The Manhattan Transfer
Often thought of as the biggest vocal group in jazz, Manhattan Transfer actually excel at just about every kind of popular music. The band started in the late 1960s and had little national success until member Tim Hauser stepped up and took artistic control of the group. Hauser upped the jazz quotient considerably (often using the bop vocal act Lambert, Hendricks and Ross as his template) while still leaving plenty of room for nostalgic doo-wop and gentler musical styles. In the early '70s, the band had a Top 10 hit with the Sha Na Na-esque "The Boy From New York City," and then had almost equal success with an ode to the jazz mecca Birdland, based on a Weather Report instrumental. Manhattan Transfer specialize in the somewhat odd art of "vocalese," which is tied to the bop era when jazz singers would add lyrics to famous jazz solos and tunes. Seeing the Transfer perform vocalese and other jazz styles live can be an amazing experience, and their reputation as an impressive concert act has helped to keep their albums on the charts over the decades, even as their studio work can be hit or miss. Their best albums include 1985's Vocalese (a collaboration with mentor Jon Hendricks and a host of jazz greats), 1986's Brasil, 1997's Swing, and 2000's The Spirit of St. Louis (although the sainted one they toast on this album is Louis Armstrong, not the city famous for its arch). Manhattan Transfer can even surprise on a mixed bag like 1991's The Offbeat of Avenues, on which they suddenly drop the programmed beats and dig deep into the moody Miles Davis classic "Blues for Pablo." All of Manhattan Transfer are superb vocalists in their own right, but Janis Siegel has had the greatest success as a solo artist.