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Magical melodies: The Manhattan Transfer at SCP

by Sarah Bowes

Simply put, for 30 years The Manhattan Transfer has been singing their hearts out. Jazz, swing, doo-wop, pop, rock, Brazilian music; theyve done it all, and along the way have created a devoted fan base that, like the music, defies any attempt to describe it in terms of simple demographics.

Old, young, rock fans, classical fans, jazz fans - it seems that the Transfers sheer skill and joy in making music appeals to people across the boards. Theyll all get a chance to gather and appreciate one of Americas musical treasures when The Manhattan Transfer sings under the stars at Sedona Cultural Park, June 22.

Tim Hauser, Janis Siegel, Alan Paul and Laurel Masse came together as The Manhattan Transfer in 1972 and enjoyed several years of success in New York nightclubs and in Europe. In 1978, Masse left and was replaced by Cheryl Bentyne, and the group has remained intact since. Their first big breakthrough was in 1980 when they released the album Extensions, which contained the track Birdland. Birdland remains The Manhattan Transfers signature tune to this day, and earned them the first two of 12 career Grammy Awards, one for Best Jazz Fusion Performance and one to Janis Siegel for Best Arrangement for Voices.

Their 1985 record Vocalese confirmed the groups standing as a musical powerhouse. Vocalese is a style of music in which a piece originally written as a jazz instrumental has lyrics added and is re-arranged for voices. The Manhattan Transfer excelled at it. The music on Vocalese is breathtakingly, technically complex, but the spirit of the songs is never obscured by the vocal acrobatics. The album received 12 Grammy nominations, making it second to Michael Jacksons Thriller as the most-nominated single album in history. It came away with Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Duo or Group; and Best Arrangement for Voices for Cheryl Bentyne and Bobby McFerrin, who collaborated on the track Another Night in Tunisia.

Interestingly enough, their exuberant, often humorous performances appeal to young children as much as seasoned jazz aficionados. This appeal, in addition to the sheer fun of it, may have been behind their decision to produce their very well received childrens album in 1995 The Manhattan Transfer Meets Tubby the Tuba.

Its this universal, unending appeal that has set Manhattan Transfer apart from almost every other contemporary jazz or pop artist. Hits like Route 66, and Boy From New York City tap into much more than a taste for nostalgia. Theyre great songs, brilliantly sung, with heart, soul and perhaps most importantly a sense of joy. If these four artists had loved making music any less, they probably wouldnt be celebrating their third decade of singing, writing and performing together.

The Manhattan Transfer has certainly played their share of world-class jazz clubs, but their night at Sedona Cultural Park will be nothing short of magical. Relaxed, kid-friendly, and with the beauty of the red rocks and twilight sky all around, the Park just might be the perfect place to take in the sounds and spirit of this amazing ensemble.

Dont forget Sedona Cultural Park has more in store for jazz fans as the summer progresses. On July 25, they welcome the Duke Ellington Orchestra, which has been keeping its legendary sound alive for three generations, first with the Duke himself, then led by his son Mercer, and now with his grandson Paul. Sedona again becomes host to an American music legend when the Park presents An Evening with Dave Brubeck, on August 24. Tickets for The Manhattan Transfer and any other Cultural Park event can be purchased by calling 1-800-594-TIXX or 928-203-4TIX, or visiting their Web site (sedonaculturalpark).

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