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Monheit, Jane

Singer Jane Monheit has become a favorite amongst the new class of post-millennium jazz vocalists with her take on both popular standards and modern repertoire. Still new to the scene, Monheit has captivated fans and critics with her compelling melodic dexterity and expressive lyrical prowess. Equal parts vintage and contemporary, Monheit stands to be an important component in vocal jazz in the years to come.

       Jane Monheit, photo by Jos L. Knaepen

Monheit was born on November 3, 1977 in Oakdale, New York. Growing up in suburban Long Island, music was of the utmost importance to Jane and her family. Most of her immediate family were musically inclined; both Jane’s grandmother and aunt worked as professional singers, her father David played the banjo, her mother Marjorie was a musical theatre actress and her brother is a guitarist.

Jane began to sing at the age of two, singing songs such as “Honeysuckle Rose" and “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” Even at this age, she began to show signs that she had perfect pitch and the family did their best to encourage her talent.

Monheit received her initial musical instruction from her grandparents. Their home in Bellmore, New York was also a studio that was filled with miscellaneous instruments, and numerous albums and CDs. Her grandfather, Ernest Newton was a retired science teacher who began to help foster her skill by helping her learn songs.

Along with the belief in her talent from her family, Monheit had the support and facilities of Connetquot, her public school district, which offered a comprehensive curriculum in jazz that began in elementary school. Jane’s main teacher was John Leddy, who taught her from the fourth grade all through high school. Monheit spent her summers as a youth at the Usdan Center For the Creative and Performing Arts in Huntington, New York where she continued to study music.

While attending Connetquot High School in Bohemia N.Y., Monheit sought inspiration from celebrated jazz singers Ella Fitzgerald, and Carmen McRae as well as folk singer Joni Mitchell. Throughout her high school years, she developed her performance experience by playing the lead in several high school theatre productions, in addition to playing the clarinet.

As a teenager, Monheit began to perform at clubs and weddings throughout the south shore of Long Island. Upon graduating high school in 1995, Jane enrolled at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music where she studied with Peter Eldridge, one of the founding members of the vocal ensemble The New York Voices.

Following her arrival in New York City, Monheit began to hang out in Greenwich Village where she performed in cabarets and sang show tunes at piano bars. While attending school, Jane met her future husband drummer Rick Montalbano, who guided her attention towards the city’s vibrant jazz scene.

Shortly after, Monheit joined the quintet that Montalbano was performing with, which included saxophonist Joel Frahm and pianist David Berkman. The ensemble toured throughout the New England area and began to perform on a regular basis throughout Manhattan.

Monheit received a big break at the age of twenty when Eldridge suggested that she enter the famed Thelonious Monk Competition, which was being held on September 25, 1998 in Washington D.C. The competition has been the big break for several musicians including saxophonist Joshua Redman and trumpeter Ryan Kisor.

Monheit was not aware of the importance of the competition until the semi-finals when she saw saxophonist Wayne Shorter enter the room. Along with fellow competitors Tierney Sutton and Roberta Gambarini, Monheit was made further aware of its importance during the finals when several eminent musicians, record executives, and journalists were present to see new talent.

During the competition, Monheit sang the song “Detour Ahead” before a respected team of judges including singers Dee Dee Bridgewater, Diane Reeves, and Joe Williams. Jane was awarded the first runner-up prize and a $10,000 scholarship, making her the youngest person ever to be runner-up in the competition.

Though she didn’t receive the top prize, Monheit impressed numerous record executives including Carl Griffin, the president of N-Coded Music. Griffin offered her a recording contract upon her completion of college. At the same time, Jane met Mary Ann Topper, a manager who helped to shape the careers of Krall, Redman, bassist Christian McBride and pianist Michael Petrucciani.

In June 1999, Monheit graduated from the Manhattan School of Music and immediately signed with the N-Coded label for a two record contract. Jane also signed with Topper’s agency, the Jazz Tree and began to work on her first album. In 2000, Monheit released her debut album Never Never Land, which featured pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Ron Carter, alto saxophonist Hank Crawford, drummer Lewis Nash, saxophonist David “Fathead” Newman, and guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli.

