The Manhattan Transfer was not an overnight success, but a result of many years of dues-paying and persistence, particularly by bass singer and founder Tim Hauser. Tim's musical history goes back to a doo-wop group called the Criterions, who recorded a couple of singles on Cecilia Records when Tim was 15. In January 1969, Tim Hauser and Erin Dickins co-founded Manhattan Transfer, with Tim's longtime friend Pat Rosalia and Marty Nelson. The group was soon signed by Dick Asher at Capitol Records, and recorded their first album, Jukin' in Nashville with a guest artist, singer/songwriter Gene Pistilli. The album featured several Pistilli compositions, songs from the Gene Goldkette Orchestra and Fats Waller, and The Ink Spot's "Java Jive," a perennial Manhattan Transfer favorite. These recordings represent the group's first foray into jazz vocalizations. The original Manhattan Transfer disbanded in 1973 citing artistic differences.
The Manhattan Transfer re-emerged as a four-piece, with Janis Siegel (alto), Laurel Masse (soprano), and Alan Paul (tenor), who found each other in a series of happy accidents. Tim Hauser was driving a cab at the time, and picked up passenger Laurel Masse; they got to talking. Tim met Janis Siegel through a drummer acquaintance. Janis had been performing at the Greenwich Village coffeehouse scene with a group called "Laurel Canyon." Alan Paul had been appearing in the musical "Grease!" (Laurel's boyfriend was a musician in the production, and referred him).
With personnel in place, they began to build a following at all of the hip New York clubs: Max's Kansas City, Reno Sweeney's, Cafe Carlyle, etc. Atlantic's Ahmet Ertegun heard of them and came to a gig. His enthusiastic response resulted in a record deal and an association that lasted for many years. The Manhattan Transfer's first recording, the self-titled "Manhattan Transfer" featured "Operator," a fifties gospel tune, which reached number #22 on the Billboard chart and was their first hit. They were hard to catagorize - "Cabaret Rock" or "Disco Sha Na Na" were some of the labels attached to them - but their popularity grew solidly, accompanied by intensive touring. They even had their own short-lived TV series (as well as frequent guest appearances on other variety programs). "Coming Out, " "Pastiche" and the first live album followed. "Pastiche" was noteworthy as it was the first time the group collaborated with Jon Hendricks (of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross), and was the beginning of a long and remarkably fecund relationship. However, the record did not sell well, and as fate would have it, Laurel was in a car accident in 1978, which curtailed her activities (her jaw was wired shut for three months). She ultimately quit the group. The Manhattan Transfer re-located to California and began the search for a new soprano vocalist.