With her transcendent voice, the ultimate entertainer delivers two dynamite shows in one
By Aine Abruscati (@AAbruscati)
The acclaimed Grammy-nominated vocalist Jane Monheit returned to New York City’s iconic Birdland jazz club this week, a place she describes as her second home, for a weeklong run starting this past Monday. Her latest show is in two parts: the first set, “Hello Bluebird”, is dedicated to all things Judy Garland; the second, “To All the Men I Love,” is a collection of songs written and performed by the male musicians, singers and composers that have inspired and influenced Monheit throughout her career.
This is a singer who knows exactly what she’s doing. It was evident throughout Monheit’s entire performance – from her thoughtful selection of songs, to her interpretation of lyrics and notes, to her chemistry with the audience and her band. Monheit is someone who loves jazz and loves love, and she has perfected the art of preserving a classic, while still making it contemporary and fresh.
Monheit started her first set with Harold Arlen’s “Gotta Have Me Go with You.” In a subtle pink and black floral dress, Monheit’s eyes sparkled as the lyrics purred and poured out of her mouth: “Hey there shy one, come be my one.” Whether she is singing about the witchcraft of love, a swingin’ dance at The Savoy or two lovebirds on their way to getting hitched, Monheit transforms time and place, taking us somewhere long ago, with a feeling that we’ll always cherish. Best songs from the first half included Monheit’s spin on the playful “How About You,” originally sung by Fred Astaire, and the ageless treasure “Over the Rainbow,” which Monheit sang beautifully, with hope and sadness.
The arrangements in the first set were all written by two of Monheit’s band members: Michael Kanan (piano) and Neil Miner (bass). With Rick Montalbano on drums (who also happens to be Monheit’s husband), the quartet is complete and balanced, each musician contributing to the ebb and flow of every number.
The second half of the show brought a costume change, the replacement of Kanan for Billy Strich on piano, and the addition of the terrifically talented saxophone player Joe Frahm. Monheit proceeded to serenade the audience with the classic, “Where or When”, originally sung by Sammy Davis, Jr. She made it impossible not to swoon at the song’s first words, “It seems we stood and talked like this before,” through to the final “when,” with the right kind of muted and melancholy sex appeal.
In addition to pleasant surprises that included a number sung in Portuguese, Monheit performed songs that should be familiar to less-versed jazz fans including “Witchcraft” and “Who Can I Turn To”, one of the loneliest and most touching standards ever written.
The highlight of the evening was towards conclusion of the night when Monheit spoke about one of her biggest professional and personal influences, composer Joseph Williams. The love and admiration she feels for Williams, who passed away, was transparent in every note she hit in “Hallelujah I Love Her So.” The way Monheit handles a song – whether keeping it soft and close or letting it loose with scats and powerhouse belts – is what lets us know how talented she is and how much she treasures the music.
For information and tickets to Jane Monheit’s performances at Birdland, visit www.birdlandjazz.com.