There were angels dining at the Ritz
October 22, 2014 7:56 AM   Subscribe

Tim Hauser, founder of the jazz vocal group The Manhattan Transfer, has died at the age of 72.

He formed the first iteration of the band in 1973, assembled while he was driving a cab in New York City. Named for John Dos Passos' iconic novel Manhattan Transfer, the group performed a wildly eclectic selection of jazz, country, R&B and swing, and released the album Jukin'. Creative differences split the band, but in 1973 Hauser brought together a new group of singers, himself, Alan Paul, Janis Siegel and Laurel Massé.

'Well, what you're basically talking about is two tenor and two alto saxophones, singing in close harmony — that's the Count Basie sax section," Hauser recalled.

With this lineup, the group put out a self-titled album in 1976. Coming Out and Pastiche followed, and then a live album in 1977. Their first hit was with a bouncy gospel number called Operator. The albums also included covers of Tuxedo Junction, a 1940 #1 for Glenn Miller, Candy, previously a 1945 hit by Johnny Mercer and the Pied Pipers and also covered by Dinah Shore, and Java Jive, originally by the Ink Spots.

After being injured in a car accident, Laurel Massé left the group and Cheryl Bentyne stepped in. The group put out Extensions, which featured several vocalese numbers, including Birdland, an exuberant number that became one of the group's signatures.

One of the group's better-known tunes, a 1979 vocal version of Weather Report's "Birdland," was seen by detractors as emblematic of the jazz-fusion excesses of the 1970s. Nonetheless, Manhattan Transfer was considered the pre-eminent vocal group in jazz for decades, repeatedly winning polls and other honors.

"At this point in our lives, what else are we going to do?" Hauser said in 1991. "When you do something and people say you're one of the best at it, it's too late to change your mind and say, 'I want to be a sales executive.' "

The band continued to release albums, often dipping in and out of other genres than jazz; Bodies and Souls garnered them spots on the R&B charts, and Anita Baker would cover one of the songs, Mystery. However it is their 1985 jazz album, Vocalese, which stands out among their work most prominently (and garnered them twelve Grammy nominations). The lyrics on Vocalese were all written by Jon Hendricks, himself a past master of the art.

The group has continued touring and releasing albums, garnering a loyal if not large international fanbase. Their onstage presence was sometimes the target of critics who deemed it too flashy or show-bizzy (there was occasionally a pencil-thin mustache or a bright yellow zoot suit), but few questioned their sheer vocal talent of the four when they took the stage.

Additional obituaries in the Chicago Tribune and the New York times

An interview with Tim Hauser

1981 performance of Boy From New York City on Fridays

2011 performance of Corner Pocket

Route 66
posted by PussKillian (28 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This band is really completely intertwined with me and my sister's childhoods - our dad had most of their albums and can sing along to just about every album of theirs up until about their 1997 album Swing. As a little girl who used to sing "Popsicle Toes" and "Boy From New York City" in the bathtub, I'm really saddened by the news of Tim's death.
posted by PussKillian at 7:59 AM on October 22, 2014

I remember them from Top Of The Pops in the 70s, They were great.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:10 AM on October 22, 2014

Excesses of jazz fusion? They would have had to do a vocalese "Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy" for that.
posted by thelonius at 8:13 AM on October 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Awesome sound, awesome blend.

posted by ZeusHumms at 8:13 AM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I went to see them a couple of years ago with my mom not knowing anything about them, and they were really good.

posted by Huck500 at 8:14 AM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

He's really down and he's no clown

o o o .
| | | |

posted by Herodios at 8:18 AM on October 22, 2014

I'm a big Manhattan Transfer fan; sometimes, flashy and show-bizzy is exactly what you need to cheer you up.

In place of the traditional dot, I will just share this.
posted by yankeefog at 8:23 AM on October 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Unabashed fan here. Sad to see him go.

