Born: November 3, 1977 Primary Instrument: Vocalist
I'm one of those people who go just a little too crazy over Christmas, Jane Monheit cheerfully admits. So in my head, I've been planning and conceptualizing this album for years. I was just waiting for the right time.
The right time now has arrived for The Season- acclaimed jazz singer Jane Monheit's first holiday- themed collection, her first co-production, her Epic label debut, and the fifth studio album of her career. Through her inventive renditions of these eleven songs, Jane embraces all the emotional facets of the holiday season, from joyful celebration to heartfelt longing. The eclectic repertoire ranges from the Carpenters' Merry Christmas Darling and the 19th century carol I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day to perennial favorites like Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and Santa Claus is Coming To Town.
From Frank Sinatra and Mel Tormé to Dave Brubeck and Jimmy Smith, the holiday album is a long-standing tradition in American jazz and popular song. Jane remains especially fond of Ella Fitzgerald's 1960 set Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas (Verve). That album definitely helped inspire this one, she notes, but so many of these tunes have become part of the Great American Songbook and of the jazz repertoire. It just made sense for me and the band to try our hand at this material.
Jane Monheit's previous release, Taking a Chance On Love (Sony Classical, 2004), featured several tracks recorded with such special guests as pianist Geoff Keezer and bassist Christian McBride. But The Season is entirely the creation of Jane's regular working quartet: drummer Rick Montalbano, bassist Orlando Le Fleming, guitarist Miles Okazaki, and Michael Kanan on piano and keyboards.
They are the most incredible New York jazz musicians, as well as the people I've worked and traveled all over the world with for years. Every time we play together, the music is colored by friendships, by shared experience-it makes everything very personal.
The Monheit band is augmented on four tracks by a top- shelf horn section, arranged and conducted by Rob Mounsey, which includes trumpeter Lew Soloff and tenor saxophonist Andy Snitzer. Mounsey also arranged and conducted the string section heard on Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, My Grown-Up Christmas List, and Merry Christmas Darling. Vibraphonist Dave Samuels adds his special touch to The Christmas Waltz.
Al Schmitt co-produced and recorded The Season at New York's Avatar Studios in July 2005and mixed the album at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles. The man whom Jane Monheit calls the greatest engineer there is is a 50-year studio veteran who's worked with everyone from Jefferson Airplane and Sam Cooke to Natalie Cole and Luis Miguel. Al Schmitt is an eleven-time Grammy Award winner, including his 2001 win for Diana Krall's The Look of Love as Best Engineered Non-Classical Album. This marks the first of her albums that Jane has co-produced.
Fans of Jane Monheit can look forward to hearing her bring the songs of The Season to life on stage during this holiday season.
Just as soon as Thanksgiving is over, Jane laughs. In fact, if we're playing on Thanksgiving Day, I'm already whipping out the Christmas songs-I simply cannot resist!
THE STORY SO FAR
As an adolescent growing up in Oakdale, Long Island within a musical family, Jane Monheit (born November 3, 1977) studied clarinet and theory while acting and singing in local theater productions. Jane was 17 when she began formal vocal training with Peter Eldridge at the Manhattan School of Music. She began gigging with Rick Montalbano, her college boyfriend, and pianist David Berkman in a quintet. (Jane and Rick were married in 2002.) In 1998, at age 20, she placed second among vocalists in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition.
In 2000, Jane released her debut album Never Never Land through N-Coded Music, with accompaniment by such notables as pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Ron Carter, and saxophonist David Fathead Newman. Never Never Land remained on the Billboard Jazz chart for over a year and was voted Best Debut Recording by the members of the Jazz Journalists Association.
In May 2001, Jane's second album Come Dream with Me (N-Coded/Warlock) entered the chart at Number One. It included the Judy Garland classic Over The Rainbow, today a favorite among Monheit fans the world over, and the personnel included Michael Brecker (saxophone) and Tom Harrell (trumpet). In the Sun (N-Coded, 2002) blended popular standards (Cheek to Cheek, It Never Entered My Mind) with the sounds of Brazil (Chega De Saudade, Comecar De Novo); the track Since You've Asked was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals.