The album included popular standards such as composer Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Dindi,” pianist Duke Ellington’s “I Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good) as well as her award winning rendition of “Detour Ahead.” The album was praised by critics and was voted Best Debut Recording by associates of the Jazz Journalist Association. The acclaim garnered her high profile gigs including a weeklong engagement at the Village Vanguard in July 2000 and a New Years Eve show at the Blue Note.

Monheit started 2001 with a recital at Steinway Hall in New York with pianist Tommy Flanagan. In May 2001, Monheit released her sophomore album Come Dream With Me, which featured “Blame It on My Youth,” and “Something to Live For.” The album was honored with a Grammy nomination for “Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocal.” A highlight of the record is her rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” which she recorded with a symphony orchestra.

After a brief introduction from the orchestra, Jane begins the top of the form by almost immediately adding a crescendo for dramatic effect. During the bridge, she adapts to the change of tempo by augmenting the lyrics with melismas, enhancing the tonal qualities between her and the orchestra.

On December 18, 2001, Jane performed on the “Late Show with David Letterman” singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” In 2002, Monheit was the recipient of the Usdan Center For the Creative and Performing Arts Lifetime Achievement Award. On May 19, 2002, Monheit and Montalbano got married at the Atlantica Restaurant in Westhampton Beach, N.Y. Shortly after, Jane was a featured soloist for the “Capitol Fourth” program as part of the Independence Day celebration in Washington D.C.

The same year, Monheit released In the Sun, which featured the incorporation of music from pop artists, Broadway shows, on top of customary jazz standards. The album received a Grammy Nomination for “Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocal.” In 2003, Jane released “Jane Monheit: Live at the Rainbow Room,” a DVD of her performance at the famed New York club. The same year she appeared on trumpeter Tom Harrell’s album Wise Children. On September 7, 2004, she released her album Taking a Chance on Love, which was her major label debut for Sony records.

Included on the album is a version of Cole Porter’s “In The Still of The Night,” which utilizes a bossa nova feel with an orchestra. Monheit delivers the lyrics with a gentle and laid-back elegance that fits well with the atmosphere of the song. The song demonstrates her melodic sophistication, with her subtle phrasing and clever vocal inflections. The juxtaposition of bossa nova with the orchestra serves her well with Monheit using both textures to provide the bittersweet feel of the lyrics.

On May 1, 2007, Monheit released the album Surrender, her first record for the Concord label. Upon its release, Surrender debuted at Number One on Billboard’s Jazz Chart and earned praise from critics.

The album features a cover of composers Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini’s classic “Moon River,’ which Monheit begins with a vocal cadenza that she sings on a neutral syllable. The cadenza contains traces of the melody, which she plays with a makes her own. The lush arrangements of the orchestra maintain the feel of Mancini’s original sound, though Monheit’s vocal ability serve to update the song with her use of different vocal methods.

The same year, Monheit was a guest on the National Memorial Day Concert, which was broadcasted live from the West Lawn of the White House. In 2008, Jane appeared on pianist Ray Brown, Jr’s album Friends And Family. The same year, the Manhattan School of Music presented Jane with the William H. Borden Award, an award they give their alumni for their contributions to music.

On May 9, 2008, Monheit gave birth to her first child Jack Newton Montalbano. The following year, she released her latest album The Lovers, The Dreamers And Me, which features her longstanding band of Montalbano, pianist Michael Kanan and bassist Neal Miner.

Monheit and her family currently reside in New York.

Select Discography

As a leader

Never Never Land (2000)

Come Dream with Me (2001)

In the Sun (2002)

Taking a Chance on Love (2004)

The Season (2005)

Surrender (2007)

The Lovers, the Dreamers and Me (2009)

With Ray Brown Jr.

Friends And Family (2008)

With Tom Harrell

Wise Children (2003)

Contributor: Eric Wendell