Grammy Winning Singer Janis Siegel delights local audience
By Bill Johnson / March 1, 2015

Thanks to the Gold Coast Jazz Society, Grammy award winning vocalist Janis Siegel, who may be best known as a member of the vocal quartet Manhattan Transfer, entertained a sold-out crowd at Fort Lauderdale's Amaturo Theater on January 14.

Besides 42 years of touring with the vocal group, Siegel has forged a career as a versatile soloist and arranger. The jazz society president, Tim Ingham, reminded the audience that Siegel has been nominated 17 times for a Grammy award and won nine of them.

For this concert, the brilliant Shelly Berg Trio - piano, bass and drums, accompanied her. A classically trained jazz pianist, Berg is dean of the University of Miami's Frost School of Music. Bassist Chuck Bergeron is the equal of the very best. Berg, Bergeron and drummer John Yarling have played with too many jazz greats to count.
The trio opened with a couple of tunes before bringing Janis Siegel to the stage. They opened with a surprising up-tempo treatment of Surrey With the Fringe on Top that brought a wildly enthusiastic response from the full house. For a moment, I thought there would be standing ovations for Berg and Bergeron's solos. The bassist, who also teaches in Miami, came out of the Buddy Rich band some years ago. His facility is extraordinary, his tone and taste are superb, and his solos are rich and creative while still being melodic. A stranger sitting next to me said simply, "This guy is the best bass player I ever heard."

Siegel came with her book of creative arrangements of songs from Broadway shows and the Great American Songbook. She brought the crowd to its feet with a scat solo that faced off with each instrument, scat singing counterpoint to Berg's improvised piano solo, going face-to-face with bassist Bergeron to scat a solo in the style of a bassist, followed by interplay with drummer Yarling, making the sounds of drum riffs and symbols.

Janis Siegel's professional music career started at age 12 when she recorded pop music singles with two girlfriends as a trio called the Young Generation. As the folk music era emerged, she re-tooled the trio into a folk group called Laurel Canyon, adding a conga drummer.

Suddenly, her life was about to change because of a chance taxi ride. Her conga drummer hailed a cab driven by a man named Tim Hauser who had struggled with some pop and doo-wop vocal groups. After talking about their mutual interest in music, the drummer invited Hauser to a house party, where Hauser met Janis Siegel. The rest, as they say, is history. Hauser and Siegel immediately hit it off, and Manhattan Transfer was born. The group took Janis around the world for more than four decades, recording at least 25 albums and winning a string of Grammy awards. Hauser, unfortunately, died last October. "Transfer" has since integrated a new member, and Siegel assured fans that the Manhattan Transfer will continue to tour.

This concert was just one in a series by world-class jazz artists presented by the Gold Coast Jazz Society. Upcoming concerts include the dynamic B3 organ player Dr. Lonnie Smith (April 8) and pianist Mike Longo (May 13). Longo's credits include work with Dizzy Gillespie. His program will be called "Bebop and Beyond."

Jazz fans should appreciate the jazz society's role in bringing great talent to the local stage. Fans might also keep an eye on the Arts Garage in Delray Beach and on the Pompano Beach Amphitheater, which recently presented a star-filled two-day program called the Sea of Jazzfest. The impressive line-up included iconic saxophonist Phil Woods, pianist Bill Mays, Flutist Hubert Laws, singer Tierney Sutton, bassist Christian McBride, and others. If the venue continues such bookings, jazz fans should be delighted.

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