As fireflies danced across the cool summer sky and dark clouds gathered overhead, The Manhattan Transfer turned on the heat at the Vancouver PNE. While only their 2nd appearance at the fair, this vocal jazz group, comprising Tim Hauser, Cheryl Bentyne, Alan Paul, and Janis Siegal, has been together since 1972. Their united chemistry and lasting talent have led to the creation of over twenty albums, countless Grammy awards, and worldwide notoriety.
It being their 40th anniversary, the singers had chosen to feature songs from days gone by, kicking off the evening with That Cat is High, a tune they had habitually welcomed their audience with in past performances. This was promptly followed by one of the first songs that The Transfer had learned together, a piece by Horace Silver called Doodlin’. The song featured Bentyne on vocals as well as the renowned Yaron Gershovsky on piano.
Next up was a throwback hit from the 40’s swing era, Java Jive. Hearing this ditty took me right back to grade 11 when I first sight-read this piece on the aged bleachers in my high school choir room. I remember perusing the lyrics and wondering it was someone’s idea of a joke. I learned to love it though, and to this day every time I hear “I love the java jive and it loves me…” I can’t help but smile.
After a medley from The Transfer’s self proclaimed ‘tropical phase’ (which eloquently introduced us to the silken voice of Alan Paul) we dove right in to the good stuff – the good stuff being the legendary Ella Fitzgerald of course. The quartet had chosen to sing A-tisket, A-tasket, which was included on their 1997 Swing album. Siegal took the reigns, doing Ella justice with her full-bodied voice and well-executed scat trumpet solo. What I love about this song is that it’s one of those classic jazz tunes just riddled with tongue twisting lyrics, a racing tempo, and instrumental features.
The second part of the performance highlighted the individual talent of each member, beginning with Bentyne. She chose an unusual sort of love song which was not so much about lasting affection as it was about ‘he’ll do for now’ encounters. Characteristic of a great jazz performer, Bentyne had a confident energy and charisma flying every which way. From her body movements and facial expressions to her comical dialogue you could tell she was having a blast.
Hauser followed this up with a change in pace; bringing us a leisurely love song about a life lived in excess in New Orleans, while Siegal chose to sing a little known song by Chef Baker which she seemed to have a soft spot for.
Paul’s solo piece was the classic American standard Only You from his upcoming album Shoo-Bop. This man has the ideal voice for a song such as this. It’s the kind of voice that I imagine rambling through the speakers of an old jukebox at the local Soda Shoppe, melodic and romantic at once.
United once more, the group performed a tribute to the “James Joyce of Jive” and originator of vocalese jazz, the legendary Jon Hendricks. Accordingly, The Transfer performed their Grammy-award winning rendition of Count Basie’s Corner Pocket, followed up by The Sidewinder. In the signature vocalese style, both songs were riddled with rapid yet clever lyrics and vocal obstacles designed to flow with their instrumental counterparts.
The rain held off until just after 9pm when short durations of droplets fell from the darkened skies, cueing the departure of some fellow audience members. Those of us who stayed, however, were treated to the group’s famed rendition of Operator and a well-timed tune – Trickle Trickle.
Applause rang out over the fairgrounds as The Manhattan Transfer delivered an encore performance of Boy From New York City, and took a few last gracious bows. They left the stage as they had entered, with a handful of energy and laughing eyes; a clear sign of a concert well performed and in turn well-loved.