I feel fortunate and privileged to have witnessed the final performance of The Manhattan Transfer, an afternoon show, a historical event. The theatre was packed, a sold-out show for the matinee and the evening performance.
An electric energy seemed to fill the theatre, perhaps in anticipation of a monumental occurrence. The excitement in the air was almost palpable. A large projection screen, a huge 50th-anniversary celebratory sign projected on the screen. A montage of images of The Manhattan Transfer is projected onto the screen as a welcome to the theatre patrons, a split screen of some highlights from the past 50 years.
The Manhattan Transfer are: Janis Siegel, Alan Paul, Cheryl Bentyne, and Trist Curless.
The Manhattan Transfer Band are: Yaron Gershovsky, piano, keyboards and musical director; Boris Koslov, bass, acoustic and electric; Pete McCann, electric guitar, and Ross Pederson, drums.
The band members appear and take their places by their instruments, a wave to the audience, who are on their feet and clapping in delight. The band starts into a tune, the audience relaxes, and about eight bars in the Manhattan Transfer take to the stage, all dressed formally, in black tie and gown; the audience offers a rousing welcome.
The first song from their 1975 break-out album, The Manhattan Transfer, “That Cat is High”. The vocalists are all moving with style and pazazz. Allan Paul is swerving and zig zagging in the role of — the guy who sure is high. These vocalists move in a manner belying their five decades on stage, as if youngsters, or is it just that they are so very comfortable having been on stage the majority of their lives?
This high-energy singing, dancing, and swinging set the tone for the performance and an afternoon of joy and harmony. Cheryl Bentyne would lead the next tune, “Blue Champagne,” a Jimmy Dorsey Big Band song that had that swing and harmonious horn section via these amazing vocalists.
The Manhattan Transfer flowed through two sets with a flawless performance. The group seemed to stick to a theme of going through their hits from Grammy-winning albums and songs. They shared stories with the audience of their time performing together.
Janis Siegel, one of the original members of the group, gave a touching and humorous dedication to the group’s founder, Tim Hauser, who formed the group in 1972. She spoke fondly of Hauser, who passed away in 2014 and dedicated the next song to Tim Hauser and his passion for, and then she sang on cue, “I Love Coffee,” as the group dove into “Java Jive.”
Some of the highlight moments for me were “Sing, A Study in Brown,” dedicated to Clifford Brown and John Hendricks — “Sing, You, Sinners,” a Fletcher Henderson staple with vocal arrangement by Kurt Elling and Janis Siegel.
Siegel mentioned Ella Fitzgerald as one of the group’s heroines. And then related a touching story about an award presentation to Ella and preparing to blow Ella away with their rendition of “A-Tisket, A- Tasket.” Ella sang it instead, and as Janis Seigel says, “she just tore it up; after the performance, Ella asked Janis, how did I do?”
The final song of the first set was a very exciting swing tune with all band members taking an extended solo. I was impressed with Yaron Gershovsky’s piano playing. He played some beautiful lines that highlighted a classical sensibility. The stand-up bass playing of Boris Koslov was outstanding, and drummer Pederson had some excellent fills. Guitarist Pete McCann had an outstanding tone and played wonderfully.
The second act took the audience into a funky, fusion period. The group came back in a less formal look, a modern, funky look. Bassist Koslov would play electric bass throughout this set. The group would play some pop hits and a song from a Grammy award winner, the album Brazil, with a cool rendering of “Hear The Voices” (Bahia De Todas As Contas).
They played some of my favorites, “Route 66” and “On The Boulevard” with some nice guitar licks by Pete McCann. A special tune, “The Quietude (Encuentro de Animales),” with a great piano interlude by Yaron Gershovsky. The beautiful “Joy Spring” another tribute to the great trumpeter Clifford Brown.
The group played a joyful tune and a song that proved to be a great build-up to the finale and the final bow, “Cantaloop (Flip Out),” with a nod to Herbie Hancock and his “Cantaloupe Island”.
The finale, well, what else could it be but the song most associated with The Manhattan Transfer, “Birdland”.
The Manhattan Transfer bowed and departed the stage to a thunderous applause. They were not long, returning to take another bow and launch into an encore song; “Boys From New York City”.
The group seemed surprised by the appearance of the theatre’s general manager, Eric Lariviere, who introduced Markham mayor Frank Scarpitti. The mayor spoke on the accolades and the many accomplishments of The Manhattan Transfer over their 50-year career. He ended with a presentation of a plaque for outstanding achievement in music. The mayor returned the microphone to Eric Lariviere, who requested one more tune. And the band played the ultimate party tune, “Tequila (The Way of Booze)”. The crowd danced, the mayor danced, and we all clapped and sang—a fantastic final bow from one of the most outstanding vocalese groups.
All Photographs by Atael Weissman [click on thumbnails to enlarge]