Tim Hauser dies at 72; founder of Manhattan Transfer


Singer Tim Hauser, the founder of the Grammy-winning vocal quartet The Manhattan Transfer, a group he established in 1969, has died. He was 72.

Hauser, a Los Angeles resident, died Thursday of a heart attack in Pennsylvania, according to the group’s publicist, JoAnn Geffen.

“Tim was the visionary behind The Manhattan Transfer,” the remaining members of the ensemble — Cheryl Bentyne, Alan Paul and Janis Siegel — said in a statement posted on Facebook. “It’s incomprehensible to think of this world without him.”


Hauser was drawn to vocal ensemble music from his youth, fascinated initially by the doo-wop styles of the early rock era and later by folk and country music before discovering jazz. And, from the founding of the first installment of The Manhattan Transfer to the present day, the ensemble’s music has embraced those elements and more.

“The whole key,” Hauser explained in Irwin Stambler’s “Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock and Soul,” “was to sing four-part harmony. Nobody was doing it then, and nobody is doing it now. When you do four-part harmony, you get into jazz.”

Hauser was correct in his forecast of the future of The Manhattan Transfer. Despite their extraordinary versatility, the group, under Hauser’s guidance, has long reigned as the jazz world’s principal vocal ensemble, while often demonstrating their capabilities with pop, rock and country styles.

“Our original goal,” Hauser told The Times in 1997, “was to sound like the Count Basie saxophone section. And I think we came pretty close here. But we also wanted to have other sounds too — that George Shearing vibes, guitar and piano combination is one, but we modified it a bit by using Buddy Emmons on steel guitar.”

The quartet’s first album, released in 1975 and self-titled, produced the hit remake of the gospel classic “Operator.” The group’s visibility increased dramatically in the mid-1970s when The Manhattan Transfer headlined a 1975 summer replacement show on CBS-TV. Many jazz listeners saw the group’s vocal skills as the logical successors to the vocalese mastery of the Lambert, Hendricks & Ross trio.

Dozens of other accomplishments followed — more hit records, international tours and Grammy Awards.

Even that wasn’t enough for the musically active mind of Hauser. Applying the production skills that generated such extraordinary results for The Manhattan Transfer albums, he achieved similar results with other artists.

Among them: Richie Cole’s “Pop Bop” album and Eddie Jefferson’s final recording session. And when he was booked to produce the soundtrack for the film “The Marrying Man,” he also made his acting debut as Woody the bandleader. In one of his rare departures from the Manhattan Transfer, he recorded a 2007 solo album, “Love Stories.”

Hauser was born Dec. 12, 1941, in Troy, N.Y., and as a child moved with his family to Asbury Park, N.J. Drawn to vocal music at an early age, he told the Asbury Park Press about hearing Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers in 1956.

“They sang ‘I Promise to Remember’ a cappella,” Hauser recalled, “and … I swear that was my turning point. That was God’s way of saying, ‘Here’s your gig, son, and if you don’t get it, it’s not my fault.’ ”

Shortly thereafter, Hauser assembled a vocal quintet he called The Criterions, who recorded a pair of singles and performed on Alan Freed’s early rock music television show, “The Big Beat.” He was only 17 when the first song he produced, “Harlem Nocturne” for the Viscounts, reached No. 3 on the Billboard charts.

At Villanova University, Hauser sang with the Villanova Singers and a folk music trio, the Troubadour Three, who toured the U.S. on a bill of the Hootenanny Stars of 1963. After graduating that year with a degree in economics, he served briefly in the Air Force and the National Guard.

After his discharge, Hauser worked in marketing and advertising before founding the original installment of The Manhattan Transfer with Erin Dickins, Marty Nelson, Gene Pistilli and Pat Rosalia in 1969. The name traced to John Dos Passos’ 1925 novel about New York City, “Manhattan Transfer.” The initial incarnation recorded one album, “Jukin,’ ” on Capitol Records before creative differences separated the group.

Although his fascination with vocal music and his desire to form another ensemble were undiminished, Hauser began driving a cab to make a living. And it was while he was behind the wheel that he met a singer named Laurel Masse. Then another passenger introduced him to Janis Siegel.

Deciding that the ideal grouping would require another male singer, they found Alan Paul, who was working on Broadway in “Grease” and, in 1972, the second installment of the Manhattan Transfer was created.

Seven years later, Masse left the group after a near-fatal car accident, and Hauser searched for a replacement.

“We wanted somebody who could blend with our sound, who could cut it as a soloist, and someone we could get along with,” he told Down Beat. “And then Cheryl Bentyne walked in. She sang ‘Candy,’ and it was the sound.”

With that decision, the final version of The Manhattan Transfer was established. The group said Friday that it plans to continue its current tour.

Hauser’s survivors include his wife, Barb Sennet Hauser; a son, Basie, a daughter, Lily; and a sister, Fayette Hauser.