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American vocalist Jane Monheit will be singing a mix of favourites from her albums at The Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival next month.
“There are certain songs I always perform simply because I love them and everybody else seems to love them too.
“We are doing another album which should be out by the time we get there, so we’ll be performing songs from that as well. The programme will be mostly from the Great American Song Book.”
I suggest that she is a little controversial in that some people call her a “cabaret singer”, while others call her a “jazz singer”.
“Funny you should ask because I have just been talking about that. The jazz people say I’m a cabaret artist and cabaret people say I’m a jazz artist. My approach to this music is very traditional.
“For me, it’s important to sing the songs in a way the composers would have enjoyed it. Mainly we use all the original changes (chord sequence). The lyrics are very important and treated with respect.
“It’s also important to us to acknowledge the history of the music. I just want to sing a song and make beautiful music, so if Harold Arlen came back and heard it he would say: ‘Hey, good job.’ “
Her influences include Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Keely Smith and Judy Garland and a lot outside of jazz, such as Bernadette Peters.
“She sings lyrics so beautifully.
“Stevie Wonder and some R&B singers, but the strongest influence I ever had was Ella Fitzgerald.”
Did she listen to Billie Holiday?
“Oh yes, but what she did almost can’t even be processed. I can’t be influenced by her because it’s too amazing, it’s other-worldly, it’s not something that computes with what I do. I love listening to Billie, she’s one of my favourites, and I can’t imagine how she does what she does. She hasn’t influenced me because it’s too amazing. Did that make any sense?”
I replied that it made perfect sense and I appreciated her honesty.
I believe if you are honest, it will come out in your playing or singing.
“Well, that’s the whole point of the way I sing; honesty and being sincere. I choose songs because I love them and I sing them in a way that the lyrics naturally lead me.
“What I do is completely from the heart and unadulterated by any intentional thing.
“I never think: ‘The market will love this if I start doing what’s on the radio right now.’ I will never do that to try and get radio play. The idea just makes my skin crawl.
“I just sing in a way I love and hope other people want to listen to it and get closer to their emotions. When I sing Over the Rainbow, I process all that I did that day – I’m unafraid of baring it all emotionally.
“I’m thrilled to be coming to South Africa, just thrilled. It’s wonderful to get out of America for a minute and see what else is going on in the world. I am so excited.”
Her backing trio has been with her for many years and comprises pianist Michael Kanan, bassist Neal Miner and drummer Rick Montalbano (her husband) .
All I can say is that for the people who came out to listen to Stacey Kent at the Joy of Jazz about two years ago, you will be over the moon with Jane Monheit.
• Jane Monheit will be at The Standard Bank Joy of Jazz on August 24 and 25. Book at Computicket.