February 11, 2015

Manhattan Transfer soldiers on in honor of founder Tim Hauser

Cleveland Plain Dealer:

For almost 40 years, Cheryl Bentyne and her friends in the Manhattan Transfer got used to seeing their founder and friend, Tim Hauser just about every day. And just like that, he's gone. Hauser, who was driving a cab when he founded the group back in New York in 1969, died of cardiac arrest last October. He was 72.

"It's still surreal, kind of,'' said Bentyne, who joined the band in 1979, in a call from her Los Angeles home. "It hasn't quite hit yet, and yet we've been doing shows with Trist Curless. I keep expecting to see Tim walk out onstage, or see him in the lobby, waiting for us.''

Bentyne admitted that the band, which plays sold-out Nighttown on Friday, Feb. 13, as part of the club's 50th anniversary year celebration, contemplated calling it quits after Hauser's death.

"There were all kinds of thoughts running through our heads,'' she said. "He STARTED the group. But we want to keep singing and we want to keep the legacy alive, which is what he would absolutely want. "He built this from the ground up, and to walk away from it really wasn't an option,'' she said.

What helped, she said, was having Curless to step in. He'd already filled in as the bass from time to time during Hauser's illnesses, so they were all acquainted with him.

"If anyone could walk in his place, Trist is the guy to do it,'' said Bentyne. And she was effusive in her praise for how he handled a tough situation. He would let the three surviving members -- Bentyne, Janis Siegel and Alan Paul -- walk out onstage and talk to the audience about their loss, their love for Hauser and their affection for Curless.

Curless, who came to the band from an a cappella vocal group called M-Pact, has taken over Hauser's parts, but his experience as a beat-boxer doing rhythms with M-Pact has added another dimension to Manhattan Transfer's sound.

"Trist can be a drum, he can be a bass,'' Bentyne said. "His job in M-Pact is that beat-box thing that Tim didn't focus on, so we have a built-in orchestra now.''

Read more.

This really is a perfect match! Tim left huge shoes to fill and Trist is one of the few who can fill them.

Posted by John at 12:00 AM | Comments (0)

February 9, 2015

A Cappella at the Grammys

Huge congratulations to Pentatonix for winning the first ever Grammy in the new category of "Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella" for their arrangement of Daft Punk on their CD release PTX, Vol 2. They also got to present a Grammy along with Barry Gibb who knows a bit about vocal harmony himself. The other a cappella winner of the night was Craig Hella Johnson with his choir Conspirare who won the Best Choral Performance category. Very pleased to see Tim Hauser mentioned in the Those We Lost section but VERY disappointing there was no mention of Ward Swingle, especially considering he won five Grammys including Best New Artist. There were sadly many great names on that list this year but Ward certainly deserved to be one of them.

Posted by John at 9:22 PM | Comments (0)

February 3, 2015

A Cappella Superbowl spot

A cappella gets a great "shout out" during the Superbowl with this ad for the upcoming Pitch Perfect 2 movie. Cool.

Posted by John at 12:31 AM | Comments (0)

February 2, 2015

Roomful Of Teeth's Vision To Be Known As Band, Not A Choir

When singers sing together, unaccompanied, it sometimes feel like a minor miracle, some sleight-of-hand or hidden alchemy at work: Without frets, keyboards, mechanical levers, measured blasts of voltage or skins to tighten or loosen, how do they pull it off? How do singers stay together, in tune, through mind-boggling harmonic changes and hyperactive counterpoint, and still manage to land on their collective feet?

Roomful of Teeth, a N.Y.C-based eight-member vocal ensemble, takes that core mystery, rides it out to the nearest cliff and tosses it over the edge. Not content to vocalize within usual Western-music parameters, or to borrow extended techniques from composer Meredith Monk (one of their main influences), they scour the globe for ways to expand their sonic palette: multiphonic Tuvan throat-singing, Appalachian yodeling, Hindustani and Persian classical vocal techniques, and so on. They also grunt, growl, sing drones, chant, bray like '70s rock stars or croon like Broadway divas. It's all in play.

