Janis Siegel, a nine-time Grammy winner, seventeen-time Grammy nominee, and founding member of the vocal group The Manhattan Transfer, will perform at Swarthmore College this Sunday, February 11th. In addition to her success with The Manhattan Transfer, she has also led a successful solo career, releasing almost a dozen albums that have garnered consistently high critical and popular praise. While working with The Manhattan Transfer, Siegel established herself as a dynamic songwriter as well as a skilled vocalist. She wrote five charts for the acclaimed Vocalese and seven charts for the Grammy-winning Brasil, as well as the charts for “Why Not?” and “Sassy,” both of which earned the group Grammys. In 1989, after recording and touring with The Manhattan Transfer for more than a decade, she released Short Stories with jazz pianist Fred Hersch, which Jazz Times ranked “among the most graceful, thoroughly heartbreaking efforts of the modern era, thanks to her rich, emotive vocals.” In 1993, she and the other members of The Manhattan Transfer received honorary doctorates from the Berklee School of Music, and in 1999 they were among the first class of inductees into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. She continues to tour with The Manhattan Transfer, as well as with her own band, and teaches master classes while remaining an active member of the music scene. Her recent projects have spanned several genres, from participating in improvisational vocal performances to curating CDs that feature such vocal legends as Lisa Fisher and Kellylee Evans.
Siegel helped usher in a renaissance of American vocal-based music. Her early work with The Manhattan Transfer came at a time when jazz music was primarily an arena for instrumental musicians. Siegel’s powerful vocals on The Manhattan Transfer’s first records forced people to rethink this assumption, while her solo career cemented her place as both a preternaturally talented vocalist and as a versatile songwriter. Through the years she has influenced not only jazz music, but vocal performance in general. She attributes this partly to one of the unchanging, transcendent characteristics of music: “I think people will always respond to emotion and to great songs sung well,” she says. “And I think the vocalists in particular will always be in demand. There’s nothing that approximates the human voice. In the end, when you come down to it, people want to feel something.”
Don’t miss Janis Siegel this Sunday, February 11th at 7:30pm in Lang Concert Hall. She will perform with pianist John DiMartino, bassist Gerald Veasley, and tenor sax Andrew Neu, who is also Director of the Swarthmore College Jazz Ensemble. The event is free and open to the public. She will also be giving a master class in the Lang Concert Hall at 3:00 pm on the same day, and will be performing with the Swarthmore College Jazz Ensemble in April.
Gabriel Hearn-Desautels ’20