Janis Siegel

Over the past four decades, the voice of Janis Siegel, a nine-time Grammy winner and a seventeen-time Grammy nominee, has been an undeniable force in The Manhattan Transfer’s diverse musical catalog. Alongside her career as a founding member of this musical institution, Siegel has also sustained a solo career that has spawned more than a half dozen finely-crafted solo albums and numerous collaborative projects, amassed a large international fan base and garnered consistently high critical praise.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1952, Siegel learned about the music business at an early age. By the time she was 12, she was singing with an all-girl pop trio called The Young Generation. By the time she and her bandmates had graduated from high school, they’d released two singles: “The Hideaway” (b/w “Hymn of Love”) on Red Bird Records, and “It’s Not Gonna Take Too Long” (b/w “Diggin’ You”) on Kapp Records , both produced by Richard Perry.

“At that time, I was exclusively listening to pop and folk music,” Siegel recalls. “When Motown became popular, I fell head over heels for it, as well as for singers like Aretha Franklin. And of course, I went insane over the Beatles and the British invasion. On the other side of the coin, I also loved Barbra Streisand. And because of living in Brooklyn, I saw a lot of Broadway shows too.” On the jazz side, she remembers John Coltrane as her musical idol during high school and college years.

After graduating from high school, the trio shifted from pop to acoustic folk and rechristened themselves Laurel Canyon. Siegel studied nursing for a couple years, but left college in the early ’70s to focus all of her energies on Laurel Canyon. But it was a chance encounter that steered her into The Manhattan Transfer.

Tim Hauser was a taxi driver with musical aspirations who happened to pick up Laurel Canyon’s conga player one night. The percussionist invited Hauser to a party, where he met Siegel and asked her to sing on some demos he’d been working on. Some of the early swing music that Hauser had been dabbling in was an eye-opener to Siegel, who’d previously been immersed in pop and folk.

Hauser invited Siegel to join a four-part vocal group that he’d been trying to reconstruct. (An earlier version of The Manhattan Transfer with a much different tone and style had existed briefly in the late ’60s.)

When she joined Hauser, Laurel Massé and Alan Paul, the Manhattan Transfer was born. The group’s self-titled debut album in 1975 ushered in a renaissance in vocal-based music and marked the opening chapter of the foursome’s success story.

Over the years, Janis’ unmistakable voice has become one of the group’s most recognizable trademarks. She sang lead on some of the Transfer’s biggest hits, such as “Operator,” “Chanson D’Amour,” “Twilight Zone,” “Birdland,” “The Boy from N.Y.C.” “Spice of Life and “Mystery.” She also gained a reputation as a vocal arranger by writing five of the charts for the group’s acclaimed masterwork, Vocalese, seven charts for the group’s Grammy-winning album Brasil, and won a Grammy herself in 1980 for her arrangement of “Birdland.” In 1993, she and her Manhattan Transfer colleagues received their honorary doctorates from the Berklee School of Music, and in 1999 they were among the first class of inductees into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.

But Siegel has been riding a dual career track for nearly three and a half decades. In addition to her stage and studio work with The Manhattan Transfer, she launched her solo career in 1981 on Atlantic Records with the release of Experiment in White produced by Joel Dorn. Her followup solo effort, At Home, earned her a Grammy nomination in 1987 for Best Female Jazz Vocal.

She collaborated with jazz pianist Fred Hersch on the 1989 effort, Short Stories, which Jazz Times ranked “among the most graceful, thoroughly heartbreaking efforts of the modern era, thanks to her rich, emotive vocals. “That same year, the New York Music Awards named her Best Female Jazz Singer. Not one to walk away from a successful formula, Siegel rejoined Hersch in the making of Slow Hot Wind in 1995, and The Tender Trap in 1999. In addition to Hersch, The Tender Trap session roster included high-profile players like Michael Brecker, Hank Crawford, Russell Malone and Matt Wilson.

