Interview with Jazz great – Jane Monheit

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By Michael Sullivan

Jane Monheit is a real treasure. First discovered in New York at 22, she has quickly rose to become one of the top jazz singers in the world. Not only is Jane prolific as a singer but also in releasing new albums for her growing legions of fans. She has recorded an average of a CD per year which is quite unheard of in the jazz world.

Jane’s newest CD “Surrender” will be hitting the street on Tuesday, 24 April on Concord Records. Mixing bossa nova along with sultry torch, Monheit’s beautiful voice and very busy schedule will help keep her star brightly soaring.
What makes Monheit stand out in a crowded field of singers is her choice to record new original songs.
Too many times an artist will grab old standards to cover and while the album may sound great, it’s also boring as hell as well. Jane and award winning songwriter Peter Elridge both seem to agree that new material really is the key behind her success and has helped Monheit hit the top of the jazz charts.

Don’t get me wrong,a good standard is never a bad thing, it’s when it’s the ONLY thing on a CD that has helped cripple jazz both in the mainstream and getting new fans aboard. Jane’s gift of combining both sparks a real hope for the future of American Jazz.

The following is a interview with Jane Monheit, enjoy!
EV: How did you come to sing sing jazz?
Jane : I grew up in a very musical family, and heard many kinds of music around the house….and jazz always stood out to me. I’ve literally been
singing since I learned to talk, and so many of the first tunes I loved
were standards. I was also lucky enough to go to school in a district
that had a really well-developed jazz program, so I was studying it in
school as well as at home. All of that eventually led to me moving to
NYC at seventeen to study at Manhattan School of Music and start playing gigs….the entire thing was a really natural process. I really always knew that this is what I would do.
EV : Why is it so hard to create new songs for jazz singers instead of recyling the old standards?
Jane: I think the writing of standards, in the traditional sense, is
pretty much a lost art…there are so few people these days that write
effectively in that style. I personally prefer to deal with modern songs
of different genres, and perform them in a jazz-influenced way….its
much more interesting to me. The Great American Songbook never gets old, anyway…..these songs are so perfect that they can be performed a thousand different ways , by a thousand different people, and we’ll
never get tired of them!
EV: What will make “Surrender” different from your other six albums?
Jane: Surrender is different because of the material, more than anything else…..rather than a collection of standards, this album features
Brazilian music and ballads. I’ve been wanting to make an album like
this for a long time, as my focus on Brazilian music has been growing so
much over the years…this is definitely my favorite album that I’ve
made!
EV : What 3 jazz singers today would you spend money to see and why?
Jane : There are so many singers that I love, and would definitely go out and hear….its hard to narrow it down to three!!! Definitely Keely
Smith….she’s one of my idols, and she still sounds absolutely
incredible….Freddy Cole…he’s the ultimate gentleman of this music,
and one of my all-time favorites….and Gretchen Parlato….she’s an
amazing vocalist based here in NYC who also has a great appreciation for Brazilian music.
EV : How do you protect your vocal cords?
Jane: I’ve found over the years that the most important things I can
possibly do are sleep and stay hydrated….if I’ve got that together,
I’m usually good to go!!! There are other things that can be really
important, though….staying away from smoke, obviously, and the hardest one for me….keeping quiet!!!! I’ve tried to do the whole “vocal rest” thing when I’m losing my voice, but its pretty much an impossibility for me…..so I stick to the other rules instead!
EV : What would you tell someone hoping to be the next Jane Monheit?
Jane: I’d tell them to be the best musician they can be, and not to rely on looks, or the band, or anything else. Its so important for singers to
back up a pretty voice with skill, and we just don’t see enough of that
anymore. I’d also tell them not to let this crazy business push them
around…to believe in what they’re doing, and to stick to their
guns….and that the music will always be the most important thing.
For more on Jane: