Jane Monheit: Finding the Way Back Home
Jane Monheit and John Pizzarelli
JM: Well, musically, not a lot, because I have always known who I am, I have been very sure of that since I was a little kid. But then there are a lot of sides to me, and I accepted that, and I think it's probably a big part of who I am as a musician. I mean, if anything my lyrical interpretation has gained a lot of maturity; how could it not? I have aged 12 years. Ten years since my first record came out. So I gained a ton of maturity, and since then I've become a wife and mother and been around the world 700 times. I've gone through a lot of life experiences, both positive and negative, mostly positive, which I'm really grateful for. But other than that, I'm really the same, and that's why this record is so important to me because it's really a return to those roots, to let people know that's really still who I am, the jazz singer at the core.
My live show is still like those records. It's not like the records I've made since then, which I love them, the big orchestral, big sort of fantasy that I made; I do, I love them. But it's not what we do best, because who can recreate that, unless you are like a pop star? You can't do it. So I wanted to make a record about who we really are and what we really do, my band and me. And the record is very much like our live show, and it is so real, more real than I have ever been. Ever. And I'm so ready for that. I would go back to the fantastical thing again, I would do that again because I loved doing it, and the high glamour and the whole thing, because it's a big a part of who I am. But it was time right now to do something very real and natural.
AAJ: It feels like you have been singing forever, basically.
JM: Yes, I have always sung, since I could talk. I've never not done it.
AAJ: I know in your home, growing up, there was bluegrass and folk music. How did jazz happen to you?
JM: Well, it came down on my mother's side. My mom's parents, with whom I'm still very, very close with today, are like the biggest jazz lovers in the universe, and they lived 20 minutes from my parents, so I spent a lot of time with them growing up. They helped raise me, and they are still so important to me. Every time I make a record I'm thinking about them, especially with this record, Home. This record is really for them in a lot of ways. It was all the old records they played, the old stuff, all the great singers, the big bands...and my mother really loved that music, too.
So I heard it at home. I mean, my mother was the first one that sat me down and played Ella Fitzgerald, and said, "You need to know this." And I'll never forget it as long as I live. I remember I was in the house, it was winter, there was a fire lit in the fireplace, I'll never forget, and just thinking, "Oh my God!" And my first thought when hearing that voice was, "She must be the most beautiful woman in the entire world." I was just a little kid, and that was my thought, that she must be the most beautiful woman that ever lived. And she was, in so many ways. She really was.
AAJ: So would Ella be maybe the main influence you've had as a vocalist?
JM: Definitely my biggest influence when I'm singing jazz. But also Sarah Vaughan, huge influence. Carmen McRae, Mel Torme...I mean a lot of people. A little Frank Sinatra, because who doesn't have a little Frank Sinatra here and there? Everybody learns a little bit about phrasing from Sinatra. But the thing is that, now that all the different sort of facets of my musicianship have really sort of come together, you hear the influences from other genres of music when I'm singing jazz. There's always a musical influence there. These songs were written as show tunes, almost all of them. They were written for musicals or musical films.
The Gershwins, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers...These are the writers of the Great American Songbook, and their songs were show tunes and pop hits at the same time. Everything was wrapped together. So that's kind of the way I approach the music in some cases, it depends on the tune. Like if you look at the new record, "I'll Be Around" is one of the big ballads on that record, and I'm really embracing the musical theater side of myself more when I'm singing that song, or "While We're Young," another great example of that. We also take on something like "A Shine on Your Shoes," which is from The Band Wagon (1953)," my favorite movie musical of all time. And it's really dazzling. So it depends on the tune.
AAJ: What makes a standard a standard to you? There are old and new ones on this album.
JM: Well, for me, standards are just these tunes that are popular now as they were when they were written, 50 or 60 years ago. They have been played by everyone, and they have been universally loved. A tune that everybody knows, even people who don't know jazz. Everybody knows "I Got Rhythm"; everybody knows "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." To me, what make a standard a standard is the way they have been and are loved and played over the years; these tunes have been played billions of times all over the world by all different kinds of musicians. That's a standard. And then there are so many tunes that I think will be the standards of tomorrow. Look at those Stevie Wonder tunes, The Beatles, that people just cover again and again because they're magic. These are the new standards.