In 1981, the Manhattan Transfer made history as the first vocal group to win Grammys in both the Jazz and Pop categories with their album “Mecca for Moderns.”
More albums, awards and adulation have followed, but it’s been 10 years since The Manhattan Transfer released an album. On Saturday, the award-winning vocal ensemble will premiere their brand new recording, “The Junction,” as they headline the inaugural Roseville Jazz Day.
Turns out the past decade was a tumultuous one for the group, and especially member Chery Bentyne, who has faced and conquered some major health issues. After undergoing surgery and chemotherapy for breast cancer, Bentyne had a recurrence of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which necessitated stem cell replacement. The group was dealt another blow when Transfer founder Tim Hauser died of a heart attack in 2014. But Bentyne and The Transfer, including new member Trist Curliss, have rebounded beautifully with "The Junction."
Bentyne, who has been with the group for four decades, remains remarkably upbeat for someone who has been through so much.
“I’ve got a clean bill of health,” she said in an interview with Capital Public Radio. “They actually give you a new birthday when you get a stem cell transplant. So, I’m a little over 4 years old right now, because I’ve got all new cells that have just regenerated. Chemo does a lot of damage, obviously. It does good, of course. But it also does a lot of damage internally. It can even affect your voice and the muscles.”
On the new Transfer album and on her own recent solo albums, it’s hard to hear any change in Bentyne’s pure, powerful voice — and she’s not shying away from challenges.
“All in all, my energy is good!” she said. “My voice, I can’t sing quite as high as I used to, but I could do Cantaloop!”
Cantaloop is the US3 cover of Herbie Hancock’s “Canteloupe Island.” Producer of the the Transfer’s new album, Meryn Warren knew Bentyne could take on the song’s daring trumpet solo in their version.
“It was Merv’s idea,” Bentyne said. “He said, ‘No, you’re going to sing this solo.’ ‘Oh, really?’ So we kind of incorporated a couple original licks. There was part of a trumpet solo where there was nowhere to breathe. I’ve done trumpet solos before, like Miles Davis. And you can only emulate an instrument so far and then you’ve got to become a voice and you’ve got to take a breath.”
Not only is “The Junction” the first album recorded by the Manhattan Transfer in 10 years, it’s also the first since losing founder Tim Hauser. Bentyne says she, Janis Seigel, Alan Paul and Trist Curliss honor their friend and colleague at every concert.
“I feel he’s there every night with us,” she said. “He created this and every night we all sing a song for him, and we have to give him his moment on stage ‘cause he was a ham. He was a big ol’ ham and God loved him for that! But he was a brilliant guy and he created something that is still going!”
You can catch Cheryl Bentyne and the Manhattan Transfer perform two shows tomorrow at the Roseville Theatre as part of the inaugural Roseville Jazz Day. Capital Public Radio is a co-sponsor of the event.
Cheryl Bentyne's comments were taken from in interview with CapRadio's Gary Vercelli, who co-produced this story.