Nor are they happy just to arrange pre-existing music; Roomful of Teeth only performs pieces written just for them, or else they write their own. One of their internal compositions, Caroline Shaw's four-movement "Partita for 8 Voices," won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Music — arguably the most prestigious award a composer can win. Their self-titled debut features music by hot young composers — William Brittelle, Caleb Burhans, Judd Greenstein, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Rinde Eckert, Tuneyard's Merrill Garbus and Shaw herself — and won a Grammy Award in 2014 for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance. On the way to becoming one of the premier new-music vocal groups in the country, they've also found favor with the Pitchfork crowd and NPR listeners. It's all perfectly in keeping with founding director Brad Wells' vision of a band, "not an f-ing choir."

Read lots more.

Posted by John at 12:01 AM | Comments (0)

January 23, 2015

Ward's New York Times obit.

New York Times:

Ward Swingle, an American jazz vocalist, conductor and arranger whose Swingle Singers brought classical music into the Qiana Age with best-selling Bach that bubbled and bounced, died on Monday in Eastbourne, England. He was 87.

His death was announced on the website of the Swingles, the current incarnation of the group he founded in the early 1960s.

Trained in classical music and jazz, Mr. Swingle began the group almost as a lark in Paris, where he had lived off and on since the 1950s. In 1962 or thereabouts, while he was working as a studio session singer, he and seven French colleagues, wanting something novel to put their voices to, tried vocalizing Bach much as a jazz singer would, using scat syllables.

The result, backed by string bass and drums, was a 1963 album, released as “Jazz Sébastien Bach” in France and “Bach’s Greatest Hits” in the United States. Featuring Mr. Swingle’s arrangements of Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” and “Art of the Fugue,” it spent more than a year on the Billboard chart.

The album won a Grammy Award for best performance by a chorus; Mr. Swingle also won the Grammy for best new artist of 1963. The Swingle Singers, who went on to win three more Grammys in the 1960s, can be heard scatting works by Bach, Mozart and others on many recordings, and on film and television soundtracks.

The Swingle Singers performed at the White House; at Carnegie, Alice Tully and Town Halls and the Village Gate in New York; and at La Scala in Milan. The group has collaborated with artists and ensembles including the Modern Jazz Quartet, the jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli and the New York Philharmonic.

They were esteemed by the contemporary composer Luciano Berio, whose 1968 orchestral work “Sinfonia,” commissioned for the Philharmonic’s 125th anniversary season, included texts spoken and sung by them.

Critical response to the Swingle Singers was divided, with pop-music reviewers generally more enthusiastic than classical ones. “The group is well disciplined in its unusual craft,” John S. Wilson wrote in The New York Times in 1964. “The singers are individually precise even when their ‘words’ — which usually consist of ‘baba-daba-daba’ — come tumbling out at a headlong rate.”

Compare Harold C. Schonberg, who in 1970 huffed, also in The Times, “Hearing the Badinerie from Bach’s B minor Suite buh-buh-bubbed by a singer who could not even maintain some of the basic figurations was one of the more vulgar experiences of a concert-going lifetime.”

The original Swingle Singers disbanded in 1973. Reconvened by Mr. Swingle in England not long afterward, the ensemble was known first as Swingle II and later as the New Swingle Singers. Today, the Swingles comprise seven men and women; their repertoire, sung a cappella, spans an eclectic range of styles.

Mr. Swingle was born in Mobile, Ala., on Sept. 21, 1927. As a boy, he played the oboe, clarinet and piano; by the time he was in high school, he was playing saxophone in a nationally known big band, the Ted Fio Rito Orchestra. He earned a degree from the Cincinnati Conservatory and in 1952 married a classmate, Françoise Demorest, in France.
Continue reading the main story
Continue reading the main story

In Europe, Mr. Swingle studied with the eminent pianist and composer Walter Gieseking and worked as an accompanist for Roland Petit’s Les Ballets des Paris.

