Vocalist Erin Dickins, one of the co-founders of Manhattan Transfer, will be making a rare visit to the UK and will be appearing at Ronnie Scott’s on Sunday 2nd August, at lunchtime. In this email questionnaire with Sebastian, she remembers the ManTran days, talks about the parallels with her other life in the restaurant business, and looks forward to being back in London:
LondonJazz News: You co-founded Manhattan Transfer. How did it start?
Erin Dickins: ManTran started out in New York City – I first met Tim Hauser and Marty Nelson in the office of a mutual friend and it was magical from the very first harmonies we sang together.. We were really just kids, and in an era when Crosby, Stills & Nash ruled, we were very weird kids!
We were willing to sing just about anything from My Satin Doll to country, Gene Goldkette to original songs. And I think having the freedom to experiment so broadly built a strong creative foundation – and it still carries on. We were signed almost immediately to Capital Records by the wonderful Dick Asher and we soon had a big cult following.
After more than 45 years, The Manhattan Transfer is still going strong. Although last year we lost Tim Hauser who was the group’s visionary. It was a devastating loss for us all – his passion and determination really took The Manhattan Transfer to the moon and back. We lost a great creative mind and a beautiful soul.
LJN: When did you cease to be involved?
ED: I left the group in ‘73 to find my own voice and grow my chops as a soloist. I went on to a successful career as a studio singer in New York.
LJN: And you’ve performed with Leonard Cohen, Bette Midler, James Taylor, The Talking Heads, James Brown, Barry Manilow, Jaco Pastorius…
ED: I have been so fortunate to have had so many wonderful musical experiences…each one so unique and special. And I feel as if all these artists left an imprint on me and they are a part of the genetics of my artistry. Jaco was mind-bending.
I’d have to say that Leonard Cohen influenced me most – not stylistically, but he taught me about authenticity. And that’s really what it is all about, right?
LJN: No doubt you have a tale to tell about one or two of those?
ED: I’d have to say that my wildest times were spent with The Gregg Allman Band – I toured with them in the 70’s but as they say, “What happens on the road, stays on the road!” Those boys were every bit as naughty as you might imagine! I have never had so much fun in my life, and what a killer band! They blew the roof off every night! Their music is deeply soulful.
LJN: And you are a chef. A rare combination, right?
ED: Not so rare, really. Musicians are notorious foodies. Really these are very similar arts: both are creative, spontaneous, nurturing, and healing. Both call for passion and improvisation. I started cooking young – in fact, we cooked together all the time in The ManTran early days.
I’ve studied a bit, also learned the Escoffier Method, owned restaurants and dabbled in fine food and home-cooking all my life. It’s very gratifying and pleasurable.
LJN: Is the New York restaurant scene something you are still close to?
ED: I enjoyed the heck out of having restaurants in New York. The city was thriving, and it was actually a conglomerate of New York studio cats that opened our venues. “Possible Twenty” was a wonderful casual pub-style restaurant that became the hangout for the recording studio scene and it was a lot of fun. “Jose Sent Me” was our Tex-Mex room where we booked great music on a regular basis.
These days I actually prefer to cook for my friends and family at home as often as I can (in between music gigs). I have a line of herbal seasonings called Sizzle & Swing and a fun musical cookbook out now, so it’s fun to try test recipes on willing guinea pigs! Good food, wine and music are the trifecta as far as I’m concerned! (Check out my book “Sizzle & Swing: Jazzin Up Food” at amazon.co.uk)
LJN:And these days you inhabit the Philadelphia area. How is the cooking there?
ED: Philly is a big foodie town. My husband and I are very fond of several small eateries in the Philly area. My favorite is Majolica in Phoenixville, PA – it is just extraordinary. Chef Andrew Deery is one of the most creative chefs ever. His tartare is insane.
We also love Scossa Restaurant in the small village of Easton, MD. Chef Giancarlo Tondin prepares beautiful Northern Italian cuisine. He started his career at Harry’s Bar in Venice, went on to cook at Cipriani in New York and has won The James Beard Award, so it’s no surprise that his restaurant is special. His spinach & ricotta ravioli with butter & sage is to die for. Simple elegant food at its best.
LJN: You have a recent album just out?
ED: Back to music – my first love! Yes, I have a CD, Java Jive, out on Dot Time Records. I’m really proud of it. I love the material we chose (eclectic as all get out) and I couldn’t be happier with the recordings and arrangements.
My old pal Jesse Frederick from LA produced the CD – he gets me on a soul level and working with him is brilliant. I’m sure you know many of the players. Rob Mounsey played piano for me and also wrote several of the charts. He is a gift to music, and truly a singers’ dream pianist. David Finck and Francois Moutin played bass and Ray Marchica played drums. These cats made gorgeous recordings – the feels are delicious. We also had some wonderful horn players – even a guest spot by John Lissauer (Leonard Cohen producer), and Anja Wood played an exquisite cello bit on one song. Richard Alderson recorded the tracks and Jesse recorded my vocals and mixed. It was a privilege to work with these cats. Nobody is luckier than I am!
LJN: When were you last in London?
ED: I was in London in 2005 just for fun, but my very first visit was when I was on tour with Leonard Cohen. I have loved London ever since.
LJN: What will you be singing in London?
ED: Well, true to my roots, my material is a bit of this and that. Always some familiar standards, but also more obscure jazz tunes. I include originals by friends and colleagues. And I like to have some more current feels – a little hip-hop, too. I choose songs that either move me to tears, or songs that compel me to dance about like a madwoman. And I love to sing a bit in French…such a chewy language with wonderful imagery.
LJN: Who will you be working with?
ED: I’ve managed to find a brilliant trio for my Ronnie Scott’s gig on 2 August. Funny story. I have an old friend from Hawaii, Kim Edmundson – we used to work together years ago. He moved to LA to become a hot session cat, and we were talking on FaceBook recently when I realized he was moving to London in July. How’s that? Kim was planning to play drums for me, but now his move has been delayed.
Anyway, Kim arranged some super London cats for me and we’ll have Steve Melling on keys, and Tom Clarke-Hill on bass. I called on my friend Marco Quarantotto to play drums. Your readers may know him as he plays regularly with London’s own Theo Jackson. I had the good fortune to work with Marco at JazzAhead in Germany last April and he was amazing!
I am really looking forward to this musical experience. And I’m excited about working at Ronnie’s. To a person, every musician I know speaks very highly of the venue and staff. So… I am planning to have a big time in London.