Entertainment » Music

Jane Monheit’s Busy Fall

by John Amodeo
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Sep 19, 2012

When Jane Monheit recorded her first album, "Never Never Land," in 2000, an eclectic collection of American Jazz standards like "My Foolish Heart" and "Twisted," along with Broadway material, such as the title track, there were hints that this young 22-year old would become a mainstay in the jazz vocal scene. She had already sent shock waves through the American cabaret and jazz worlds coast-to-coast following her performance debut two years earlier. In a very difficult arena, filled with Diana Krall and Nora Jones wannabe's, many of whom are simply imposters, Monheit distinguished herself with an irrefutably beautiful singing voice and a disarming honesty in her delivery.

Twelve years and ten more recordings later (two of which are already "The Best of..."), she has clearly marked herself as a jazz vocal luminary, with a busy Fall ahead with dates on the East and West Coast and plans for her 12th recording, all the while balancing her 4-year-old son on her knee.

Monheit manages to balance her home life with her career because she simply doesn't separate them. She takes her home life with her when touring, thanks to having her husband, Rick Montalbano backing her up on drums, as he has done since they met in college. Rounding out her combo is Michael Kanan on piano and Neal Miner on bass, both of whom have been with her so long, she regards them as family, and "uncles" to her and Montalbano's son, Jack.

"I have a magical vibe with my pianist, Michael Kanan," Monheit has pronounced in past interviews. "He's been with me on the road for 10 years, but we've played so much longer than that. My bass player, Neal Miner, has been in the band for five years. He was the final piece of the puzzle, the perfect fit."

Unlike many of her peers, who feel they need to stick to the standards to maintain their authenticity, Monheit has no fear. Her style has been decidedly eclectic, as she has been known to throw a Bruce Springsteen or Stevie Wonder tune into her programs. Influenced by Peter Eldridge, himself a jazz vocalist with the dynamic vocal quartet The New York Voices, under whom she studied voice at the Manhattan School of Music, from which she graduated in 1999, she also took a shine to the Latin beat, especially the mambos and sambas of South American jazz, and has made it a regular inclusion in many of her recordings and performances. Her most recent album, "Home," is a return to her signature jazz standards, however, filled with a sense of romance, and presented with a maturity in melodic and lyric interpretation not seen as intensely and cohesively from this performer in the past.

To a large degree, this maturity came from life lessons learned in motherhood, and the increased perspective of a now 34-year-old's point of view. Also, Home is her first self-produced recording, filled with material she has mentally collected over the years for this singular purpose. Monheit will make her near annual visit to Boston, appearing at Scullers Jazz Club on Thursday and Friday, September 21-22, 2012; performing material from her 2010 recording "Home," as well as new material she has been working on.

After Boston, she heads off to Moscow, then returns to the States for dates in the Los Angeles area, Seattle, Long Island, Indianapolis, New York City and Hollywood, CA in the next few months. For a full list of her dates, visit her website.

EDGE caught up with Monheit while she was in South Africa, preparing for a gig that night.

Frequentlly flying

EDGE: I want your frequent flyer account. Your tour schedule is a little awe inspiring. From South Africa to Boston to Moscow to California in less than 6 weeks. Phew! How did you get this gig in South Africa?

Jane Monheit:: We get all our gigs pretty much the same way...they call, and we go!

EDGE: Have you performed there before? What are the audiences like?

Jane Monheit:: I haven’t performed here in South Africa yet, so I can’t say what the audiences will be like, but I can tell you that the people here are absolutely the warmest, friendliest people ever. We feel very welcome, which is always nice in a new place.

EDGE: Also Moscow: how did you get booked there? Is this your first time there?

Jane Monheit:: It won’t be my first time in Moscow...I played there for the first time last year. This time around I’ll be performing with a big band, which is always a good time...I love large ensemble singing.

A family

EDGE: You latest album, "Home," sports a combo of your longtime musicians: pianist Michael Kanen, bassist Neal Miner and drummer Rick Montalbano, who is also your husband. Are they touring with you to all these far-flung places?

Jane Monheit:: My band plays with me on every album I make now, and they travel with me everywhere. We’re a family, above all.

EDGE: I love how you have said that as a child and emerging musician you used to listen to jazz vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald and jazz instrumentalists like Miles Davis performing their versions of Broadway tunes, as well as listen to the original cast recordings containing those same tunes. What differences did you see between them, and how did that shape your own style development?