As a singer he performed with two Parisian jazz vocal ensembles — Les Blue Stars, founded by the singer and pianist Blossom Dearie, and Les Double Six — before starting the Swingle Singers. After retiring from full-time involvement with the group in the mid-1980s, Mr. Swingle, who remained its adviser long afterward, worked as a conductor, arranger and music publisher.

Besides his wife, with whom he had recently moved to England, Mr. Swingle is survived by three daughters, Rebecca, Kathryn and Elizabeth, and three grandchildren.

Viewed in hindsight, Mr. Swingle’s career seems almost foreordained, for his surname carries the very sound of swing within it. “Swingle” was widely assumed to be a coinage, and he spent much time assuring people that the name (derived from the Swiss surname Zwingli) was in fact his own.

“People always ask me that,” Mr. Swingle told The Times in 1982. “And they want me to prove it by producing my passport or my mother.”

Posted by John at 10:28 PM | Comments (0)

January 19, 2015

Ward Swingle passes

We lost another great one today as the venerable Ward Swingle died this morning at the age of 87. He had been in poor health of late and had moved from his long-time home in France to England so he could be closer to his daughter. A native of Mobile, Alabama, Ward founded the eponymous Les Swingle Singers who were winners of 5 Grammy awards including Best New Artists in 1963. Ward is one of the few musicians to have a particular style of music named after themselves with the Swingle Sound being very recognizable and unique.

I had the pleasure of being the producer of his instructional video "Swingle Singing" and although he was exacting in his needs was nevertheless a pleasure to work with. He spent most of his time in France but there was always a touch of the Southern gentleman in his demeanor.

Ward's survivors include his wife, Francoise; three daughters; and several nieces and nephews.

Truly one of the greatest innovators in a cappella, his music will live on for generations.

Posted by John at 9:14 PM | Comments (0)

January 15, 2015

Gwyneth Paltrow's a cappella roots

Gwyneth Paltrow showed off her singing skills on "The Tonight Show" by performing her own rendition of hip hop tracks by Nicki Minaj, Drake and Big Sean. Ahead of her performance she spoke to Jimmy Fallon about how she was in an a cappella group, Triple Trio, in her younger years .

"It was like a really cute barbershop quartet, but nine-tet-however you say that," she explained of where her singing talents all began.

"We would sing 'Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.' We would sing Billy Joel's a cappella song, 'The Longest Time.' That was my audition song for the group."

Posted by John at 11:18 PM | Comments (0)

January 12, 2015

Reality a cappella TV show

A snippet from the web:-

TV Guide Network, or more recently TVGN, is ready to shed its ties to the well known TV listings brand. Starting in 2015, the cable channel will be known as POP, a channel and multi-platform destination with a renewed emphasis on celebrating fans of TV and pop culture.

The new lineup will include “Sing It On” (Working Title), a reality series that will follow the competitive world of college a cappella groups. The series comes from the producers behind Fox’s “American Idol.”

Posted by John at 9:58 PM | Comments (0)

January 8, 2015

Harmony Sweepstakes 2015

We now begin our fourth decade of the Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival and look forward to many more years of presenting top-notch a cappella music. All 2015 regional dates are set and tickets are now on sale for most events.

Group applications are coming in and already we have the makings of another great season. But we always are looking for more talent so if your group enjoys performing for full houses of a knowledgeable and appreciative fans then do send us your application soon.

Pacific NW - March 14
San Francisco - March 14
Mid-Atlantic - March 14
New York - March 21
Chicago - March 21
Los Angeles - April 4
Boston - April 19

National Finals - Saturday May 16, 2015

For more info visit the web site.

Posted by John at 11:21 PM | Comments (0)