STORY WRITTEN BY DAVID WANNOP
For 21st Century Media
“There’s no surviving in this business without fortune and luck, but you have to put the work in to make something of the opportunity.” That’s the sort of straight talk you get from Jane Monheit. Questions abound; is she a revivalist? Is she a preservationist? Is she a re-enactor? Is seeing her perform jazz repertoire the equivalent of using a time machine? As authentic as she is and as honestly as she presents the music, one would have to answer, (no,) not exactly.
The award-winning interpreter of jazz is currently saluting Judy Garland and as usual, attempting to get everything right.
She states, “I don’t care about the way things usually get done. That’s the last thing on my mind. What I care about is what the composer intended. That’s important to me because that’s gotten lost over the years in jazz. Sometimes, arrangement gets simplified so someone can do solos over it, and people don’t find the original lyrics. We work on getting it right instead of rehashing what another jazz musician did.” That’s the artistic place that drives her sense of what needs to get done.
Raised on Long Island New York, Monheit declares, “I have been on this path since I was born. There was no moment of epiphany. It’s been my life forever. I started working at age sixteen and I never had another job; not even babysitting.”
She speaks enthusiastically about the upcoming shows. “We are celebrating her (Judy Garland,) love of jazz — her love of swing. We have some ballads in there too but we are focusing on the jazz side of things. ‘Stomping At The Savoy’ and ‘Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart’ to music from ‘A Star Is Born.’” Her previous album, “The Heart Of The Matter,” were all stories she wanted to tell. It was also a rare time wherein she offered an original composition. Conversely, she says, “I prefer to interpret the lyrics of others because there are so many beautiful songs out there. I don’t feel the need to write my own most of the time. There are a lot of great songwriters out there right now that need people to sing their work. I don’t think that every singer needs to be a songwriter.”
Describing the progress of her recording career she says, “Each album is different because I’ve gotten older and lived more. During my first album I was an ingénue barely out of college. The new record is by wife and mother in her mid-thirties. It’s in the sound of my voice and the way I tell stories.”
Monheit, a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, has definite opinions on musicians and their professionalism. “I’ve had my band for many years. We’ve chosen to stay together. Many people change bands often, but I love this band, so I see no reason to change it. We’ve been together since we were young musicians in New York City. They give great musical support to me and they are great accompanists. That’s extremely important from every member of your band. The ability to accompany is the measure of your musicianship.”
Monheit has played many iconic and treasured venues over the years. She offers, “I’m always proud of those opportunities and I’ve gotten to play many famous venues. It’s something I dreamed about as a kid. I don’t choose to let those venues intimidate me. I prefer to enjoy them.” Huge outdoor spaces such as the Hollywood Bowl, plus noteworthy clubs such as New York’s Village Vanguard and Bird Land, and the prestigious Carnegie Hall are among the places where she has appeared. She has also toured overseas and enjoys Asian and European jazz communities. “There’s a huge audience for jazz in Asia, and a huge audience in Europe plus Brazil and the cities in the U.S.,” Monheit said. “Wherever you get into an urban environment. You just have a bigger concentration of people who love the genre. So many of our modern greats come from Philadelphia.”
IF YOU GO
Jane Monheit performs at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 26 at Sellersville Theater, 24 W. Temple Ave., Sellersville. For ticket information, call (215) 257-5808 or check www.st94.com.