Jazz siren Jane Monheit brings her silken voice to Quick Center


Jane Monheit, who, at just 25, has taken the jazz world by storm, brings her captivating soprano voice to Fairfield University's Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts on Saturday, Feb. 15 at 8 p.m.

Often mentioned in the same breath as modern jazz superstar Diane Krall, Monheit is fast gaining a reputation for capturing a song's essence with the sophisticated phrasing of a seasoned veteran. Add to that her lush, textured voice and her flair for the dramatic and Monheit is "a singer to be reckoned with," according to the Washington Post.

Born in 1977, Monheit grew up in Oakdale, N.Y., in a home filled with music. Her aunt and grandmother were both professional singers and her brother played rock guitar. Her mother was involved in musical theater and Dad was known to pick through a few bluegrass tunes on his banjo. Monheit is said to have begun singing standards at the age of two, a fact backed up by a recording of a three-year-old Monheit singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" included on her second album, "Come Dream With Me."

"I started singing as soon as I could talk and basically learned how to do both at once," she said of her early musical leanings. "Performing was also something I always knew I wanted to do."

By the time she was in high school, Monheit was snagging leading roles in school theater performances and singing at clubs on the South Shore of Long Island. Her formal training began at age 17, when she entered New York City's prestigious Manhattan School of Music. There, she studied with Peter Eldridge, a founding member of the vocal group New York Voices.

Monheit got her first big break in 1998, when she was runner-up to the legendary Teri Thorton at the Thelonius Monk Institute Vocal Competition. Thorton was 68; Monheit, just 20. Critics and producers sat up and took notice of the young talent.

Rather than rush into a career, Monheit completed her studies at Manhattan School of Music before recording her debut album, "Never Never Land," and embarking on her first tour. The album, a set of 10 ballads, features jazz notables Kenny Barron, Ron Carter, David "Fathead" Newman and others.

On her second album, "Come Dream With Me," she lends her sultry soprano to a dozen more pieces, mostly standards that she's been singing her whole life. She was especially pleased with her latest version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," a favorite of one of her idols, Ella Fitzgerald.

"That's the first song I ever learned," Monheit said of the timeless tune. "It's incredibly sentimental for me and my family, almost too special to record."

"Come Dream With Me" also includes revealing interpretations of "Spring Can Hang You Up the Most," "So Many Stars" and "Blame It On My Youth." Produced by Grammy-winning producer Joel Dorn, the album features guest musicians Christian McBride, Michael Brecker and Tom Harrell.

Monheit followed it up last fall with her latest album, "In the Sun," which finds the vocalist mixing '70s rock classic "Love Has No Pride" and works by Brazilian composer Ivan Lins in with the familiar strains of "Cheek to Cheek" and "Tea for Two." Harrell joined her again on this recording, as did jazz heavyweights Kenny Washington, Ron Carter and Joel Frahm.

Reviewers become downright poetic when describing Monheit's work.

She has "a beautiful voice that, if it could assume tangible shape, would resemble a large, uncut diamond," according to Newsday critic Gene Seymour.

"Her voice is a silken, controlled wonder that is both a genetic gift and the product of superb training," wrote Daniel Okrent of Time. "When she wraps it around one of the classic American songs she loves to sing, you know Jane Monheit can't miss. She has, in a word, everything."

As memorable as her albums are, Monheit comes alive on the stage. Her blend of confidence, charisma and sophistication has left some jazz aficionados comparing her to Fitzgerald herself. In the past few years, she's performed at such varied locales as the Oak Room of the storied Algonquin Hotel, Carnegie Hall and the jazz mecca, the Village Vanguard.

She's won high praise in performances at The Verizon Festival in Los Angeles, Chicago's Ravinia Festival, the Monterey Jazz Festival and the Montreal Jazz Festival. While she's worked with major talents and traveled the world, Monheit credited her success to her own brand of musical honesty.

"I'm just singing the most beautiful songs I know in the most sincere way," she said of her work. "I think people are responding to the beauty of the music, and to my attempt to tell the truth."

Tickets are $25 and $30. For tickets, call the Quick Center box office at (203) 254-4010 or toll free at 1-877-ARTS-396.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on January 13, 2003

Vol. 35, No. 156