Jazz Foundation lures Monheit back
Jane Monheit still hasn’t recovered from a sprained ankle, but in the past few nights that she’s been in Aspen, Colo., she hasn’t been able to resist attempting to dance a little when her husband and percussionist Rich Montalbano hits the Brazilian tamborine, the Pandiero, as she sings her latest bossa novas and sambas in Portugese.
"It’s impossible for me to try to not dance," she confesses. "These composers are incredible. The lyrics are such poetry. Everything about these songs makes me absolutely nuts. I just love it."
Monheit will politely interrupt The Egyptian Theatre’s "Tommy" run for just one Sunday night concert this week at the behest of The Park City Jazz Foundation (PCJF). She is making her way through a 10-day tour through the Rockies, and dominating her song line-up are tunes she remembers raiding from her parents’ 1960s and 1970s discography archives. Many of the songs will also be on her upcoming album, which is due for release in May.
"I heard a lot of it growing up and I’ve just always really liked it and once my band and I started traveling to Brazil, we really started getting into the music and it’s became a huge part of our performance," she says. "It’s a massive part of every show. It’s our favorite thing."
Monheit says she sings in several languages, but the poetry of the lyrics in Portugese roll off her tongue the best. She paraphrases lyrics from a samba she likes when she says "the sambas are a gift from God to help relieve us of our sadness."
"Portuguese sounds a lot like one of the other romance languages, but it’s a lot more different from Spanish than you might think it’s a hard accent to learn," she explains, adding that she’s picked up quite a lot from her travels to Brazil. "Although, people every night in the show come up to me and they say, ‘oh I loved the Spanish tune, oh I loved the French tune.’ I’ve even gotten,’I love the Hebrew tune, that was gorgeous.’"
Long Island, New York-born Monheit, best known for her jazz, has been including Brazilian jazz music in her repertoire for nearly a decade since her debut album at the age of 22, "Never, Never Land," in 2000.
Monheit began her career and continues to be regarded as a jazz vocalist, and her voice has been compared to jazz legend, Ella Fitzgerald. She is likewise known for her versions of musicals from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.
"Jazz is part of what I do, but it’s never really all of what I do," she confirms.
Her rendition of "Over the Rainbow" was featured on the soundtrack to the film "Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow," as well as her fifth album in 2004, "Taking a Chance on Love," which rose to number one on Billboard’s traditional jazz chart. On season five of "American Idol," the runner-up, Katherine McPhee sang Monheit’s version of the song.
Monheit explains that her improvisational skills, though, have more to do with inheritance than her time at the Manhattan School of Music. Most of her family has musical talent, she says. She just happened to have decided to turn it into a career.
"For me, it was just born in me I guess. Improvising and stuff like that was sort of second-nature to me, though people learn it as a skill and they’re amazing at it too," she says. "It’s one of those weird things. It really comes to everyone differently."
She says the ability to improvise lets her put her own stamp on music that has been performed by other musicians.
"When you look at this genre of music I sing, you’re dealing with a lot of songs that have been performed thousands of times, millions of times and recorded millions of times by people who are legends that can play it way better than you," she explains. "Improvisation is the way we make things our own. It’s the way that we express ourselves."
The Sunday concert will benefit both The Egyptian Theatre and The PCJF’s educational programs, such as its outreach programs in five middle schools and four boys and girls clubs in Salt Lake and Park City; clinics at PCJF’s August festival; and International Association for Jazz Education retreats each June. PCJF is holding monthly jazz tutorials at the Spotted Frog Bookstore on the last Tuesday of February and March.
"Jazz is about improvisation," PCJF executive director Kris Severson says. "And test after test after test has shown this skill to improvise has proven to improve kids studies in all of their academic curriculum, whether it’s math, science, or social skills. You have to be creative within structure and jazz music is one of the only means to teach that."
Severson describes improvisation as "expressing yourself in and amongst a certain standard of parameters."
The music is being played in this key, at this tempo, with this melody, but each artist is playing notes that aren’t necessarily written on paper, but that come from the spirit of the moment, from their heart at the time, he says. It’s a melding of European written music and African oral tradition music, and that characteristic makes it one of the only uniquely American art forms there is, he notes.
This is not the first time Monheit has come to Park City, Severson notes. She performed a few years ago at The Eccles Center.
Severson says Sunday night The Egyptian will be converted into a club atmosphere with tables near the stage, and the option of choosing to sip wine while listening to the concert. The PCJF’s all-star band, Jacob Veloo on saxophone, Brady Bills on guitar, Jordan Hehl on bass, and Jayden Bean on drums will open and accompany Monheit on a few songs.
"The Egyptian is perfectly suited for jazz because the artists are kind of gigging off of each other," he explains. "It really throws you back to the old jazz club-type of setting."
The hand-in-hand Egyptian/PCJF relationship was cemented last spring with a concert for Eric Darius, which, Severson notes, people have been talking about ever since. In the future, he says he hopes to book more acts in the venue.
Tickets to Jane Monheit’s concert this Sunday, Feb. 18 can be purchased at The Egyptian Theatre Company’s box office at 328 Main Street or by calling 649-9371. V.I.P tickets include an after-concert reception. For more information about The Park City Jazz Foundation’s educational programs calling Julie Hooker at 940-1362.
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