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April 30, 2007

Not just a nostalgia act

Montreal Gazette (Canada):

Tim Hauser was warned about stereotyping at the outset of his career when his music teacher, Bob Bianco, warned the Manhattan Transfer singer not to let the quartet label itself.

Hauser and his fellow singers - Alan Paul, Cheryl Bentyne and Janis Siegel - have always tried to leave it at "vocal group." A sensible move, given that doo-wop, rock, jazz, gospel and swing are scattered throughout their catalogue, and one of their biggest hits is a cover of the Ad Libs' 1964 soul snapper The Boy From New York City. Yet the need to find them a slot is simply too strong for some to resist.

Because they launched their act performing big-band and swing music in tuxes and gowns, the Manhattan Transfer - who are celebrating their 35th anniversary this year - have often been categorized as a nostalgia act, Hauser said in a recent interview with The Gazette. "A lot of that music came out when I wasn't even alive," he said. "How can I be nostalgic for something that happened when I didn't even exist? I liked it because it sounds good. It's good music."

Hauser is a man of stories - and during a lengthy phone conversation, he told plenty. A classic Hauser transition phrase would seem to be "Let me tell you something, that's another thing ..." Many of his stories were about Ahmet Ertegun, the co-founder of Atlantic Records, who died in December. Ertegun brought the group to his label.

You can see where the chemistry between the two came in. Hauser is one of those avid vinyl record collectors who prides himself on having a couple of original Charlie Parker 78s on Dial Records. Ertegun was one of those record-label moguls who truly loved music. According to Hauser, the two would often sit and talk about music in Ertegun's office at the end of the day.

"Without Ahmet, there would be no Manhattan Transfer," Hauser said. "Every label passed on us in the beginning. They said 'You sound great, but we don't think you can sell records.' Ahmet wanted to sign us, sight unseen, when he heard our demo."

Their debut album was released in 1975. That same year, they found themselves hosting a CBS series for four weeks. One of their guests was a buzz artist beginning to make a pretty big name for himself - one Robert Nesta Marley.

The U.S. television debut of Marley and the Wailers on The Manhattan Transfer show is a historical performance. Unfortunately, a drunk sound engineer forgot to record the bass and the group had no time to overdub.

"Marley got in my face," Hauser remembered. "It was union. It wasn't my engineer. But I didn't blame Bob for being pissed. I told him how sorry I was, but there was nothing we could do about it."

Shortly after Bentyne joined in 1979, they had released one of their biggest hits, Birdland, a Weather Report number with added lyrics by jazz legend Jon Hendricks. Hendricks was also drafted to come up with words for the group's 1985 album Vocalese, so named after the concept of setting lyrics to instrumental jazz performances. Hendricks pioneered the jazz subgenre.

This time, Ertegun was hard to convince. "He was screaming at me, 'You can't do this! It won't sell! We're going to spend a fortune on this thing and it's going to be a flop. You're crazy!' But this is the great thing about Ahmet. He respected my tenacity. He let us do it," Hauser said.

Vocalese, considered by many to be the group's masterpiece, has been outsold in the Manhattan Transfer catalogue only by their first best-of collection. It received 12 Grammy nominations and won two awards.

Christmas albums, explorations of Brazilian music, originals, a children's record and a collection of hits rearranged for symphonic accompaniment have all been part of the Manhattan Transfer oeuvre over the years, making nonsense of that nostalgia tag. So appropriately, when the group hits the stage at Salle Wilfrid Pelletier of Place des Arts on Thursday, it will bring highlights from its entire body of work.

Each member gets a solo spot in the show, Hauser said, because they have recorded individual albums over the years. His own coming project is a disc of intimate love songs for women over 40. He managed to play some for Ertegun before he died.

"Ahmet said 'Who are you making the album for?'," Hauser remembered. "I said 'Women.' He said 'How old?' I said '35, 40 and over.' He goes 'They don't buy records. They only buy, like, Rod Stewart and that's it.'

"I said 'That's it? That's all they buy?' He said 'That's right.' I said 'Well, what should I do?' He said 'I'll tell you what you should do: you should take yourself down to the river, jump in and drown.' And he looked at me and laughed. I just laughed with him."

Posted by acapnews at April 30, 2007 9:41 PM