"I just fell into singing professionally," says Laurel Masse'. "I was working in New York as a waitress and Tim Hauser was a cab driver and I got in his cab." Hauser, sporting 1939 World's Fair buttons on his cap, did not strike Masse' as your average cabbie. "We started chitchatting and I said I liked to sing, and he took my number and called me a couple of months later and asked me to sing on a demo tape" -- with him and another singer he'd picked up in his cab. The outcome was the formation of the Manhattan Transfer, and Masse' remained with the group for seven years. An automobile accident took her out of the action for several months in 1979. When she recovered she decided to go solo. Masse' will open Tuesday at Cates for a two-week run. Dean Rolando will be at the piano, Steve Novosel on bass.

"I'm finding that I'm much more suited to performing as a soloist, particularly because I have more control over when I work and when I don't work," says Masse'. "My experience with the Transfer was a wonderful experience, but there was never any time for rest or contemplation or thinking straight -- it was a 24-hour-a-day job. It started to wear very thin for me.

"I was singing before I was talking," adds Masse', "and my family was always very musical. My granddad, Leonard Kranendonk, sang with Fred Waring's Pennsylvanians for many years. He retired recently because he got tired of touring, but he's still singing. My mother has a beautiful voice and sang around the house, and my sister and I were encouraged to sing and were given lessons. It was just always there, always in the air, to the point where it never occurred to me that it would be my career because it was so much there."