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Cheryl Bentyne on "Let Me Off Uptown"


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There's no mistaking her soprano voice — whether she's going solo or performing with what's perhaps the best jazz vocal group of all time: The Manhattan Transfer. Either way, Cheryl Bentyne has fun when she sings, and her joy is carried over to the listener.

Her new album, Let Me Off Uptown, is proof. Opening with the swinging title song, a duet with trumpeter/vocalist Jack Sheldon, and continuing with the moody "Skylark, the album is Bentyne's tribute to one of her own favorite singers: Anita O'Day.

All About Jazz: There seems to be an unwritten law that says children are supposed to hate their parents' music — especially if it's jazz. You not only listened, but performed with your father's band.

Cheryl Bentyne: I tried. I resisted at first. My father used to practice in our house. Then my mother heard me sing in a play and said, "You've got to get into your father's band.

AAJ: Was it difficult, as a young person, performing with the band? Meeting his expectations?

CB: No. He couldn't have been more supportive. He just stood back and beamed. There was little if any criticism ever. ... Singing was so easy, in a weird way. I did all the wrong things. Didn't study music. I didn't really start to discipline until 1980.

AAJ: What do you remember about 1979, the year you auditioned for The Manhattan Transfer?

CB: I had been doing club sets. That was all going pretty well. But they were saying, "She's a really good singer, but there's no original material. They were impressed with how I did it, but not what I did. ... This was a pop music town, and I was neither of these. I had never sung with other voices, and didn't know it would blend.

AAJ: Do you have a favorite song or album?

CB: I always love the newest, (the Transfer's) Vibrate, but in the biggest picture, I think it was Vocalese. There's still songs on there we've never done better.

AAJ: What is the most memorable or most unusual thing that's ever happened on stage or in the studio?

CB: Most memorable was the first Grammy award '" for "Birdland. We elevated a few feet in the air. I left my body for a while. ... Now when I look back, I feel it was a pretty amazing ride. And now as a soloist, it's a new ride.

AAJ: Let's talk about Anita O'Day. What immediately comes to mind when you hear her name?

CB: She's just a brassy, ballsy, swingin' chick. A big band singer, a cool singer of the '50s. She really charted her own path as a jazz singer, and a bebopper, which none of the other big band singers pursued, or really had to chops to do it — other than Ella [Fitzgerald].

AAJ: How do you choose 13 songs from her repertoire?

CB: When I first tackled this project, I didn't realize how vast her repertoire was. I had a pile of 12 to 15 CDs. Early hits, I kind of sifted through those. My manager knew her hits and knew what the audience expected of her. "Skylark, I did it as a balled, but she did it as a band chart. Then I picked and chose what I want. It was a lot of fun, once I gave myself permission to pick what I want to do, and still do it in the vein of Anita.

AAJ: Which, if any, of these songs will be included in your tour?

CB: Pretty much all of them, except the two with horns. "Let me off Uptown ... that really needs a big band.

AAJ: What can we look forward to from you and the Transfer in the near future?

CB: I'm probably not going out until July. Finding time between the Transfer tours to do our own shows. Plus during the Transfer shows, Janis and I, and of course the guys, get to do solos. The Transfer will be touring Australia and New Zealand in August and may be back to Europe in November. We may release an a cappela Christmas album.

In addition to Let Me Off Uptown, other recent CDs on which Cheryl Bentyne appears include her own Talk of the Town and The Lights Still Burn, and The Manhattan Transfer's Couldn't Be Hotter and The Spirit of St. Louis.

Visit Cheryl Bentyne on the web.

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