Manhattan Transfer Legend Explores Music of Bond in “Shaken Not Stirred”

Monday, July 2, 2012 14:32

An Interview with Cheryl Bentyne of The Manhattan Transfer

By Casey Pukl

Grammy award-winning vocalist, Cheryl Bentyne, is one of jazz’s most accomplished vocalists. Logging over 200 performances per year on average with the Transfer, it’s amazing that she finds the time to work on not only her solo projects, but also additional collaborations. 2012 has certainly been an interesting year for Bentyne, as she battled Hodgkin’s Lymphoma for the first half. But she’s now got her health back, and is picking up where she left off. This Thursday, she returns to Anthology as part of a special tribute to the music of James Bond titled, “Shaken Not Stirred”. Read on to learn about Cheryl’s collaboration with Ted Howe and Sweet Baby J’ai, her battle with Hodgkin’s, and just why Anthology holds a special place in her heart.

CP: I would love to get into the latest show you’re doing, “Shaken Not Stirred”. How did you get involved in this project?

CB: Well, I knew Ted from my last solo project of Gershwin music. I think I had a couple of his CDs, he has an Ellington CD and an Elton John CD, where he takes 15 songs and twists and turns them and stirs them and shakes them, and makes them almost like completely new songs. I’ve never known an arranger of his level where he’s able to really rebuild and renew a song, you know, something that everyone’s familiar with. Like take an Elton John CD, you think, “No, this cannot be possible,” but he’s really amazing at restructuring the song, revoicing it, and when I heard those CDs I thought, “Gosh, I would love him to do a couple of my charts.” So he did 3 of my songs from my last Gershwin CD, and plays the piano on them and is just amazing. Where he comes from is a very different place musically. So that’s how I met him, and we’ve kept in touch. We share the same agent/management team, so I’d heard he was doing this James Bond music and I thought, “Oh my God, how funny is that,” not realizing how many really great songs there are over decades of James Bond movies. You only think of Goldfinger or a couple come to mind, but there are so many. So I kind of just jumped in, and you know, I’ve been off the road for 7 months getting over an illness, so I was just kind of laying low, and he said, “Well come on, let’s do this!” So I started learning the music, realizing that his charts are very complicated. I mean, they have to be; it’s Ted [laughs]. Five of the six songs I didn’t know, but now that I know them, I think, “Oh, that’s one of my favorites,” or, “Oh, I love that one!”  I’m just getting them under my belt, and I’ll have a little cheat sheet on stage because they’re really complicated. I mean, what Ted did to these songs is truly a work of art. That’s kind of in a nutshell how I met Ted and why I was very interested in being a part of this.

CP: Tell me a little bit about what working with Sweet Baby J’ai has been like? Has that been really interesting?

CB: I hate to burst your bubble, but I actually haven’t met her yet [laughs].

CP: Oh, you’re kidding!

CB: No! She’s been rehearsing with Ted, and I’ve been rehearsing with Ted. I will see her for the first time on Wednesday for a big rehearsal with all of us together.

CP: Wow, I didn’t realize that.

CB: Yeah, this is all brand new for me. I have heard of her, and I know she’s amazing, so I’m really excited to share the stage with her! We’re only doing one song together with the drummer, Dave Tull, who’s my drummer as well and a great singer. The three of us are going to do a song together, but the rest of it is just she’ll do a song, then I’ll do a song and so on. So, I’m brand new meeting her! I’m so excited!

CP: Oh, that’s totally fun! So, what have you been up to these days? I know you said you’ve taken a couple months off, and I do hope you’re feeling better. Do you have any solo stuff in the works for the moment?

CB: Well actually, I do! I was taken ill last November. I was on the road with the Transfer, and I kept feeling worse and worse and I was losing weight and I was thinking, “Oh God, I’ve got the flu, it can’t be anything more than that.” I went over the doctor in Europe, and they said, “You might have pneumonia, but we don’t know.” So I got home, and after a bunch of blood tests, I had a splenectomy. I had to have my spleen removed, and I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, cancer. So I’ve been home in chemotherapy since January until June first, so I just finished. It’s been kind of a crazy 7 months since I’ve been home to be honest, and in that time I’ve been doing some private teaching in my home, which has been great as my health improved and my energy just got better. I’ve been teaching private voice, and I do have a new CD coming out, odd as that may sound. I did a CD about a year and a half ago of the Cole Porter songbook, and it is coming out  on Summit Records in August called “Let’s Misbehave.” So I’ve got a CD coming out, I’ve got all kinds of crazy little projects coming up, and I’m doing some solo shows in September. I go back with the Transfer in the end of July, and we’re going back to Europe for a quick tour. So, it’s so bizarre to be home all this time and still have ongoing projects that are happening.

CP: You’re not kidding, that sounds like a lot!

CB: Yes, it’s been interesting. But you know, I’m healing and I’ve been doing really well. I’m just cancer free and trying to get my life back in shape. I’ve had so many wonderful musicians, and just friends and support. It’s been quite an eye-opening, sobering experience, you know— very humbling.  I’m glad to be back and be on my feet and ready to come and sing!

CP: Absolutely! I’m excited for you to come and sing as well! I would love to know what you are most looking forward to, I know you’ve been to Anthology before, so what are you most excited about bringing this new show in?

CB: Well, I love San Diego so much, and I love this club. I’m not just saying this,  because I’ve played a gazillion clubs, concert halls, and outdoor venues for almost all my life. Anthology is perfectly built. It’s listener friendly, and you go in, and it gives you the illusion of a very big room and yet it’s very intimate. I love that about it, and I love the overhead screen that they have and the recording facilities. It’s just thought out perfectly. It’s obviously a gorgeous room too. It’s in one of the most beautiful towns in the US, so you cannot go wrong. I think the food is fantastic, and any excuse to get out of LA is great [laughs]! You can even print that if you want!  It’s so nice to go outside and get some fresh air and a beautiful town. Every time I go to San Diego, I think, “Why do I live in LA?” [Laughs]

CP: [Laughs] Don’t you hate it when that happens?

CB: I know, so I’m thrilled on every level when it comes to San Diego. This room, like I said, is the best big little room that I know because it’s big, but it’s intimate, and it’s really hard to capture both of those ideas in one venue. It helps the performer too because the ceiling is so high, it’s just so easy to perform in there, yet the people are right there. It’s got all the right factors that an artist loves and great sound. If I only lived closer, then I would come a lot, because your venue is just that comfortable.

But I hope we get a lot of people for this show. It’s really fun music, and Ted is going to tell stories about the different Bonds and Bond movies. He has all the pertinent info on these songs. It’s going to be a lot of fun for me too because he’s way into it. It’s going to be a ball!

Special thanks to Cheryl for her time, and on behalf of the entire Anthology family, we send all of our healthy vibes her way! Be sure to come out this Thursday night and catch her singing the music of Bond!
The Manhattan Transfer on Spotify

WHAT: Shaken Not Stirred: The Music of James Bond with Ted Howe & Company featuring Cheryl Bentyne and Sweet Baby J’ai
WHEN: Thursday, July 5, 7:30pm
TICKETS: $10-$35 Buy Tickets
MORE INFO: Artist Profile