A Chat with Tim Hauser
of the Manhattan Transfer
by Paula Edelstein
It’s been more than thirty years since Tim Hauser worked as a marketing executive and New York cabby with dreams of creating a vocal group. One night in 1972, Hauser’s taxi fare was an aspiring singer named Laurel Masse, who was familiar with Jukin’ an album Hauser had made with an earlier Manhattan Transfer combo. A few weeks later Hauser met Janis Siegel at a party. Although Siegel was then performing with a folk group called Laurel Canyon, Hauser convinced her and Masse to be part of his nascent group. At the same time, Alan Paul was stirring hearts on Broadway, appearing in the original production of Grease. When he met with Hauser, Siegel, and Masse, the groundwork was laid for The Manhattan Transfer, which was officially “born” on October 1, 1972. Not many groups survive the hills and valleys of the music business but for the past 30 years, the group has enjoyed tremendous success worldwide. Whether winning Grammy Awards for their exciting vocalese, arranging and composing, contributing their talents to charitable organizations, or just kicking back with their favorite pastimes, you can be sure that THE MANHATTAN TRANSFER COULDN’T BE HOTTER! I caught up with Tim during The Manhattan Transfer’s world tour and here’s what he had to say about the group’s debut for Telarc Jazz. So Listen UP!
PE:Congratulations on COULDN’T BE HOTTER – your sterling debut for Telarc Jazz! It’s my understanding that The Manhattan Transfer now record exclusively for Telarc and that there are two new studio recordings in the works. Would those recordings be solo endeavors by you or Alan Paul by any chance?
TH: No, the forthcoming studio CD on Telarc will be The Manhattan Transfer.
PE:In addition to Janis Siegel’s two Telarc recordings, Friday Night Special (2002) and I Wish You Love (2003), and Cheryl Bentyne’s first Telarc release, Talk of the Town, that is due in January 2004, are there any future plans to release solo recordings by either Alan or yourself?
TH: Alan has released a solo CD titled ANOTHER PLACE AND TIME. I am currently working on a solo CD. It will be my first. I never elaborate on projects that are at the point of inception, because at that point, they are still very prone to change.
PE: Good thinking! Tim, for over 30 years, Manhattan Transfer has combined their voices into an incomparable four-part harmony that has consistently set new standards for vocal music. Why did the group delay making another “live” recording especially since you’re so popular worldwide and your “Man-Tora! Live In Tokyo” did so well in 1996?
TH: I can’t really answer that question. Probably it’s because we never thought about it, i.e., a “live” CD, that is. We generally think in studio terms, when considering a new project. The “live” Telarc CD was recorded in Japan, and came about as a result of our playing Orchard Hall in Tokyo, which is a wonderful, and acoustically friendly venue. We just thought it would be a nice idea if we recorded the two nights. So, we rented three D-88 racks. Each rack has 8 tracks, so we took 24 tracks and ran them through our soundboard. We were very happy with how the whole thing came out sonically, and performance-wise.
PE:We had the great fortune of hearing Janis Siegel sing “Stars Fell On Alabama” with several great vocalists in a great tribute to Ella Fitzgerald this past summer at the Hollywood Bowl in California. When choosing songs for this “live” recording, what criteria did you use?
TH: I was at that Hollywood Bowl gig. Wasn’t it a wonderful evening? Hey, I got a free ticket. I know someone in the band. Actually, an old friend of mine, Mike Wimberly was in the trombone section, and I hadn’t seen him in years. Running into Mike was an added plus. To answer your question, the criteria included songs we recorded that had not appeared on any previously issued “live” album. The crux of the CD were songs from our last two CD’s, SWING, and SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS. We also included “Don’t Let Go,” from our 2nd album, and “Twilight Zone/Twilight Tone” from our 5th album, EXTENSIONS. (I call them albums, since they are pre-digital). The last song, “My Foolish Heart” appears for the first time.
PE:The Manhattan Transfer has been compared to such respected groups as Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, among others. Who were some of your early jazz vocal influences?
TH: My early jazz vocal influences include Al Hibbler I got into him when I was 14. I got into Eddie Jefferson when I was 17, and Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross when I was 18. Before that, I was listening to Crosby, Sinatra, Nat Cole, Ella, Sarah, and Dinah.
PE:Why did the group eventually focus on the 1930’s and 1940’s Swing style of jazz rather than straight-ahead jazz vocals, pop, country, blues or even R&B?
TH: We never eventually focused on that stuff. If you look at the songs on our very first album, you will see vocalese (“You Can Depend On Me,” & “Tuxedo Junction”), big band ballads (“Candy,” & “Blue Champagne”), doo wop (“Gloria,” & “Hearts Desire”), and R&B (“Operator,”& “Acapella”).
PE:The group has won Grammy awards in both the jazz and pop categories but continues to defy categorization to this day. What do you attribute your success to?
TH: Because we were the first vocal group to come along that did not hang its hat on one particular style. The four of us are very independent, and in order to stay together, we had to accommodate each other’s tastes. In many areas they overlapped, but nevertheless…. We never could understand why we couldn’t do different styles- so we did, and were the first vocal group to pull it off. It still amazes me, after all these years that we succeeded in that endeavor. When we first began, Janis and I were both studying theory with the same teacher, Bob Bianco. He also had Eddie Palmieri, Johnny Colon, and Michael Brecker as students during that time. He told me to avoid labeling the group at all costs. He said that most people do not like to think- it’s too difficult for them. So, they like to put labels on things, so they can be easily discarded. That’s their out, so to speak. But if you don’t label yourself, they will pursue you constantly because they will obsess on finding a label. It made sense to us, so we made a conscious decision to avoid giving ourselves a label. You should have seen some the descriptions in the beginning. My favorite was “a nostalgia group”- “the group that sings nostalgia music,” as if nostalgia is a generic thing, and only “indigenous to the 1930’s and 40’s.” If you were born either before or after that time, you had no right to feel nostalgic about anything- just the 30’s and 40’s. These people proved that what Bob Bianco said was true.
PE:From boogie-woogie to bop to vocalese, COULDN’T BE HOTTER spotlights The Manhattan Transfer’s dynamic, big band harmonies in a “live” setting. You must constantly rehearse, right?
TH: Well, we really don’t adhere to a rehearsal schedule. We go over stuff at sound-check, if something is not working right. All of us, at times, fall into bad habits with arrangements. Parts get changed a bit, or certain notes get “greased” and the perpetrator gets “busted”. And, oh yes, have you ever heard of the Pitch Police? The Pitch Police lurk backstage, and behind the curtains. If you hit a clam, they beat you with rubber hoses after the show. Avoid the Pitch Police at all costs.
PE:(Big laughs!) I’ll remember those folks with the rubber hoses lurking in the wings! Seriously though, how difficult is it for the group to learn all these different musical tempos and yet stay true to the original stylistic forms?
TH: Regarding the adherence to musical form, etc, it’s not hard, because we only do stuff that lies within our “zone.” That’s the place we love. Everyone has a place like that, no matter what they do. As long as you work within that space, no matter how large or small, you’re cool. If you move outside of the zone, and delve into music that is not really a part of your fabric, then you are asking for trouble. You can’t tell the truth outside of the zone- very scary out there. It’s kind of like going to a jam session, where you don’t know the players, and wind up on stage with Dick Cheney on bass, and John Ashcroft on drums. Now, that’s scary!
PE:Tim, thank you for the interview. It was a real pleasure speaking to you and here’s to continued success with the new recording and your new home at Telarc Jazz.