Songs Of The Siren
Jane Monheit, the hottest female singer in jazz these days, lures fans with her sweet voice and glamorous personality.
Thursday, September 20, 2001
"It was kinda wild and pretty cool, because we had candles onstage," the 22-year-old New York native says.
Monheit was born and raised on Long Island, New York, and attended the Manhattan School of Music.
The raven-tressed singer, who is making her Monterey Jazz Festival debut on Friday, has been singing all her life, surrounded by a musical family and supportive teachers. She talks about singing jazz classics at weddings and small NY clubs during high school. Her greatest inspiration is Ella Fitzgerald.
Just three years ago, she entered the Thelonius Monk Institute Jazz Competition, and came in second to a singer three times her age. But Monheit stole the show and people''s hearts with her grace, beauty and crystal clear voice.
And so began a magical ride that she describes as "a dream come true."
"I''ve wanted this my whole life. I am so grateful for all the songs I''ve learned and the teachers who helped me sing them, especially Peter Eldridge at Manhattan School of Music," she says. "He taught me to simplify. I kept improvising, maybe to cover up something."
Recording her first CD, Never Never Land, in 2000, Monheit included primarily jazz ballads and folk-tinged songs. Her sparkling voice, which has a light and emotional tone to it, makes lyrics stand out like exclamation points. The CD won her a Critics'' Choice award for Best Recording Debut from the Jazz Journalists Association.
The success of Never Never Land sent her on a U.S. tour, including a March 2000 concert at the Jazz and Blues Co. in Carmel. Alan Schultz, KRML radio manager, remembers the night fondly.
"I''ve seen everyone except Billie Holiday and Jane was just amazing. She captivates audiences."
He invited her back for a show Thursday night to coincide with the Jazz Festival and the $60 preferred seats were sold out last week.
And her dream journey continued.
Monheit released Come Dream With Me in May this year and it debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Jazz chart. By the first week of September, it was still there along with her first CD. Only jazz giant John Coltrane and various collections from Ken Burns'' Jazz documentary were equaling her multiple success in the chart that week.
"Really, it''s been better than I could have imagined, having the CD debut and stay there," she muses. When I point out her current chart equality to Coltrane, a melodic laugh spills from her throat and she repeats, "It''s a dream come true."
Come Dream With Me features the big names of young and old jazz: Christian McBride, Ron Carter, Kenny Barron. Above their music soars Monheit''s voice, a pliable instrument of aural pleasure that is fast becoming smoked with maturity. From Antonio Carlos Jobim''s musically difficult Waters of March to Joni Mitchell''s A Case of You, the singer demonstrates her appreciation of music and willingness to sing a wide range of styles.
Weighing the benefits of sudden success with the disadvantages, Monheit expresses gratitude for her family and fiancé. "The best part of my success is the happiness it brings my family. They''re so proud; it''s like we did the work together. Four are coming with me to Monterey."
Monheit, like most singers, has a list of favorite songs. She mentions "Some Other Time" was cut from the CD due to space, but she''s since performed it live. And she holds a soft spot in her heart for "Over The Rainbow," which opens Come Dream With Me and is the first song she sang as a girl.
The lyrics, of course, are fitting for a woman whose hometown was rocked by violence last week but perseveres with a golden touch: "Somewhere over the rainbow/ skies are blue/ And the dreams that you dare to dream/ really do come true."
Among the other ladies of jazz performing at this year''s festival are violin legend Regina Carter (with Kenny Barron on the main stage Saturday), Chilean singer Claudia Acuña on the main stage Sunday, keyboardist Patricia Barber in Dizzy''s Den Friday, and vocalist Roberta Gambarini (who competed at the same Monk competition as Monheit) on the Garden Stage Friday. Call (925) 275-9255 for ticket information.