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Take Five With Antoinette Montague

AAJ Staff By
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Meet Antoinette Montague:

Antoinette Montague likes to say she simply sings "people music." Make no mistake about it, she is a jazz singer through and through, but one who pushes the genre's boundaries. On her new recording, Behind the Smile, Montague sings classic jazz standards (new and old), resurrects lovely-but-obscure melodies, blends in blues and gospel through her vocal shadings, and puts entirely new jazz arrangements to material from other genres such as R&B, classic soul and pop.

Working in the jazz idiom, she shows she can take a song from any composer, any genre, and make it live and breathe as a jazz performance accessible to many audiences. By blending her various influences, the resulting sound realizes her ambition, as she puts it, "to make vocal jazz a musical style with broad appeal to all age groups, all strata of society, all nationalities; every person who simply enjoys good music. I don't believe jazz should be something only appreciated in a textbook, from an obscure music journal or on an old dusty record. I believe jazz can be easily enjoyed by the general public whether they think they are jazz lovers or not."



Antoinette Montague's new CD is on In The Groove Records (distributed by Allegro Music) and is available in record stores nationwide, online at major webstores (including Amazon and CDBaby), and at numerous digital download sites such as iTunes.



Antoinette was mentored by some great singers—Carrie Smith ("She inspired me to have a big voice onstage"), Etta Jones ("She could transport the audience"), Della Griffin ("She showed me laidback phrasing and how to use the comic side of my personality") and Myrna Lake ("She let me sub for her and that's when I learned to lead a band through three sets a night"). In addition, Montague has performed onstage with many top jazz and blues musicians including Jimmy Heath and the Queen's Jazz Orchestra, Jon Faddis, Lou Donaldson, Red Holloway, Benny Powell, Earl May, Mike Longo, Tom Aalfs, Winard Harper, Wycliffe Gordon, Stan Hope, John J. DiMartino, Bernard Purdie, Victor Jones, Tootsie Bean, Zeek Mullins, Paul Bollenback, Frank West, Tommy James, Payton Crosby and numerous others. Montague also has recorded in the studio with Norman Simmons, Paul West, Joe Farnsworth and Tom Aalfs.



For Behind the Smile, Montague assembled the same jazz masters she worked with on her debut album, Pretty Blues. She credits the band with having "immense artistry and a wealth of credits—pianist Mulgrew Miller (Woody Shaw, Art Blakey, Betty Carter, Branford Marsalis, Cassandra Wilson, Dianne Reeves); saxophonist/clarinetist/flautist Bill Easley (Duke Ellington Orchestra, Benny Carter, Ruth Brown, George Benson, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Isaac Hayes, Dakota Staton); drummer Kenny Washington - Vocals (Lee Konitz, Betty Carter, Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Joshua Redman, Phil Woods); and bassist Peter Washington (Art Blakey, Benny Green, Lionel Hampton, Marlena Shaw, Freddie Hubbard, Michal Urbaniak). Kenny Washington produced, Montague executive produced, and Miller and Montague arranged the material.



Montague wrote the title tune, and uses that theme as the general concept behind most of the selections on the album. "I find it interesting, and sometimes heartbreaking, to look beyond people's smiles. Sometimes smiling faces tell lies. Other times someone puts on a brave smile with a lot of pain behind it. Some smiles are hopes to get other people to smile, but just as often there is embarrassment or a broken heart just behind those upturned lips. Or it could be a smile of love or spiritual connection."



Antoinette's most astounding interpretations on the album are two Motown soul songs from the Sixties and early 1970s—Smokey Robinson's "Get Ready"(a big hit by both The Temptations and Rare Earth) and Marvin Gaye's timeless political masterpiece "What's Going On." Both tunes are re-imagined as swingin' jazz pieces. "These are just wonderful songs that deserve jazz treatments. I believe the best way to preserve the Great American Songbook is to include more music in it, to expand the decades. The second half of the last century is the second section of that great songbook."


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