JANE MONHEIT – This Sunday at the Empire Ballroom

BAY AREA CABARET, 2009
This will be the start of something big

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

Internationally acclaimed jazz vocalist Jane Monheit will be appearing this Sunday, November 8th, at the Empire Ballroom in the Sir Francis Drake Hotel . Opening the 2009 season of BAY AREA CABARET, the enticing sweet-voiced star will play two performances – 4:00 and 7:00 PM. Sharing the spotlight is her long-term pianist and band member, Michael Kanan. Married to drummer Rick Montalbano and blest with an infant son, Jane’s performance credits include seven albums and two DVDs, appearances at major concert halls, Jazz and Cabaret clubs around the world, and guest appearances with major symphonic orchestras. Her musicianship is exquisite, the voice is classically beautiful and in the league of America’s great female jazz artists. I spoke with her this week, the day after her birthday. It looks like it’s going to be a busy year. As a recent fan, I wanted to know if her Sunday program would include selections from her recent CD, The Lovers, The Dreamers and Me.

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JANE MONHEIT

Jane: It’s going to be a different show on Sunday. I’m not going to have my band with me, just my pianist. We’re doing a special duo performance which is something we don’t get to do often and something we really love doing. We will be doing some album stuff and some tunes we like to play together.

Seán: How do you find an accompanist to tour with you?

Jane: Michael Kanan plays on all my records. We’ve been working together for almost ten years.

Seán: What’s it like teaming-up with someone you can actually work with, travel with, and deliver the goods with when it comes time for the performance?

Jane: I wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s absolutely no other way to do it. Your band is your backbone – they’re with you all the time. I would never go into the studio without them. They are incredible. We are together for a reason. We really love each other. That’s something you don’t mess with. It’s a marriage.

Seán: As a vocal trainer I’m very aware of these kinds of concerns that exist with singers. It’s great that you have a pianist who can provide you the same kind of orchestral support you get from the entire band.

Jane: They are the best musicians New York can offer. They swing so hard and our time fields really mesh. They give me total respect. Michael and I have really special vibe when we play duets. It’s really its own thing and so beautiful and we really treasure it. We’re both lucky that we get to do this thing every night.

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Seán: What’s coming up for you after this particular engagement?

Jane: Another duo show in L.A., then back east, and just a lot of touring. We’re going to Brazil for one day – 10-hour flights both ways for just one day! Needless to say, I’m leaving the baby at home. I’m not putting him through that one. I’m doing a lot of Christmas shows in December as a guest artist of “Isn’t This A Lovely Day” .

Seán: How did all of this start for you? Where along the line in the growing-up process do you recognize you are attracted to a certain kind of music and then elect to do with your education and everything else whatever it takes to become a professional singer? All I have to do is listen to a sampling of your work to recognize the Classic line of what you’re doing and then appreciate your particular style.

Jane: I just grew up with this music. My family loved jazz and musical theatre and other genres as well that influenced me, but not so obviously. My dad is a Bluegrass musician. I was surrounded by all this stuff from the time I was a tiny baby. And I never thought about it. This is what I’m doing. It’s what I love. It’s that simple. It’s a very easy thing.

Seán: Did you have a particular singer you latched onto and said ‘I want to be like her or him’?

Jane: Millions of them! The ones at the top of the list really are Judy and Ella. A lot of other people too were really important to me. Bernadette Peters has always been one of my top influences. When you look at Judy Garland and Bernadette Peters – these are singers who come from a musical theatre sensibility, yet can both swing and sing jazz if they wanted to. I’ve always been drawn to singers like that. So many of the true-true jazz singers had massive influences on me – Sara Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Mel Tormé, Helen Merrill – all of them in one way or another.

Seán: Did you ever find yourself the ‘Odd Kid On The Block’ at school? Was that an issue?

Jane:: Oh, always! From Day One. And thank God, because the kids I went to school with were no prizes.

Seán: Where did you grow up?