Through it all, diversity has been a hallmark of Siegel’s career. Some of her favorite collaborations over the years have been with Turkish modern classical composer Ilhan Mimaroglu and the Beaux Arts String Quartet in a musical and spoken word project called “Like There’s Tomorrow,” as well as projects with Richie Cole, Jay McShann, Lew Soloff, Australian flautist Jane Rutter and R&B singer Leon Ware. She also was a happy participant in “A Tribute to the Carpenters” on King Records in 1998, sang a duet (“Two For The Blues”) with Natalie Cole on Cole’s 1996 release, Stardust, and was a featured vocalist on Circlesongs, Bobby McFerrin’s multi-layered world/jazz effort of 1997.

Siegel has also appeared on a number of motion picture soundtracks (Swing Kids, A League of Their Own, Dick Tracy and others) and performed with classical violinist Nadja Solerno-Sonnenberg and the Concordia Orchestra at Alice Tully Hall in 1998.

I Wish You Love, released in 2002, marked her debut in the Telarc label and her reunion with legendary producer Joel Dorn. In some ways, the album also marked a return to Siegel’s roots, as it included jazzy renditions of a number of songs conceived in New York’s fabled Brill Building a hotbed of songwriting talent in the early ’60s. It was in that building that Siegel wrote and recorded her earliest songs with the Young Generation. But the Brill Building concept expanded dramatically once the I Wish You Love sessions got under way. Crafted with a distinctly late ’50s nightclub vibe, the album was a collection of pop and jazz hits – all penned during the fertile musical period from the late’50s to mid-’60s, and all associated in some way with women and the female perspective.

Her 2003 recording, Friday Night Special, combined Siegel’s rich, emotive vocals with an unusual selection of songs and a first-rate organ/tenor band featuring Joey DeFrancesco on Hammond B-3 and Houston Person on tenor saxophone. Produced by Joel Dorn (who produced Experiment in White and I Wish You Love), Siegel’s second Telarc release ranges from soul-jazz and bluesy grooves to funky rhythm & blues and romantic ballads.

Siegel’s eighth solo recording, Sketches of Broadway, spotlighted classic Broadway hits by Irving Berlin, Lerner and Loewe, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim and others. Produced by Gil Goldstein, Sketches of Broadway offers eleven showstoppers, including the opener “Show Me” (from My Fair Lady), “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top” (Oklahoma!), “I Have Dreamed” (The King and I), “I’ve Got the Sun in the Morning”(And The Moon At Night) (Annie Get Your Gun) and “Sorry/Grateful” (Company).

Her latest studio recording, released on Telarc records in 2006, is the Latin- flavored A Thousand Beautiful Things which features the talents of Edmar Castaneda on Colombian harp, Edsel Gomez on piano, John Benetiz on bass, Steve Hass on drums and Brian Lynch on trumpet. Edsel Gomez provided the arrangements for this formidable NY/Latin band, to songs written by contemporary songwriters such as Björk, Annie Lennox, (who wrote the title tune) Nellie McKay, Suzanne Vega, Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder.

In an age when buyers and sellers are quick to jam music and musicians into convenient little boxes, Siegel – either as a solo artist or in a group setting – has already built a career on defying preconceptions and stereotypes. A Thousand Beautiful Things is another step in Siegel’s ongoing pursuit of following eclectic musical passions.

Siegel’s most recent collaborations and projects outside The Manhattan Transfer are many and varied. She is currently a touring member of the improvisational vocal group, Bobby McFerrin’s Voicestra, made an appearance as a ’30s-style Boswellian (as in The Boswell Sisters) cowgirl on the debut album by Frank Vignola and Joe Ascione, titled 33 1/3, and was a participant alongside Luciana Souza, Mulgrew Miller and the late James Williams in a tribute to jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center. Janis Siegel was also a member of the ensemble cast debuting Cy Coleman and Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s jazz song cycle, “Songs For A New Millenium” at the Kennedy Center. She appears with her duo partner Fred Hersch on “2 Hands 10 Voices”, a benefit album for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, a cause close to her heart, and also contributed three cuts to NY drummer Steve Hass’ CD “Traveler”. The summer of 2003 found her an eager participant in the Jazz at the Hollywood Bowl Tribute To Ella Fitzgerald. Siegel performed to rave reviews with an all-star ensemble including Dame Cleo Lane, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Kevin Mahogany and Canadian jazz singer Denzil Sinclaire. In March 2008, she was asked again to pay tribute to her idol in a program called, “LA Phil Presents A Tribute To Ella.” at Disney Hall in Los Angeles. And in 2010, she was a member of a troupe, alongside Dee Dee Bridgewater and Al Jarreau that celebrated “Ella” at The Kennedy Center.

