One of the most popular, innovative and enduring treats in our community musical cupboard suffered a gut-wrenching loss a couple of days ago with the passing at a seemingly still vibrant 72 of Tim Hauser. For over four decades, this creative genius and vocal Operator behind the melodious machinations of the Manhattan Transfer took us from Tuxedo Junction, through Ray’s Rockhouse, all the way to the Twilight Zone, infusing the journey with ample Soul Food To Go and the Spirit of St. Louis.
It was The Spirit of St. Louis, a 2000 Manhattan Transfer release saluting the talents of a certain Mr. Armstrong, was inhabiting my old-fashioned – it’s actually got a functioning turntable – stereo when I discovered the sad news. The songs of the Manhattan Transfer dot the many old home-made cassette tapes whose merry mixtures still find a way to accent my air from time to time. My wife and I were lucky enough to enjoy many of these renderings live and unplugged about ten years ago when Tim and his cronies were touring in support of Vibrate. An enthusiasm and precision was evident throughout all the Doodlin' that evening.
The Manhattan Transfer have always seemed the very anti-thesis of the manufactured (rather than creative) approach to music – perhaps to art in general – that produces One-Hit Wonders and other Flashes-in-Pans. Their only Top-Tenner was a re-vamped take on a ‘60’s doo-wopper. Their records and CD’s won awards aplenty, were critically acclaimed and sold well, but never reached the stratosphere of the charts. (“Plain Old Toe Tapper” has yet to be recognized as a separate genre, ‘twould seem!)
Perhaps the greatest legacy of the Manhattan Transfer will be this – once Tim Hauser assembled the right set of voices and visions, the line-up saw but one change through all the years, and that one precipitated by medical concerns. Such longevity and continuity speaks less to the talent required to generate such a body of work, and more to a collective enjoyment of each other and the work itself, a continuous challenge that motivates and rewards.
Is it not often said of performers that they never really retire … they’re just waiting for their next gig? I’ve read somewhere that St. Louis himself spoke of going back on the road with his boys on the very day he died. After a particularly satisfying classroom experience with his students, a teacher-buddy would typically conclude his joyous re-telling with the rhetorical question, “And they pay me, too?” The real reward in life, it would seem, is the work itself and another opportunity to do it well.