The boy from New York City

TOM CARDY
Last updated 05:00 19/02/2013
Manhattan Transfer

LOVE SONGS: The Manhattan Transfer, from left, Alan Paul, Cheryl Bentyne, Tim Hauser and Janis Siegel.

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Tim Hauser is a man of many parts. He is best-known as the founder and driving force of The Manhattan Transfer, which play Wellington on Saturday, and for having an almost encyclopedic knowledge of jazz.

But Hauser, who has an economics degree and worked in advertising in New York in the early 60s, doesn't just create music. He also creates pasta sauces, which are sold commercially. "We make the best jarred sauce," he says. "It's not like someone's mother's sauce but for a supermarket jarred sauce we think we make the best."

For several years Hauser's I Made Sauce business ran parallel to The Manhattan Transfer. But he took a break after his business partner died of motor neuron disease. "I was just distraught and I walked away from it."

Then six years ago he decided to try again and is now working with a top marketer and investors in his sauce range.

Hauser sees the comparisons between making and selling sauce and the singing quartet, which he founded in 1969. Marketing is important. "There's the TV show Mad Men - that was me, I did that. I was a young man in my 20s. At first I was with a large ad agency and then I moved over to a large manufacturer. I was in the executive offices and I was in on the front line. I learned a lot. It helps."

But Hauser also loved music. "I always wanted to do music. I did music professionally when I was still in school, since I was 16. But when I graduated I don't think I had the confidence to just jump in. I fell back on my middle class trappings. ‘Get a good job and do music on the side'. I worked in marketing because it was very glamorous and fascinating.

"I thought, ‘if I don't get out now and do what I want I might regret it for the rest of my life'."

The first version of Manhattan Transfer recorded one album but then dissolved over musical direction. Hauser wanted to move more into jazz and swing, while member Gene Pistilli leaned to country and R&B.

The second version came after Hauser, then working as a New York taxi driver, picked up singer Laurel Masse. On another fare, he was invited to a party, where he met singer Janis Siegel. The three hit it off and became a quartet after it was suggested they lure singer Alan Paul, then appearing on Broadway in Grease.

From the start Hauser's marketing experience came in handy. "I was the one that always went up to the record company and worked with the sales guys. I was always the one screaming across the table at the executives and them screaming back at me, going over the contract."

He also picked most of the songs while Siegel the vocal arrangements.

Hauser says he can't take credit for Manhattan Transfer's formal 30s and 40s dress style during the 70s, which helped them stand out. "Creatively, when it came to image, Al [Paul] was very conscious of that stuff. The look that we had in the beginning was Al's idea with tuxedos and the gowns. It was a brilliant idea because it worked."

The group's career took off from their second album in 1976, which included the No 1 single Chanson D'Amour. Masse left in 1978 after she was badly injured in a car accident, and was replaced by Cheryl Bentyne. The line-up has stayed the same since, except when Bentyne was forced to take a break due to cancer. She rejoined the group last year.

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Hauser says Bentyne joining the group had a big impact. It included the group's 1985 album Vocalese - named after a style of singing over previously recorded jazz instrumental pieces. "She was so well suited for doing swing and vocalese . . . Cheryl was like a clarinet with legs. To me, when it comes to swing, nobody can sing like her."

Now with a career spanning more than four decades and 28 albums, Hauser doesn't regret leaving the advertising business.

"It's incredible. I live this magical life," he says.

"I honestly sometimes go, ‘what did I do to deserve this? Did I do something in some previous life or something?' This is like a gift. It's extraordinary.

"You travel the world to have the experiences that we've had and to meet the kind of people that we've met and to be able to perform this music and make people happy. I don't take it for granted.

"The older you get the harder it gets, but to get on stage itself - I get energy from it."

That singing also extends to his own time. Hauser, who has sung the likes of Boy from New York City and Operator for years, also sings at home. Except in one place, he adds. "I don't sing in the shower."

THE DETAILS

The Manhattan Transfer perform at Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, on February 23.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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