These days, you can find Janis in the place she loves most, the studio, producing various ventures for other artists and singing on projects ranging from patriotic Americana, to tributes to Gene Krupa and Lionel Hampton. The fall of 2008 found her in the studio singing and producing a tribute to the great Johnny Mercer. This project featured Janis’ girl trio, JaLaLa, which is comprised of former MT partner Laurel Massé and Lauren Kinhan from the New York Voices. Jalala is gearing up for recording their second CD, and for touring in 2012. Siegel also tours with her west coast based trio consisting of Alan Pasqua on piano, Darek Oles on bass and Steve Hass on drums.

Siegel – who has made a home in Manhattan with her son, Gabriel, and generally follows her own muse, isn’t about to get backed into the hopeless corner of trying to be all things to all people. Some styles are timeless and universal, regardless of prevailing trends. “I think people will always respond to emotion and to great songs sung well,” she says. “And I think the vocalists in particular will always be in demand. There’s nothing that approximates the human voice. In the end, when you come down to it, people want to feel something.”

Update: January 2014

Check out Janis’ latest CD on Palmetto Records ~ NightSongs: A Late Night Interlude

Janis Siegel - NightSongs: A Late Night Interlude

34 Responses to Janis Siegel

  1. Mary Rolston says:

    Loved seeing you all in Phoenix, AZ last night at the Celebrity Theater! 25 yrs ago was the last time we saw you in concert and my 82 yr old mother and I enjoyed the concert so much (she can’t stop talking about it!) Thank you so much for coming back to Phoenix (Celebrity Theater is the best place for concerts!) We will keep a closer eye on your tour dates to be sure another 25 yrs doesn’t go by before seeing you again. Thank you Janice and all of The Manhatten Transfer!

  2. Ana M Steers says:

    You have by far the best voice i have ever heard and i have follwed you sincemy teens. My granddaughter enjoys your music as well. i have seen you in concert more than 8 times, you and the other transfers have never disappointed. i have all your albums!

  3. Gerald Robinette says:

    I love your voice. I’d like to hear you do “Cry” by Johnny Ray. I bet you’d do a wonderful job of it. Thank you and the others of Manhattan Transfer.

  4. Dave Summers says:

    You have an awesome voice, and you’re cute too ;-)

  5. Maria Roberts says:

    Hi!

    I found a great version on your song “Sassy” performed by a finnish a cappella band Club For Five. I saw a show about five years ago in Helsinki where they opened for you, two of my favourite bands in the world sharing the stage!! Do you have any plans on doing something together in the future?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTSpOIXgL0Q

    Hope you are well,

    love
    Maria

  6. Ralph Glenn says:

    Hi Janis, TMT has such an international concert schedule, I had resolved myself to never seeing a live performance. When I discovered that you were coming to Boone, NC, 50 miles from my hometown of Shelby, I immediately booked the weekend at the Broyhill Inn and the best seats I could get. TMT ‘s music has always given me great pleasure. I hope I get a chance to tell you in person how much I admire your talent.

    Ralph

  7. Jeff Tkac says:

    Hi Janis,
    I absolutely love your voice and multiple singing styles, as people are so moved by talent like yours! I could not agree with you more with your statement “I think people will always respond to emotion and to great songs sung well,” . Your statement holds such a universal truth regardless of language and culture, as people are so moved by talent like yours! I think it is God given and you have used it so well. I have three little boys and they are quite familiar with your album “AT Home”! Keep up the great work with all of your involvement and we will see you again soon on one of your Southern California appearances!!
    Jeff Tkac Family Bakersfield, California USA

  8. Kique Gil says:

    What makes Janis Siegel particularly noteworthy is her versatility. This can be explained rationally. She can sing any style that she propos, and also coordinates perfectly doing harmonies.

    But there is something that can not be measured or weighed. Just feel or not. And this woman makes you feel.

    I have a little story that explains what I’m saying. When Lola Flores debuted in USA, a newspaper published this review: “Not the best singer. Can not dance well. She’s not pretty. Do not miss it.”

