Jane Monheit: Finding the Way Back Home
JM: I love that song. The Jerk (1979) is, like, one of the best movies ever, with Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters. It's awesome. I love them. She is one of my actual influences on any kind of singing ever. I worship the ground that woman walks on, she is like my queen. I love her so much. I met her once, and probably acted like such an idiot and melted into the floor because I was like dying. But I love their version of that song, it's an adorable piece of music, and I've always kinda wanted to do it, and I just realized how perfect it would be with John [Pizzarelli], because he sings in this way that is so incredibly sincere and just warm-hearted and beautiful. John never sings a word that you don't believe. It's like this natural, laid back, beautiful thing. And what could be more perfect for that tune?
AAJ: Jane, the producer?
JM: Sometimes it's really amazing to work with a producer, if you really love that person's work, and you want their vision to be a part of your vision. Sometimes you come together with someone and make something bigger than you could have made on your own. And that's wonderful when that happens. But you know when it's yours and you don't need anyone to help you with that. You know when it's you. And this one was on me. And I will produce on my own again and I will produce with other people again, but I will never not be involved in the production at all. I will always at least co-produce. Nobody ever produced my vocals for me, nobody ever chose the songs for me, I have always done all of that on my own.
So it's important to me. I have to have control, I must. And I almost always had, with the exception that I was never allowed to have my band play on my records, which has infuriated me for 10 years. So the times when they did play were very important to me, and never again will let anybody tell me that I can't do what I want to do because I'm smart enough to know now that I can close my mouth and not sing. But not that I would ever have to, because I have made enough records so I am not like a baby that they don't trust.
AAJ: Melody Gardot recently described her voice like "a horn." How about you?
JM: I can hardly put that into words. It's just who I am. It's hard to clearly describe yourself, but what I can say about my improvisation is that I am not one of those singers who go for a very instrumental sound when improvising. It's just really natural for me and it's just the regular way that I sing, and I most of the time choose to improvise using lyric and creating melody that I can feel better illustrates the song. I like scatting too, but I don't do it as much as I do the other thing. But I can't really describe my voice.
AAJ: You are a mother, singer and woman. Is there a line that separates them?
JM: Everything informs everything else. My job, working, makes me love being a mother more, and certainly being a mother makes me love my job more. I have never loved my work as much as I do now. Because I was naïve and I was young and I found problems with everything, always. I'm a dark person. I tend toward the dark side of things, always, always, and you can hear it in my music, especially in the middle years, with so many dark ballads and sad songs and things like that. But everything is different now, having these two sides of my life, motherhood and career woman. Doing both things makes each thing mean more. It really does.
AAJ: Where does your inspiration come from? What makes you want to sing a song?
JM: I don't even know. All I know is that if I can't, I'm so horribly depressed. When I lose my voice I'm just like a shadow of a person. I'm so depressed it's unbelievable. And when I'm singing I'm really happy, even when I'm singing something that makes me cry, which happens a lot. I cry a lot when singing, because it's a really emotional experience, it's very cathartic. Still makes me incredibly happy to sing. So not being able to sing, losing my voice, it's just deeply, deeply depressing.
AAJ: What makes life worthwhile for you?
JM: My son and music, and the love in my life, the beautiful family and friends that I have. And my animals! My two cats and a dog, and they are amazing. I'm a big time animal person.
AAJ: Do you ever think about the future?
JM: Oh yes, there are a bunch of things that I really want, like big dreams. I want to make a big band record; I have no idea when I'll do that, but I really want to do it. I have always wanted to, and I will do it, someday! I just don't know when. And I really want to do musical theater again. I did some community theater when I was young and I really miss it. I have been "this close" to Broadway, so hopefully it will happen at some point, because I love musical theater, to the point that I don't like to listen to the records or go to the theater barely anymore, because it makes me sad. So I really want to have that back.