe at that time (it was recorded in the UK). Immediately after that album was recorded, in 1978, Laurel Massé left the group due to a serious car accident and was replaced by Cheryl Bentyne. The line-up has remained the same since then.
Its next recording, Extensions, earned The Manhattan Transfer their its first US pop hit: "Twilight Zone/Twilight Tone" written by Alan Paul and Jay Graydon and a tribute to the 1960s CBS series created by Rod Serling. (NOTE: The introduction of the song is incorrectly attributed in the liner notes to Bernard Herrmann, who wrote the theme for Season One of The Twilight Zone only. The more famous Twilight Zone theme that is used in the Manhattan Transfer song was composed by Marius Constant.)
The album also featured a cover of Weather Report's "Birdland," the piece that has since become The Manhattan Transfer's signature tune. One of the most popular jazz recordings of 1980, "Birdland" brought The Transfer its first Grammy award (Best Jazz Fusion Performance, Vocal or Instrumental), and the award for Best Arrangement For Voices.
In 1981, The Manhattan Transfer made music history by becoming the first group to win Grammys 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, won 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 songs appeared on the group's fifth recording, Mecca for Moderns.
In 1982, the group won another Grammy, for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Duo or Group, for its rendition of the classic ode-to-the-road, "Route 66". The song appeared on the soundtrack to the Burt Reynolds film Sharky's Machine.
September 1983 brought Bodies and Souls, whose urban-contemporary flavor resulted in two R&B-chart singles — the #2 "Spice of Life" (also #40 on the pop chart) and the ballad "Mystery" (#80, R&B #102 Pop). Despite its disappointing chart performance, "Mystery" — with powerful lead vocals by Siegel — has become one of the group's best-loved songs. Hauser has called it the group's biggest turntable (radio airplay) hit. Anita Baker covered it on her breakout album, Rapture.
The Manhattan Transfer's next set, Vocalese (1985) was a tour de force of highly complex material that tested the quartet's capabilities. It was a great critical success. Vocalese received twelve Grammy nominations — at the time making it second only to Michael Jackson's Thriller as the most nominated single album ever. The Transfer won in two categories: Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Duo or Group, and Best Arrangement for Voices. This was followed by a live recording of many of these songs titled "Live." This concert was also available on VHS and DVD.
For Brasil, the group headed south to work with Brazilian songwriters and musicians Ivan Lins, Milton Nascimento, Djavan and Gilberto Gil. Brasil won a Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.
In 1991 the group released The Offbeat of Avenues on the Sony label featuring original tunes written or co-written by members of the quartet. This was followed by the release of their holiday CD titled The Christmas Album.
Switching back to the Atlantic label, they recorded "Tonin'" (a collection of R&B and pop hits from the 1960s which was rather unsuccessful), The Manhattan Transfer Meets Tubby The Tuba (a children's album), Man-Tora! Live In Tokyo (a concert recorded in 1986 in Japan), and their 1997 album Swing covered 1930s-era swing music. Their final album for the Atlantic label was The Spirit of St. Louis (2000), dedicated to the music of Louis Armstrong.
The group changed to the Telarc Label in 2003 to release Couldn't Be Hotter, a live performance capturing many of the songs from Spirit of St. Louis.
In 2004, the group released Vibrate. This is another one of their "pastiche" CDs, blending original tunes with older ones, pop, jazz, funk, etc.
They also released (in Japan only) An Acapella Christmas in 2005.
Since 1975 they have released 24 of their own albums and have appeared as guest artists on dozens of recordings. Alan Paul, Cheryl Bentyne and Janis Siegel all maintain solo careers outside the group, with Janis's being the most prolific.
The group's name comes from John Dos Passos' 1925 novel Manhattan Transfer.
The group was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998.