Jane Monheit made her major label debut in September 2004 with Taking a Chance On Love on Sony Classical. Co-produced by Peter Asher and Al Schmitt, this album- length expression of the singer's passion for Thirties and Forties movie musicals included a duet with Michael Bublé on I Won't Dance along with her deeply personal interpretations of Love Me Or Leave Me, Dancing In The Dark, and Embraceable You, among other timeless favorites. Dancing in the Dark was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals. Taking a Chance On Love has remained on the Billboard Top 10 jazz chart since its release.
In a review of her November 2002 performance at London's Royal Festival Hall, The Guardian wrote: Jane Monheit has so many natural gifts-a phenomenal ear, wide vocal range, rhythmic poise and musical ingenuity- but perhaps the most precious of these is restraint. It is fatally easy for a virtuoso singer to reduce a beautiful song to rubble. Monheit decorates a melody, lights up a lyric, but never loses the essential thread of the song itself.
JANE MONHEIT TALKS ABOUT THE SONGS OF THE SEASON
Moonlight on Vermont This John Blackburn/Karl Suessdorf composition has been interpreted by countless artists since its origi¬nal publication in 1948, including Frank Sinatra, Margaret Whiting, saxophonist Stan Getz, and guitarist Johnny Smith. As a child, Jane first heard the song on a kind of karaoke tape of Sarah Vaughan instru¬mental backgrounds that someone gave me for a birthday, or maybe for Christmas. The arrangement that Michael Kanan did on this tune is one that we've been playing for years.
Sleigh Ride Composed and originally recorded circa 1947 by Leroy Anderson (1908-1975), one of America's most popular composers of light, melodic orchestral music. Jane remembers this song as one that I played about a thousand times on clarinet, in my high school bands. This is another great chart by Michael Kanan and a staple of our Christmas shows.
(Everybody's Waitin' for) The Man with the Bag A hit for Kay Starr in the Fifties, Irving Taylor's song is one of those Christmas numbers that not every¬one knows-just an adorable little tune, says Jane. And if there's any time in your life that you should be able to get away with a song just because it's adorable, it should be on a Christmas record. The swinging horn chart features Andy Snitzer's lyrical tenor sax solo.
Merry Christmas Darling This Frank Pooler/Richard Carpenter composition was first recorded by the Carpenters in 1978-the only version Jane had heard before. With its straight-eight pop feel, this tune seemed to lend itself to a sort of Brazilian retooling, inspired by [Brazilian singer/composer] Ivan Lins. So Rick [Montalbano] played various Brazilian percussion instruments rather than just the drum set, and Michael [Kanan] added the Fender Rhodes electric piano for a really warm sound. Rob Mounsey's string arrangement is beautiful, too.
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day Jane: I wanted to include at least one Christmas carol on this album. This one is just lovely and the lyrics are exceptional. There are five verses, written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow during the Civil War and then set to music [by John Calkin] in 1872. My guitarist Miles Okazaki wrote an exquisite arrangement, and I'm really happy with the way the whole track came out.
My Grown-Up Christmas List David Foster and Linda Thompson co-wrote this heartfelt holiday wish list for a better, more peaceful world. The holiday season can be a time for reflection, as we look back on the year, says Jane. Maybe we're thinking of ways to our world a better place, as well as the sadness and suffering we see around us. I chose this song with those thoughts in mind. The day that we cut it, Al Schmitt and I watched some of the Live 8 broadcasts-the poverty and hunger of Africa, as well as this incredible outpouring of effort to alleviate it. I was really inspired by those images, and they were at the forefront of my mind when I sang this song.
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas Written by Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas was immortalized by Judy Garland in the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis. To Jane, it is as important as 'Over the Rainbow'-a song that's been very special to me all my life. I could never perform a holiday show or record an album like this one without including it.
I thought it was a nice idea to connect 'I'll Be Home for Christmas' to it, as a little introduction. The subject matter seemed to go together, and... Well, I was thinking about the war in Iraq and about the families that will be separated during the holiday season. Being on tour this past year, being in airports and seeing soldiers coming home-it's really made me think about this sort of thing. So putting these two songs together seemed very apropos for The Season.
Photo Credit: Jos Knaepen