Jane Monheit: Surrender Brings Victory

Jeff Winbush By

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Some really good voices have come out of American Idol. On the other hand, I dont know how much I can get behind it when there are so many musicians busting their butts that didnt get that kind of chance.
Jane MonheitWhen an artist breaks through and achieves the chart-topping success that Jane Monheit has with Surrender (Concord, 2007), it's easy to make the assumption that it came as a result of radio airplay, an aggressive publicity campaign and a big dose of good luck. What's forgotten is how many one-night stands in half-filled clubs you have to endure before the gravy train pulls in. Not quite yet thirty years old, Monheit is an experienced and exciting artist who belongs in any serious conversation regarding who are the premier vocalists in jazz today.

All About Jazz: Can you tell me how you chose the title track, "Surrender."

Jane Monheit: That song is actually one of the first new songs I've recorded and it was written by Peter Eldridge of the New York Voices. He is a very close friend of mine and was my voice teacher in college. He recorded it on one of his solo albums. He does a singer/songwriter project on the side of the Voices, and I just loved the song and wanted to record it. Luckily, it fit right into what I wanted to do on this album which is basically tunes from the Sixties forward to ballads and bossa nova. It fit right in there, which is great.

AAJ: Does it require a certain amount of musical maturity to sing songs as classic as "Moon River ?

JM: Absolutely. For me it's not so much about age as it is life experience and going through the difficult things these songs talk about. It's about being in a situation or a life experience to extrapolate enough to know what that would feel like. I'm not out there singing "Sophisticated Lady and "Lush Life because I haven't lived that yet. I can sing songs about heartbreak and things like that because my happiness and my love for my husband [drummer Rick Montalbano] makes me realize what it would be like if I lost it. There are some ways you can stretch and some ways you can't. It depends upon what's truthful for you.

AAJ: It's an unexpected transition on Surrender to move directly from Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer and "Moon River to Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed. That's one of Stevie's great underrated songs. Why did you choose to do it and how did it fit into the theme of the album?

JM: "Overjoyed is one of the very first tunes I picked for this album. In fact, it's something we've been playing in the band for about a year. It's an arrangement by Miles Okazaki, my guitarist, that I asked him to do because we all love Stevie. We also play a lot of Brazilian tunes and it's these things that are how the concept of the album developed. The tunes came first and the concept came later.

It wasn't like I sat down and said, "All right, let's collect a bunch of tunes like this because this is what I want to do. It had been developing as part of the live show for some time, so it happened really naturally.

We'll sit down with the record company and say, "These are the songs I'm really feeling right now and here are some ideas for a concept. Then we'll flesh it out. On this album we didn't have a full album's worth of songs. We recorded fourteeen tunes because there are a lot of bonus tracks out there including different versions of the album for Target and Borders. The producer [Jorge Calandrelli] and I sat down and talked about songs. I was able to pick a few more I really loved and they went beautifully with the ones I already had.

Pretty much anything that works live I think is worth putting down on record. There are a few songs I've recorded that I've never sung live, but I very rarely go into the studio and record something I haven't done live before.

AAJ: When you're singing a song in Portuguese, such as "So Tinha De Ser Com Voce, do you have to deliver it with greater emotion because many listeners don't understand the lyrics?

JM: I try to always deliver the lyrics in an emotional way, so I don't really think about that too much. It just comes naturally. I'm more focused, when I'm singing that stuff, on getting the phrasing and just enjoying the language and the place it takes me with the music rather than worrying about people not understanding what the lyrics mean. Most people don't care. They like the song anyway and get the vibe.

AAJ: Is there a difference between the records and the live shows and the expectations someone has when they sit down in a concert hall and you step up to the microphone?

JM: If it's someone who's seen us live before, when they come to the show they will see it as part of a natural progression. If it's someone who hasn't seen us live they may be a little more surprised by some of the content just because it's different from the album. Basically, Surrender reflects where our live shows have been developing. People who have come to see us before will understand totally where it's coming from.

AAJ: Is it time to open up The Great American Songbook to include, along with Gershwin, Porter and Mancini, the works of Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Stevie Wonder and others?


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