When singer Alan Paul first joined the vocal quartet Manhattan Transfer in 1972, he never thought the gig would last for 40 years.
"We got together because we thought it would be lots of fun," said the hearty-sounding 62-year-old on the phone from his Los Angeles home.
The American vocal quartet, consisting of Tim Hauser, Janis Siegel, Cheryl Bentyne and Paul, has over 30 recordings to its credit and is on the road for seven months of the year criss-crossing the globe on three to four major tours. Their unique mix of jazz and pop, enhanced by catchy rhythms and satisfying harmony has earned them longtime fans around the world.
They are performing three shows this weekend at Centennial Concert Hall in the finale of the season's Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's Pops Series. The concerts run Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
It's been 30 years since Manhattan Transfer last played in Winnipeg. "We're really looking forward to it," said Paul, after asking about the local weather forecast. Due to illness, however, Bentyne has been unable to perform with her colleagues for the last several months. Replacing her is vocalist Margaret Dorn, for whom Paul has high praise. "She has a great deal of experience singing in a group so she understands the importance of balance," he said, "and she has learned the repertoire very quickly."
Working together for decades like Manhattan Transfer has can present difficulties along the way. "It can be very challenging to be together for a long time," admitted Paul. "It's like family. You have to learn to get along. Like with any family, there are conflicts sometimes. Maturity plays a role. We look at the things we value and focus on that. We have a real desire to be together. We look at the grace of it. We're very fortunate to do what we do with the people we want."
If you're familiar with some of the quartet's hits, including Route 66, Embraceable You, Boy from New York City, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, Choo Choo Ch'Boogie and Birdland (all planned for the WSO shows), you might find it hard to pin them down to any musical genre.
"From the beginning we have always been eclectic," said Paul, who began his professional career at age 12, performing on Broadway in the original cast of Oliver. "We were very fortunate when we signed with Atlantic Records that Ahmet Ertegun, who signed us, allowed us a lot of freedom. We were always changing. We didn't want to get locked in to any one genre. It was much more creative, much better not to get labelled."
Doing their own thing their own way seems to have worked. The quartet has won a slew of awards, including Grammys in pop and jazz categories. Their 1985 album Vocalese picked up an unprecedented 12 Grammy nominations. "From album to album, we had pop hits, a disco hit, jazz hits -- we moved around," said Paul. "Vocalese was our first thematic album. It really solidified us as a vocal jazz group."
Their music director, Yaron Gershovsky, will conduct the WSO and play piano. "We have a great band," said Paul of guitarist Adam Hawley, bassist Gary Wicks and drummer Steve Hass. "The symphonic arrangements are stunning and the feedback we get from orchestras is that they really enjoy them and find them challenging."
The singers don't seem to tire of doing multiple shows. "We put in different things, make some improvements," said Paul. "Every audience is different so it's a new experience every time. We have interchange with them and try to mix it up and we have such a large repertoire that there's a lot to choose from."
Longevity of this kind can be a strain on a singer's vocal cords. Paul takes great care to keep his instrument healthy. "You have to work at it, especially in this group because the music is so demanding. It's like going to the gym -- you're dealing with muscles."
The audience response has been gratifying. "We have our fans who stretch over the 40 years," Paul said. "It depends when they hopped on the Transfer. Now we have students who are into us because of the music, and fans who bring their children and grandchildren."
What is it that keeps music lovers coming to Manhattan Transfer concerts? "It's about the harmony," said Paul. "People are affected by the sound -- sometimes even subconsciously. We as human beings, especially in the chaotic world we live in are affected by harmonic vibrations."
Tickets range from $23 to $87 and are available at the WSO box office at 949-3999, at www.wso.ca or through Ticketmaster: 1-855-985-ARTS and www.ticketmaster.ca