  9. Erin says:

    Janis
    I learned about jazz while listening to you and the other members of the Manhattan Transfer.
    Thank you for making my world a better place!

  10. Mark Bernhardt says:

    Janis,
    Looking so forward to seeing you in Van Wert, OH on Sept 17th. I saw the Transfer over 25 years ago in Muncie, IN and still a show I rate as one of my best. Please try to work in the song “Mystery” if possible. I have reserved a seat for you in row C, (center) stop by and see me. None better than the Transfer, thank you.

  11. Timm Ryan-Young says:

    Janis,

    Have all the MTM albums and CDs (been a fan a LONG time) and all your solo discs as well. I wanted to say thank you, thank you, thank you for the hours and hours and HOURS of pleasure you have given me, my soon-to-be-husband (YEAH NY!!!) and our daughter.

    Keep the music coming!!!!!!!!!

  12. Paul Serresseque says:

    Janis,

    My dear, you are truly one of the absolute greatest. In the process of moving, I located my 12 CDs of you folks and have been listening. I can’t tell you how happy I am visiting your website here and finding that you folks are still at it making a wonderful sound that will NEVER be equaled!

    All my best and THANK YOU for countless hours of enjoyment!

  13. Bubbles Love says:

    HELLO JANIS:
    My name is Bubbles Love and have followed The Manhattan Transfer for over 30 years. And I was shocked when i checked up to see if you guys were still singing and YOU ARE! I’m so happy n I hope that I can make it to one of the New York Shows. My 3 year old Grand daughter Alyssa is sitting here with me now listening to the Black And White album. And she loves Alan singing GLORIA and asks for it over and over again! Can’t wait to see you guys sometime in December! I Love The Manhattan Transfer….

    THANK YOU SO MUCH….
    LONG TIME FAN BUBBLES LOVE……………………

  14. Linda Lee says:

    I can’t wait to see TMT perform tomorrow here in Newport Beach!! So glad you will be in Orange County.

  15. dennis says:

    I was your landlord when you lived in the red house on the corner of camrose and highland that was a long time ago.I got to meet the whole group.I remember the big piano in you living room.Take Care Dennis

  16. Michelle A. Murray says:

    Hi janis!

    A friend of mine gave me Manhattan Transfer’s “Swing”. I’ll love her forever for that! I can’t tell you how MANY times a week I listen to it. I put my headphones on and go into a world of my own!

    I do have something funny to tell you, though. The first time I played “Swing” on a regular CD player, my cats jumped out of their skin the moment they heard your voice go really high! You should have seen their faces! They were totally perplexed! It was hilarious! It took them awhile to get used to it. Now, THEY’RE HOOKED ON “SWING”! :)

    Anyway, thank you (and the other terrific members of Manhattan Transfer) for so many hours of PURE pleasure! May our Lord, Jesus, bless you ALL! Oh! AndI love your site!

  17. Dean Reynolds says:

    Janis,

    It was great seeing you, Alan and Tim last night at the Palladium. I can’t wait until the group is back together again. Love hearing you sing…always amazing.

    Dean

  18. Yameen Khan says:

    nice post, looking good

  19. Stephen Smith says:

    Hi Janis

    My wife Wendy and I are so looking forward to seeing you again in Markham on April 17. We will be in the front row enjoying MT’s amazing harmonies and vocal arrangements.
    All the best
    Stephen

  20. Sean says:

    Your performance today in Houston was fantastic, as usual. Thanks for being so engaging with our little girl. You asked her if she was enjoying the show and she said “Yes mam”.
    She loves singing and the stage and you are an inspiration to her. It was her first MT performance, my wife’s 3rd and my umpteenth time to see you. Her parents were fortunate to have the gift of music in our lives as kids and we’re trying to pass it on.

