We must admit that being performers has made us just the tiniest bit solipsistic, or maybe we became performers because we saw that we were indeed the center of the universe. This being the case, we’re taking our naval gazing public with a new feature where Laurel and Wendy Lane take turns interviewing each other on a wide variety of topics. In honor of her gig this Monday at Birdland Miss. Laurel gets to take the interviewee chair first.
Laurel had the great good fortune to start her career at the top with the Manhattan Transfer. Her seven year tenure with the group took her around the world, into the recording studio on onto the television. The following clip from the Transfer’s TV show inspired today’s round of questions.
WLB: This Clip is from the short lived Manhattan Transfer TV show, what do you remember most about working on the show?
LM: This is a clip from one of the four Manhattan Transfer shows that we did for CBS in 1975. Our show was a summer replacement for The Cher Show. Janis and I shared Cher's dressing room, as I recall, and the makeup man on her show, Brad Wilder, also worked ours. My strongest memories of the show are of working nonstop. This was basically a variety show, but we didn't have musical guests from week to week, which meant that we had songs, dance routines, and skits to learn every week. I remember getting to the makeup chair at 5 AM on taping days so that Barbara Lorenz could start curling my hair. I also recall that there were two teams of writers, some successful old-time TV comedy writers who had done the Dean Martin Show, and our younger, wilder folks who included Bruce Vilanch, I think. I have an image in my mind of us ping-ponging back and forth from one little room to another, doing shuttle diplomacy.
WLB: What specifically about this clip do you recall?
LM: Lush Life is a beautiful and difficult song. The challenge is to make all those impossible intervals seem inevitable and easy, and the sophisticated lyric seem casual, as if one always talks that way. And to keep the fox stole from slipping off my shoulder.
WLB: What goes through your mind when you watch this clip now?
LM: Oh, I wish someone had suggested I be more still until I moved on purpose, but the most pressing thought is that I was a far better singer than I thought I was then.
WLB: Since the time of the Transfer and the TV show how do you feel you have changed as a singer and performer?
LM: How have I changed? I am much more confident. My voice is richer. I know a lot more about music now. And I trust the audience's goodness. I am grateful for the privilege of singing for people, wherever, whenever. But the most important change is that I am 33 years older than I was in 1975, and nothing - nothing! - is better for an artist than the living of life over time.
WLB: If you could have a conversation with the girl in the video clip what would you tell her?
LM: If I could talk to 1975 Laurel, I would tell her that she was good, and she was right (she would know what I was referring to), and that eventually she would have a dog. Eventually she would live in the country for a time as she had always dreamed. I would tell her that happiness is a decision made every day, and that God was and would remain extravagantly in love with her.
WLB: What was the most valuable thing you learned in your time with the Transfer?
LM: I think my time in the Transfer taught me that people have different learning styles. No two of us worked on the music in exactly the same way. And we came from different backgrounds, and had very different tastes. We argued a lot. But we worked so hard on our music, and, in spite of all the differences, we made a sound that was unified and beautiful, and performed shows that made audiences feel good. I am very proud of that. I am also proud of the way we influenced education. There were not very many jazz choral programs when we started - now there are jazz choruses in thousands of colleges and high schools, and a lot of those groups sing Manhattan Transfer arrangements. I am happy to have contributed to the keeping of the flame, happy to be continuing to sing music I love.
WLB: Okay, let’s wrap this up with a plug for your Birdland appearance…
LM: As a solo artist, my musical taste has remained very eclectic. In my upcoming show at Birdland (Monday, April 27 at 7 PM) I will be singing tunes from Broadway shows, from Tin Pan Alley , music by Lester Young, Harry Nilsson, Bach, and yes, something from the Manhattan Transfer songbook. And I am looking forward to every moment.