Jane: Long Island. When I was in elementary school I was, like, this lone tortured kid. You know? Surrounded by – “Why don’t you like sports? What’s wrong with you?! You didn’t tie your sneakers right, Jane. We all look identical and you don’t look like us.”” And I’m saying, “Leave me alone. I just want to draw pictures of fairies and write in my journal as I sit under this tree in the playground!” That was me. You had to come from a cookie cutter. Once I got to high school it was awesome. I had the most wonderful friends who were talented actors, incredible musicians, great singers. It was just an incredibly talented group. And we had this amazing music program and theatre program. So, high school was just paradise.

Watch Jane and her band sing Sammy Cahn’s “I Should Care”

Seán: During that period, did you ever work with a vocal coach?

Jane: Never.

Seán: When you’re traveling, what do you do to take care of your voice in all these different weather environments and time changes? How do you take care of yourself?

Jane: I really don’t do anything. I really don’t. Aside from being just a relatively healthy human being. My one sort-of Cardinal Rule is that I won’t be around blasting heat. I can’t stand heat. I break the air-conditioning rules because I really like air-conditioning. I like to be refrigerated. I’m like a hot house flower – I need a little bit of cool air at all times to stay beautiful.

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Seán: Yeah, I so understand that stuff.

Jane: You know – the make-up is on, the hair is on. You don’t want to melt. So, the heat I cannot stand. I’ve always been one of those people who’s comfortable at a slightly lower temperature than everybody else. Otherwise, I don’t do anything special. I don’t do exercises, I don’t sip herbal tea, none of that stuff. Before the show, I’m more likely to be drinking wine than tea. Just a little bit of a rebel. But I’m a healthy person. I get plenty of sleep, I’m properly hydrated at all times – those kind of things. If you live a healthy life your instrument is going to be healthy.

Seán: For sure.

Jane: I speak with proper technique and I never yell. So, my voice tends to stay healthy most of the time. And I don’t overuse it either.

Seán: Do you prefer a lapse of time in-between engagements? Would you do a 2-week engagement?

Jane: Yes, I’ve done three weeks. Then you’re playing 6-nights-a-week, two shows a night. The three week shows are usually in the Cabaret rooms, so you won’t always have two shows, but sometimes. In the Jazz Club runs you’re doing six nights and two 75-minute shows per night. When we’re on the road – touring from theater to theater – sometimes we’ll do that many in a row, but we’ll be flying during the day! Then my voice gets tired, definitely. Especially now, because I have a baby, too. I can’t sleep as much during the day as I used to.

Seán: How old is the baby?

Jane: Eighteen months.

Seán: Eighteen months?! And you were performing during the time you were carrying him?

Jane: Oh, yeah! I had my last gig at the recital hall at Carnegie Hall on April 26th. Then I gave birth on May 9th – and that was really late. I was supposed to give birth more like between April 27th and May 3rd.

Seán: My birthday is April 26th.

Jane: Mine was yesterday (November 4th).

Seán: Well, Belated Birthday Greetings! What did you do?

Jane: Not much. In my twenties, the Birthday had to be the great big thing with, like, gallons of champagne and all my friends and going to fabulous places and a special dress and the whole freakin’ To-Do. And now, at 32, with a small child? Of course, there was still some champagne, but not gallons of it. All I wanted was to, like, sit on my ass all day. I didn’t want to clean anything up – because I’ve got animals, too. There’s always a mess, you know? And then we went out to dinner with some friends with no children – just the grown-ups. And it was the most perfect birthday I ever had.

Seán: Good for you. So, where’s the kid when you’re traveling to San Francisco?

Jane: This will be my first time away from him. He and my husband are staying at home. I’m going to be heartbroken the whole time. I’m not prepared to be away from my “Pumpkin”.

Seán: How long will you actually be in town?

Jane:: I come the day before, then I play the gig. Then we go to L.A. to play another gig and then we come home. Otherwise, he comes with us everywhere – all over the world. We have a nanny that travels with us.

Seán: Will you have a chance to see anything while you’re here?

Jane: San Francisco is a place I have loved my entire life. I have been coming here since I was ten. So, my first day there when I’m alone and have nothing to do, I’m going to just seriously walk the streets. And love every second of it.

Click here to reserve your tickets for Sunday, 11/8, at either 4 or 7 PM: JANE MONHEIT

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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