Jane Monheit:: The differences were usually in feel, instrumentation, and vocal style...but it all became one thing for me. You can clearly hear influences from both sides in me...I have always felt that it’s important to keep the composer’s original intention in mind. Original versions of standards usually have some killing changes that have been forgotten over the years, as well...we like to bring them back!

Ella and Sarah

EDGE: So many reviewers identify Ella as a strong influence on you, and you have even mentioned her in interviews, including with me, but when I listen to you, I hear stronger influences of Sarah Vaughn, not just in her jazz skills, but more in her interpretive skills. The way you drop to a low note to bring warmth to a line, or dwell on a word just a shade longer to give it meaning. How do you think Sarah has influenced your style, if at all?

Jane Monheit:: Sarah influenced me very strongly...I listened to her a lot as a child. I think the most important thing I drew from that is to be unafraid to use my whole voice...to worry less about "sounding jazzy" and more about being my true self. Jazz is self expression, it’s about telling the truth. Sarah did that, always.

EDGE: Many vocal recording artists are handled by others their whole careers, and if they do break out to self-produce, it is most often quite near the end of their careers, as Sarah Vaughn did with her fabulous "Crazy" and "Mixed Up" recording, one of her best. You have done this at 32 with "Home." What propelled you to self-produce? Was it risky? How do you feel about the experience?

Jane Monheit:: I self-produced simply because I knew exactly what I wanted to do. It didn’t feel risky...I had the record in my head, and I made it. It was really simple at the time. I’m starting to produce for some other singers, now, which is a thrill. I’m always really happy when I can lend a hand to someone else’s project.

From the heart

EDGE: You have been known to go from Paul Simon to Antonio Carlos Jobim to Harold Arlen within the span of 10 minutes. However, your latest recording, "Home," is a more cohesive collection of standards. In a way, similarly cohesive as your 2004 recording "Taking A Chance On Love." How did you arrive at your very cohesive song selection for "Home?"

Jane Monheit:: I wanted to focus in on one facet of who I am for that album...I just chose tunes I was really into at the time. It’s all very simple and from the heart with me...I never calculate anything too much. I think it’s better that way.

EDGE: Why is your latest CD called "Home?"

Jane Monheit:: It’s called "Home" because that’s exactly what it is...tunes I love, every musician a good friend. It just seemed like the perfect title. 

EDGE: Will your program in Boston be mainly based on "Home," or will there be some mix?

Jane Monheit:: It’ll be very mixed, as "Home" was released two years ago. The program will definitely include some music we’re preparing for our new album, as well, which will be recorded this fall and released in 2013. I don’t have any details about the new album to share yet, aside from the fact that it will feature my band and special guests, and will be co-produced by the great Gil Goldstein and myself.

On the road with her son

EDGE: You have mentioned in past interviews that your bassist and pianist were at the hospital when Jack was born, and were some of the first people to hold your son. What does it mean to you and your music to be so close to your band?

Jane Monheit:: They weren’t at the hospital, but were the first people to hold him when he came home. They only people who had seen him before that were our parents and immediate family...no one else. I think it says a lot about how much we all love each other! I’m proud to raise my son around such wonderful guys...he worships the ground they walk on!

EDGE: Last time we spoke, your son Jack was only a year old, but you said then that you were beginning to bring him on tour with you. Does Jack travel with you to all these places now, or will being in school keep him home?

Jane Monheit:: My son has been on the road with me since birth, and will continue to travel with me, as I’ve chosen to homeschool him while he’s young. It’s important to me to be there for him every day...raising him via Skype while I’m on the road constantly could never work in our family! We’re very, very close.

EDGE: You often speak of how motherhood has put your music career in perspective and in some ways shown you how important a piece of your musical side is. Why is that?

Jane Monheit:: Motherhood removes all fear. It’s the most important thing I’ll ever do in my life, so I’ve learned to relax and enjoy my work a little more. Plus, I have a whole lot more to sing about now. Any life experience changes you as a singer...it all becomes part of your music.

Jane Monheit appears in Boston at Scullers Jazz Club on Thursday and Friday, September 21-22, 2012. For more details, visit the Scullers Jazz Club website. Monheit tour takes her to Moscow, Los Angeles, Seattle, Long Island, NY, Indianapolis, New York City and Hollywood, CA. For a full list of Jane Monheit’s dates, visit her website.

John Amodeo is a free lance writer living in the Boston streetcar suburb of Dorchester with his husband of 23 years. He has covered cabaret for Bay Windows and Theatermania.com, and is the Boston correspondent for Cabaret Scenes Magazine.


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