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The Manhattan Transfer are ‘Tonin’ up

Tim Hauser would just as soon forget about The Manhattan Transfer’s two-album sojourn with Columbia Records.

With the just-released “Tonin’ ” LP, featuring cover versions of ’50s and ’60s classics, the multi-Grammy Award-winning vocal group is back on Atlantic, where they reigned for 13 years.

For Hauser, it’s as if they never left.

“We were never unhappy (at Atlantic), in terms of the way we were treated,” he said recently from his home in Studio City, Calif. “Columbia just offered us what we thought was a great deal, and it turned out to be a nightmare. It was strictly a business thing.

“After the dream turned into a nightmare at Columbia, Atlantic wanted us to come back, and we were fortunate enough to get out and come back.”

When asked who they wanted to produce their “Tonin’ ” collaboration with pop and R&B greats, the Transfer had only person in mind: Arif Mardin.

“Turns out he was who they wanted to do it, too,” Hauser said. “He’s such a great producer and someone we’ve known for over 20 years, when we cut our first album at Atlantic in New York in 1975. He was in the studio at the same time working on the Average White Band’s second album, and so we were always up there in the evenings at the same time, and we became very friendly with him.”

The “Tonin’ ” concept came from Doug Morris, head of the Warner labels, after he attended a Rhythm & Blues Foundation awards dinner and saw R&B legends performing on stage.

“We modified it somewhat,” Hauser said. “It didn’t become a rhythm and blues album per se, but it was still the idea of working with our contemporaries, our peers.”

Those peers include Phil Collins, Bette Midler, Smokey Robinson, B.B. King, former Rascals singer Felix Cavaliere, James Taylor and Laura Nyro. The first single, “Let’s Hang On,” teams the Transfer – Hauser, Cheryl Bentyne, Alan Paul and Janis Siegel – with Frankie Valli of the Four Seasons.

Despite the Transfer’s brief stay at Columbia, they continued their streak of Grammy wins. Each of their past six studio albums since 1979 have yielded at least one award. This year, they’re nominated for Best Children’s Recording for “The Manhattan Transfer Meets Tubby the Tuba.”

“Just as we had left Columbia, and before we signed with Atlantic, there was this little period of where we were like a ship without a flag or a country,” Hauser said. “This small label (Summit) came to our agent and asked us if we’d be interesting in doing ‘Tubby the Tuba.’ We loved the idea.

“It was originally written in 1945 by Paul Tripp, who’s still alive. He wrote these four stories and because the technology at the time was 78 (rpm) records, it all had to be edited because they couldn’t put the full score on a record, much less all the stories.

“Our record is the first time the entire scores of the four stories have been done and presented that way. It’s very specific where you say your lines and where the music plays. … We were rolling on the floor. Janis was about seven months pregnant, and in between takes, she’d be lying on the floor resting sideways. It was really a blast.”

BWF (before we forget): The Manhattan Transfer returned in 1997 with the country swing album, “Swing.” … Fans can send e-mail to, or check them out on the Web @

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