Janis Siegel’s talents “transfer” from famed group to Love

Published on March 25th, 2021

By Jim Dail

Forty years ago, taxi driver Tim Hauser had a dream to be a part of a harmony vocal quartet. At a party he met vocalist Janis Siegel, who at the time was singing with the acoustic folk band Laurel Canyon. In a short period of time, Siegel would join Hauser, Laurel Masse and Alan Paul and form The Manhattan Transfer. The rest is history.

Millions of records and an impressive collection of Grammy awards later, the band is still going, and so is Siegel, who is performing as a solo artist on Feb. 9 at the Old Town Temecula Community Theater in Love: Swingin’ From the Heart, alongside the Elliot Deutsch Big Band.

“I’m subbing for my partner because she wasn’t able to do it this time,” she said. “It gives me a chance to put out my Big Band charts and use them. I love singing with a big band, and I’m bringing some cool charts, some of which were written for me when I did the Count Basie project and another one was commissioned, and I’m going to do some small pieces too.”

When one thinks about the solo side of careers, it is hard to not be impressed by Siegel’s track record. Numerous albums and awards later, she is still going strong.

For Transfer fans there’s no fear that she is going off on her own, but she believes the solo projects, in a lot of ways, make her even better.

“Some of the projects by nature were much more personal,” she said. “Solo projects and the collaboration I do away from the band are really my own personal tastes and expressions. In some cases, I’ve been approached to do them and at other times I’ve gone after them.”

Of course, if they seem a little different from the Manhattan Transfer, Siegel points out that there is a lot more in common that at first glance.

“There is a lot of overlap,” she said. “I love harmony and always have. My background has been as part of a vocal group, not a solo singer. And my projects do involve a lot of harmony.”

There’s also a challenging aspect.

“Being a soloist allows me to do things that are sometimes way out of my comfort zone, which is terrific,” she said.

A number of those projects involved sounds from around the world.

“As a global citizen, I’m curious about the world and the world’s music,” she said. “I’ve traveled extensively around the world, especially places like Spain, South America, Japan and Indonesia. I’ve played with orchestras in Turkey, lot of places.”

It’s something that truly captures her spirit.

“Going to the countries and hearing your music there is fascinating, but I am a voracious listener anyway,” she said. “I can never be absolutely authentic in certain styles because I am what I am. But I love exploring and trying my hand in different things. Right now, I am trying to learn some Cuban boleros and recently sang with a Greek orchestra. Today, I listened to an Italian pop group.”

In the early days, when she started to think about singing, it wasn’t necessarily global performers and global culture that was her focus – it was the music she was hearing on the radio.

“When I decided to be a singer, I listened to a lot of folk and rock music,” she said. “There was a lot of pop music. I grew up with the AM radio. My parents were not musicians or music fanatics, but the radio was always on and I could hear Sinatra, Nat King Cole, instrumental music. By late ’50s, you had early rock and roll and then I became a fanatic for Motown and the Beatles and the entire British Invasion.”

It didn’t hurt that she was from New York.

“I went to concerts all the time and had the ability to see major artists at Carnegie Hall, and got to see people in the little clubs,” she said. “Everybody had to play New York City. So, in my teen years I’d go to concerts and the opera. In college I’d go to the Vanguard every night. I saw Richie Havens and Peter Paul and Mary a bunch of times.”

But when it came to a career, she didn’t imagine herself on top of the world.

“I was the worker, not the dreamer,” she said. “I didn’t have the big dream to be a superstar. I was doing the day to day work that needed to be done. It was all a surprise to me.”

Part of that realistic approach has also been a reason for why the band has not fallen into similar traps that others have. There are no giant egos. In fact, a lot of people might not even recognize them on the street.

“The way we are recognizable is when the four of us are together,” she said. “We had our moments of huge popularity and they’ve come and gone. Things ebb and flow, and it’s a great lesson for everyone. But we’ve been together 40 years now. I guess the secret is that there are four lead singers and four background singers and it’s a real democracy in the band.”

It’s also helped that they cannot easily be labeled.

“We never wanted to label ourselves,” she said. “We never said we were pop, just that we were a vocal group, a harmony group that explores different facets of music. If you label yourself, then you become disposable.”

There’s also no doubt that Siegel is very versatile.

“I like singing jazz and pop, I really do,” she said. “Jazz is an art form that I’ve been getting deeper into. The richness of the repertoire and the mastery required. And I love pop music. The two and four back beat, and rhythm and blues. There’s nothing like a triad song.”

The same versatility exists when it comes to being in the studio or on stage.

“For me, singing on stage is a payoff for the hard work,” she said. “But I do honestly prefer the studio. I love that aspect. As far as live, I love the atmosphere of the small club because there’s no way you can hide and not be part of the atmosphere. As a soloist, I can do that.”

And for this show, the atmosphere is a a definite Big Band feel.

Backing her up will be the Elliot Deutsch band, a group of seventeen young musicians who have been dubbed by LA Jazz Scene as “the best New Jazz Orchestra in Southern California.”

“They are really a fantastic, dynamic band,” she said. “If you like Big Band music, you should come see the show.”

Note: This performance was re-scheduled from Dec. 30. All tickets purchased for that show will be honored at this show.


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