Sunday, September 28, 2014


So last night I went to the performing center in the town I grew up in to catch THE MANHATTAN TRANSFER. I went mostly to see Cheryl Bentyne, because back in my Hollywood years, toward the last of them, she asked me to open for her at a Santa Monica jazz club, or at least a venue that featured a lot of jazz. She was doing a solo act and had a band that included her then husband on piano and a bunch of the best studio and recording and movie soundtrack musicians in L.A., led by trumpeter—and at the time king of the movie soundtrack—composer and arranger Mark Isham.

And these guys were gonna back me, and did.  They improvised jazz behind me reading my poems to a full house through a dynamite sound system. It was one of my favorite and best readings in a lifetime of them. And then Cheryl came out to display some of the most fantastic vocal chops in the world. The entire evening was unique, for which I am still totally grateful. So I wanted to stop in to see her after the show to just say hello and tell her how much that night meant to me. I was also looking forward to the show, because it's always a pleasure when the pros do their thing, and what vocal group can out pro THE MANHATTAN TRANSFER.

But from the moment they came out on stage tears unexpectedly welled up in my eyes. Because they had all obviously aged since the last time I saw them, two decades ago, as have I. The older ones in the group, Tim Hauser and Alan Paul, are now senior citizens, though Paul looked as lithe and youthful as a teenager on stage. I found out later that Tim Hauser, the older of the two (born in 1941, while Paul was born in '49) had just buried his mother two days before the show, which no one could have guessed.

The women are younger (having been born in the 1950s) and Cheryl especially looked like she hadn't changed much. But still, there was the look and gravitas of many years having passed and I identified so much with that and then they started singing. Transformative. In the course of the show, Janis Siegel went from looking like a hip youngish grandmother, to moving and grooving like a teenager herself, and her voice was as amazing as ever. (Cheryl was moving like a teen from the first note.)

That's what impressed me the most about all of them, the vocal control and tone and range showed no signs of diminishment. Hauser is the same age as Bob Dylan, and Dylan, when I saw him ten years ago live, seemed only capable of hitting two notes, or the same note an octave apart more or less. He can get away with it. But these guys voices are as great as ever.

It's an intimate show—I think they call it their living room show—that includes some film and photos with biographical interludes and solos and their usual range of genres from classic popular music to jazz. But they made every song their own as always. If you see this tour is coming anywhere near where you might be, I highly advice you to catch it. There's something so poignant about seeing this group still owning vocalese after all these years. Too late to stop now.


tpw said...

I'm guessing your performance back then wasn't recorded, but if it was, you should try to get a copy. (Disagree with you re Dylan's voice.)

AlamedaTom said...

Unclear. Did you make it back stage after the show? Were you able to visit with Cheryl?

~ Willy

Lally said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lally said...

I was Willy, she felt that night was a memorable night for her too (she didn't quite say it was a "highlight of her career" as I previously commented, but she did say, before I had a chance to, that that gig was a special night for her)! And unfortunately tpw, it was before recording devices on phones so as far as I know it was one of those "You had to be there" moments...