    In awe as always,
    Sean

  21. Jason Vaughn says:

    Janis,

    You astonish me. Anytime I want to feel touched by something “good” I scan the net for a Siegel video not yet seen. Your presence to live in the moment and interpret its beauty to your audience is timeless. Like the scent of a blossom on a warm summer breeze, your essence forces pause to take a short vacation within oneself. Thanks for being you…

    Jason
    jva8683923@aol.com

  22. Frank says:

    A fan of TMT since the early 80′s, I never had an opportunity to see a live performance over the years. then about 3 months ago, I was just surfing around on Ticketmaster, plugging in names of artists to see if they were still doing concerts and I typed in Manhattan Transfer and POP – there it was – a performance in June in Boston, just 15 miles away. One off the bucket list and what a great one it was. I loved the whole evening, but for some reason, you especially shined last night. A great evening….Thanks.

    T

  23. Anthony Nisco says:

    You recently played a show at Sculler’s Jazz Club in Boston. I’m sorry I haven’t written you sooner. You gave me one of my favorite musical memories when you came to sing at my table. I feel I know Birdland as well as you! It was a real thrill to have you so close and feeling the tune I have loved for years. Thank You! Please keep making that music! It is a lifeline for so many!

  24. Laura says:

    Just got home from your Napa concert. I was the one hanging around the bus. I didn’t get to tell you how awesome you are so let me say it here… You’re awesome! Have a great tour and come back to Calofornia again please. Can never get enough of TMT!

  25. Laura says:

    I’ve been fortunate to see you in California twice this year! In Oakland at Yoshi’s and last night at the Uptown Theater in Napa. I’ve been following the group for probably 30 of your 40 years together (Happy Anniversary by the way) and you guys just keep getting better and better. My favorite will probably always be The Boy From New York City, yet it’s all good. Thanks for not one but two special evenings this year. You are totally awesome! Come back to California as soon as you can— we love you here.

  26. Lynda says:

    So blessed to see/hear you all perform tonight in Santa Cruz. I don’t know why nobody made that number famous, either. But if you keep singing it, it won’t belong before that’s no longer true!

    Thanks for a great evening!

  27. Jason says:

    Wonderful night in Shanghai 2012-10-27,the best show i saw ever.
    Love u and all people in this team. have a goooood day and night ,and wish u come Shanghai again :)

  28. Steve Davis says:

    Jalala has another album in the works? When will it be released?

  29. Sharon Carlisle says:

    Can’t wait to see my 8 year old to see you and the rest in Cerritos, CA on Dec. 8th for her first concert. She will be singing along. She loves The Manhattan Transfer sound. Now screaming in excitement.
    Hugs
    Sharon and Shannon Carlisle

  30. Rob Feldman says:

    Always enjoyed listening to your music . It has been awhile since I last heard you while sitting in front of your MOM at Westbury Music Fair . Before that you beat me at ping pong at Sleep-away camp Nimrod. If memory serves me right , small chance but wasn’t it Madison High School ? Going to watch a MT DVD.
    Continued success and Health and Happiness.
    Rob Feldman

  31. Hi Janis, i was at the Shanghai Music Hall on Oct.27th, & i was so lucky to have benn there … I’ve watched some of your live comcerts in various countries, but i think the Shanghai gig was the best sound ever captured in a live performance by The Manhattan Transfer! your solo performances & the rest of the guys sounds great! I’m an avid fan of the group since the late seventies – to the present! We’re hoping of a return engagement here next yr. BTW, the Band (trio) were awesome ! pls kindly post their names on this web if you may, ‘apppreciate it much if you’ll do as a favor!

    thanks, Jeun

  32. James McClintock says:

    Hellooooooo Ms. Janis. Saw the group first in Anaheim,CA. Came in on a bus, sang, went out on a bus. Boy were we young then. There was no doubt that the group was going to be as big, if not bigger then The Four Fresmen. I fell madly in love with Janis Siegal, well maybe a young man’s crush. Saw the group again in Santa Barbara, you looked fantastic, of course the group was cooking.
    Glad to hear Ms. Cheyl is doing fine. Just got the Japan 86 concert and played it for my College Class I teach. They gave the group a standing ovation and were on their feet during the last number. The Business School Dean was rather mad about the video not being part of the course, then he borrowed the video and has not retuned it.
    My best to the group and keep rocking…….

  33. Ruben says:

    Janis,
    You are an inspiration to my daughters, and to my elementary music students. I teach them all to practice excellence and you clearly show what can come of focus, heart, and individualism. Thank you for your vocal expression.
    Ruben

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