Kai Hoffman spoke to Jane Monheit ahead of her EFG London Jazz Festival opening-night gig with the Guy Barker Orchestra. More Information and tickets HERE
Kai Hoffman: So Jane, I hear you're coming to London soon? We're very excited about it!
Jane Monheit: I am, in November – I love it there!
KH: I wondered what sort of things you like to do in London when you come over?
JM: I really like the museums. Always shopping in a foreign city is really fun. This time I'm bringing my son – he's so excited to go to the British Museum. I went to the Science Museum shop over the summer when I was in London for the Proms and bought my husband a Dr. Who souvenir... so will be going back there too.
KH: So.. are you excited about the 50th anniversary of Dr. Who?
JM: Well, that's more my husband's territory but I'm a total sci-fi geek, with Star Wars and Star Trek and everything else, so Dr. Who is my final frontier...
KH: Fantastic! Now... I see you're at Ronnie Scott's on the 13th and 14th of November, and you're one of the superstar guests at Jazz Voice on the 15th for the amazing opening show of the London Jazz Festival...
JM: Yes, it's going to be totally cool! I've been planning and talking with Guy Barker - and I really love singing with large ensemble so that's going to be really fun. I was over in London for the Proms in the summer which was lots of fun too. For my Ronnie's shows, I'll be with my regular trio, who are on the road with me always, on my albums and everything – they're like my family.
KH: That's awesome. So how long have you been working with the same trio?
JM: It varies - my husband Rick Montalbano and I have been playing together for nearly sixteen years. Michael Kanan, my pianist, has been with me twelve years this month, and Neal Minor my bass player has been with me for six and a half years – but before they joined the band we knew each other from playing in New York and we've been friends for a long time before that. But as an official touring trio, that's how long. They're old, old friends of mine.
KH: It's wonderful to find that kind of connection with fellow musicians, that you are friends as well as work colleagues! JM: It's the greatest thing, having a trio that gets along so well. We really can do anything together – I don't feel the need to change my band with the project. We stay together through everything - it's really nice to have that level of support, and to know that no matter what direction we choose to go in, we can all do it together and everything's going to be A-okay no matter what, and that's really nice.
KH: I absolutely loved your new album 'The Heart of the Matter' - your ninth studio album. Also I was ecstatic to hear your version of 'Sing!'
JM: Thank you! It's the best song. It's so wonderful. I love how simply it's written, yet it really builds upon itself, and it has this wonderful, simple lyric that's meaningful to anyone. It's meaningful to a four-year-old and meaningful to that four-year old's great-grandparents – it's perfect for everyone and it just has this simple, happy vibe. I've always been really drawn to children's songs too, since my first album.
KH: Yes, you have such wonderful versions of 'Rainbow Connection', 'Pure Imagination'... I find especially with 'Sing' it's really poignant to take a children's song and put it in a grown-up's context like that. It has a whole different level of meaning.
JM: Absolutely. And it's perfect as a samba too, because the samba is about happiness. That's what it's for, to bring joy. Those things go together so perfectly. And I've honestly wanted to do that – I've had that idea just on hold for so long. And I'm not sure why I didn't do it on the album 'Home', it just didn't fit, that was really a standards record, and the album before that, I don't know if I had the idea back then. And then to have Romero Lubambo on there just shredding, it was amazing.
KH: There is such a wonderful contrast between the songs on 'The Heart of the Matter', from the poignant lyrics of 'Until It's Time for You To Go' and 'Two Lonely People' to the wonderful Brasilian songs of Ivan Lins, 'Depende de Nos,' 'A Gente Merece Ser Feliz' and of course the children's tune 'Sing'. Do you choose the songs yourself or do you collaborate with others?
JM: Always, from my first album out. No one ever picks the songs for me, unless I was a side-man on someone else's record. When I sing on someone else's album, they'll come to me with what they want me to sing, but on my records, I've always chosen every single song myself, since I was twenty years old. This album was really about the lyrics, so we had to have a very wide range of emotion, there had to be a lot of different stories told, and they're certainly not all my own stories. I mean, 'Two Lonely People,' I have not lived that, I hope I never live that, but in making a lyrical album, if I were to only sing about my own life, it would be the most boring thing, I mean, I'm not sure someone's written a song about forgetting to pick up the cat litter, you know what I mean? I wanted to branch out and tell some other people's stories as well, and that's why I got into some tunes like 'Two Lonely People,' although a lot of the songs I relate to very personally.
KH: Do you find,with having now brought forth your ninth studio album, beginning your second decade of touring, and with having become a mother, do you feel that you are finally coming into your own?
JM: Totally. I don't worry about things anymore. The most important thing I'm ever going to do in my life is prepare my son for the world – everything else pales in comparison to that. So that makes me more able to have a lot more fun with my work and just enjoy it a lot more.
KH: What do you do when you're not singing?
JM: Well, I'm a domestic, parenting type, cooking and cleaning, and home-schooling. I home school so our son can stay with us. My husband and I both need to work, and we happen to work together, and we happen to have to get on planes all the time to do that, so we home school. We have a very, very bright little boy and it's an easy thing to do. So a lot of my life is taken up by that. I really love it. It's wonderful.
KH: Do you take your son with you all the time when you're touring?
JM: The only time we don't take him is if we have an international one-off, which happens all the time. Last month I had to go to Taipei for one show. So it was like, fly all the way around the world, stay for a day, fly all the way back. So... I don't put him through that, so he stays at my folks, and he's super close to them.
KH: When you're doing these long-distance trips, do you sleep on the plane?
JM: We try to sleep on the planes – and I've become a decent make-up artist. Ha. Also on the long flights we'll spring for 'economy plus'... don't think you'll find too many jazz musicians in business class these days..!
KH: What sort of music you listen to when you're chilling out and relaxing?
JM: Well, I've been playing a lot of music for my son – that's part of home-schooling, that we play a lot of music. A lot of the Great American songbook singers, and a lot of classic jazz. Like on a regular school day I'll put on Bird, or an old Miles Davis record, or Ella Fitzgerald. If I put on music for myself to listen to, which I do more rarely, if I have free time, which I rarely do, I'd usually just sit down and read a book. Lately though I've been gravitating a lot towards Sammy Davis Junior and Joe Williams. But really we're having a Sammy moment in our house right now.
KH: My last question, I wondered if you had any funny touring anecdotes you'd like to share?
JM:There are always moments like that everywhere. A funny thing that happens to us everywhere, every show, for years – when we're in the quietest part of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow,' when Michael and I are just doing the verse duo, the quietest, most sensitive moments, it never fails that someone in the audience has some sort of terrible nose or lung attack, which involves a lot of intense sound... and texture... There's always some sort of “respiratory event” from the crowd, and we have to not laugh. It's very hard to do. One time we did – one time, it was so loud – this is many years ago, we were in this huge theatre, I think about an 800-seater, in Duesseldorf, and someone just did one that was like, alright, that's not even real, your face didn't make that sound... and the whole band fell apart laughing. And I was singing a cappella that day. And then the whole audience fell about laughing – so there were like eight-hundred and four of us, just cracking up, losing our minds laughing, and then I had to calm everyone down and start the song over. It's really hard to go back to the drama after that. Over the Rainbow, guest-starring respiratory event by a man who I did not know was going to be attending the gig...
Kai Hoffman: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me here at London Jazz!
Jane Monheit: Great to talk with you too. I can't wait to come back to London - I have family in the UK and I feel really at home. All of us Americans are really interested in our heritage and our roots, and so when I come to the UK it's very special for me. And please check out my website with all my tour dates!