(Excellent post title, PussKillian - one of my favorite of their recordings)

(and here it is)
posted by tzikeh at 8:47 AM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Godspeed Mr Hauser, aka Killer Joe. [You might want to jump to 2:40.]
posted by On the Corner at 8:55 AM on October 22, 2014

posted by Gelatin at 9:15 AM on October 22, 2014

Very sad news. Fantastic thread memorializing the man and his contributions. Thank you ......
posted by blucevalo at 9:40 AM on October 22, 2014

posted by Smart Dalek at 9:43 AM on October 22, 2014


I used to do quite a bit of acappella singing, both in a choir and in small groups. Manhattan Transfer were like gods to anyone who was doing this in the 80s. I have one of their albums, I think it's a Greatest Hits compilation, on cassette that I still listen to regularly. And I still try to pick out one of the vocal lines and sing along (not always easy when the harmonies are that tight -- you end up sliding into another line and then end up lost).

It might be the end of an era, in some odd way. Thanks for this post. I know what I'm listening to today.

posted by hippybear at 9:52 AM on October 22, 2014

posted by the sobsister at 10:13 AM on October 22, 2014

posted by oneswellfoop at 10:43 AM on October 22, 2014

Live version of Birdland from 1986.

One of Tim Hauser's survivors is his sister Fayette, who was a member of the Cockettes, friends with Tomata Du Plenty of the Screamers, and a clothing designer who worked with Bette Midler.
posted by larrybob at 11:25 AM on October 22, 2014

Man Tran! Was able to see them twice in concert, watching them sing was just as much fun as listening.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 12:13 PM on October 22, 2014

When I was around 12 years old, I remember Manhattan Transfer's Brasil playing non-stop in my recently divorced mom's car as we scooted around town. Haven't listened to that album in many years, but I think I still remember all the words to Soul Food to Go.

It inspired me to buy their greatest hits album years later, which has some sublime gems (Nightingale, Java Jive), but which also, in my opinion, suffered from some pretty dated instrumental arrangements. Like, these guys were totally embracing the late-'70s/early-'80s with every ounce of their being. I wish I could hear those songs with a more...neutral?...instrumental backing.

I still wonder what Hauser was up to in the spoken word portions of Birdland ("...there will never be nothin' such as that...", etc.). Is that voice an affectation, or is that how the guy really sounded?

posted by BurntHombre at 1:33 PM on October 22, 2014

I was lucky enough to be living in LA in the 80's when Tim did "Sunday Sings Jazz' on KCRW. He played a great selection of vocal jazz, along with some explanations of jazz history. I'll really miss him (and I have tickets for Manhattan Transfer here in Albuquerque in two weeks - it'll be bittersweet).
posted by gteffertz at 1:48 PM on October 22, 2014

posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 3:37 PM on October 22, 2014

posted by eviemath at 4:56 PM on October 22, 2014

No shame in my love for them. Their album Brasil introduced me to Djavan! Somewhere I have a pile of their tapes. Java Jive was the warm up song in my jazz dance class as a kid. We also danced to their version of Killer Joe for a recital one year. I love the mix of retro songs and (at this point) super dated arrangements/production values, in my mind that's part of what makes them who they are. That shit is lush and gooey in a way I still unabashedly dig.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 5:02 PM on October 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

That and their show choir antics in live performances.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 5:08 PM on October 22, 2014

In the late 70s Manhattan Transfer appeared regularly at a club where I worked. TH was always a gentleman and the affection the band members shared for each other seemed genuine. He hired a friend of mine (who had washed up on the east coast after escaping a bad situation in Detroit) as a roadie. The friend was informed by TH that he needed to clean up his appearance to be consistent with the image MT was trying to project, took that admonishment to heart and discovered a new personal style of dress in the process. RIP.
posted by carmicha at 5:23 PM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:55 PM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just found out about Tim's passing and am devastated. As a show choir/jazz band baritone, I held him as a vocal idol. I remember transcribing the lyrics to "Foreign Affair," as the cassette for "Extensions" had the barest of liner notes.

Just one month ago, Tim and his wife followed me on Twitter, and I felt like royalty had come to dinner. They were gracious people.

"There will never be nothin' such as that, scoobie wah ... Hello, hehehehe heh, goodbye!"
posted by DrAstroZoom at 5:36 AM on October 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Foreign Affair
posted by DrAstroZoom at 5:52 AM on October 24, 2014

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