Last Friday, they took the stage and thrilled a packed house at the Gold Strike Casino’s Millennium Theater in the Mississippi Delta community of Robinsonville.
The Manhattan Transfer, after 30 years as one of contemporary jazz’s best vocal acts, reinforces that saying about getting better with age. Truth be told, this singing foursome of Janis Siegel, Tim Hauser, Cheryl Bentyne and Alan Paul doesn’t seem to age at all, entertaining the audience with humor, dancing and, of course, singing.
The performance included a few cuts from a soon-to-be-released album; their 2001 tribute to Louis Armstrong, The Spirit of St. Louis; and several fan favorites.
The show opened with two of those favorites: Operator and Route 66. Those two were followed by Doodle from the new album, Candy and another classic, Java Jive.
Janis Siegel, who also has a solo album due for release in April, led a lively interpretation of Ella Fitzgerald’s signature hit, A-Tisket, A-Tasket. Siegel has one of the most versatile voices in the business. She demonstrated just how versatile by mimicking a muted trumpet during an interlude.
The group then performed their cover of Miles Davis’ Move, which was featured on their 1985 album, Vocalese.
Another new song, which Siegel explained as a love song that reflects the times, was My Phone’s on Vibrate for You. This tongue-in-cheek twist on romance includes a line in which Cheryl Bentyne, urging her sweetheart to call at any time, hints that she’ll do just about anything to get his attention even "dance like Britney."
One new song, which I believe is titled Fly Away, allowed the singers and the accompanying quartet of electric guitar, bass, drums and keyboards to stretch out. The performers then gave us Ray’s Rockhouse, another favorite from the Vocalese album.
Next came a pair from The Spirit of St. Louis.
The first, which also appears on last year’s live release, Couldn’t Be Hotter, was preceded by Tim Hauser’s explanation of how the songs were selected for Spirit of St. Louis.
He said Louis Armstrong had recorded so many good songs that it was impossible to pick out 10 for a tribute album. Then, producer Hal Wexler, directed the group’s attention toward a collection of Louis Armstrong "spirituals."
Hauser seemed perplexed as he described his reaction to seeing Old Man Mose.
One member of the audience, anticipating the Transfer’s performance of this song, clapped. Hauser thanked him, but asked that he contain his enthusiasm long enough for him to finish the story, prompting laughter from the rest of the audience.
Allowed to continue, Hauser explained that he didn’t understand how Old Man Mose was considered a spiritual. "It’s about a dead guy!" He went on to say that the song was also humorous.
For those who aren’t familiar, Old Man Mose is the first-person tale of a man who goes to check on a neighbor and makes a startling discovery.
Once the group began singing, the audience quickly experienced the humor, clapping and laughing throughout. Among several funny moments was this exchange between Hauser and the rest of the group:
Group: We found out
Tim: Mose kicked the bucket
We found out / Mose kicked the bucket
We found out / Mose kicked the bucket
We found out he’s dead
We found out / he kicked that bucket
We found out / bought that bucket
We found out / big discount bucket
We found out he’s dead.
Next, the Transfer performed another from Spirit: Stompin’ at Mahogany Hall.
They then performed a song which they recorded for the soundtrack of A League of Their Own and a two-song medley from the new CD. They ended the program with two more favorites, both from the 1979 album Extensions. The first was the ever-popular Trickle Trickle, and the closer was the group’s impressive cover of Weather Report’s Birdland.
For an encore, with the audience on its collective feet, The Manhattan Transfer performed that song that put them on the contemporary music map: The Boy from New York City.
It was an exceptional performance by all one that will be remembered for years to come, especially by those who saw them in person for the first time.