Many artists have beautiful voices with impressive range. Few, however, really consider the words they sing, or dramatize the emotion of the lyrics. Legendary vocalists such as Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan possessed this rare gift, and contemporary jazz singer Jane Monheit seems poised to carry on the torch. Her considerable talent was on fine display during her October 15, 2010 appearance at the McAninch Arts Center at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.
Performing with her longtime trio, Monheit drew heavily from her newest album Home, which marks her debut as a producer and celebrates her tenth year in the music business. Home represents a return to her jazz standard roots after delving into modern pop on her last CD, The Lovers, The Dreamers, and Me. From her opening number, “While We’re Young,” Monheit demonstrated her confidence and her ability to make a familiar song her own.
Immediately segueing into “Look for the Silver Lining,” she showed off another skill–scatting. Not all vocalists can scat convincingly and in perfect combination with the band, and she accomplished both with aplomb. At times flirtatious, at other times the girl next door, Monheit charmed the audience with brief anecdotes about motherhood, recording Home, and life with husband and drummer Rick Montalbano. Her clear, pitch-perfect voice shone on “This Is Always” and “That’s All,” and evoked the innocent romance of Irving Berlin’s “Isn’t It A Lovely Day.”
Monheit’s voice can also take on a sassy tone, as she did with Rodgers and Hart’s “Everything I’ve Got Belongs To You.” Her sly grin underscored the humor of lines such as “I have eyes for you to give you dirty looks/I have words that do not come from children’s books.” But she immediately changed the mood with Alec Wilder’s “I’ll Be Around,” a heartbreaking song about the end of a love affair. Monheit’s genuine, emotional performance added weight to such lyrics as “And when things go wrong/Perhaps you’ll see you’re meant for me/So, I’ll be around when she’s gone.” Her voice slightly quivered, and she seemed to tear up at the profoundly sad lyrics. After the audience rewarded her with extended applause, she explained that she constantly broke down while recording “I’ll Be Around” for Home. At first she did not want to use one of the emotional takes, fearing that fans might think she was faking the crying. Monheit ended up leaving it in because “anyone who has seen my live shows knows that I cry at my songs all the time, so who cares?”
Other interesting choices included “The Eagle and Me,” a Harburg and Arlen-penned tune from the 1944 Broadway show Bloomer Girl. Before beginning the number, Monheit mentioned that her father-in-law, a jazz pianist who has played with Lou Rawls, Chuck Mangione, and Clark Terry, among many others, created a new arrangement for the track. One must also give her credit for tackling “Twisted,” the Lambert, Hendricks and Ross vocalese classic. Monheit handled the tongue-twisting lyrics with ease, also highlighting the song’s amusing moments. Another difficult song, Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Waters of March,” was the evening’s only nod to her love of Brazilian jazz.
A great singer may have impressive technical skills, but few can move an audience to tears with a performance. Monheit accomplished just that with her medley of “The Rainbow Connection” and “Over the Rainbow.” Her lovely, evocative voice emphasized each song’s childlike innocence, but her sophisticated phrasing suggested that adults must never lose hope and imagination. More than a few sniffles could be heard around the theater. Her encore, “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” ended the evening on an upbeat note, demonstrating the still-compelling sophistication of the Great American Songbook.
At only 32, Monheit continues to grow as an artist. During this concert (the first date of her current tour), she explored the lower ranges of her voice much more than on previous albums. She does not possess a strong stage presence yet, compared to Sinatra’s total command of the audience. But she has a long career ahead of her, and is sure to evolve as a formidable live performer. Monheit’s voice, a magnificent instrument, remains the main attraction, and her uncanny gift for phrasing made for a riveting and enjoyable evening. Hearing a skilled jazz vocalist interpret classics that contain inspired lyrics is a special experience, and Monheit’s concert invoked the audience to listen closely to the songs’ timeless words and powerful emotions.?