Photograph courtesy of the artist’s Web site
A decade ago as a 23-year-old newcomer on the jazz scene, Jane Monheit was profiled in the New York Times Magazine, was likened to Ella Fitzgerald and Diana Krall, and recorded a hit debut album, Never Never Land, which stayed on the Billboard jazz chart for more than a year. Says Monheit, “It was a high-pressure time, and a lot happened that I didn’t expect—but what could be wrong with your dreams coming true?”
Since then, the singer, who stops by the Kennedy Center December 17, has married her drummer, Rick Montalbano; had a son; and recorded ten albums, including 2010’s Home, the first she produced on her own. JazzTimes called it “a low-key but consistently imaginative showcase for the honeyed-whiskey gorgeousness of Monheit’s voice.”
Monheit says the album was an attempt to communicate the experience of seeing her live through a record. “Mostly I wanted to close the gap between the studio and the stage,” she says. “My records in the past have had what I tend to call ‘studio magic’—strings, and different types of ensembles, and arrangements, and you can’t bring that stuff onstage with you. We wanted to make a record that really reflected what we do live.” Featured guests on the album include musicians who frequently join Monheit in live shows: violinist Mark O’Connor, guitarist Frank Vignola (who, like Monheit, grew up on Long Island), and vocalist Peter Eldridge.
While her early records were praised for their simple, almost naive beauty, her current sound has a depth the artist attributes to getting older: “When you’re a singer, the way you sing changes with your personal growth. When I started out, there was this innocence, this sort of childlike, hopeful thing about the way I sang. I have 14 years more life experience now.” She juggles touring with motherhood, which she says has also added to her ability to perform. “Once you have a child, and you’re doing something of that magnitude—trying to create a good person who’ll go out and do good things in the world—everything else seems small,” Monheit says. “In my twenties, I was much more timid, and now I’m not afraid of anything or anyone. And I can enjoy work more because it’s not the end of the world if something doesn’t go right.”
For the Kennedy Center show, Monheit says she’ll perform jazz standards as well as a few songs of the season. “The Christmas shows are our favorites,” she says. “Even though we’ll be playing gigs again starting December 27, the last Christmas show of the season is always an emotional moment for the band, and we always get a little sentimental. We realize how lucky we are.”
Jane Monheit is at the Kennedy Center Saturday, December 17, at 7:30 and 9:30 PM. Tickets ($45) are available through the KenCen’s Web site.
A version of this article appears in the December 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.