Heard on Tell Me More Growing as a musician is often a balancing act of challenging yourself without alienating your fans. For jazz diva Jane Monheit, maturity has given her singing new depth, and has given her new confidence as a performer.
Heard on Tell Me More Growing as a musician is often a balancing act of challenging yourself without alienating your fans.
For jazz diva Jane Monheit, maturity has given her singing new depth, and has given her new confidence as a performer. Evolving as a musician is often a complicated process. It's usually a delicate balancing act. On one side, pleasing yourself and, on the other, pleasing your fans. But, for jazz diva Jane Monheit, her success as a recording artist hasn't forced her to compromise her standards. In fact, the longer her career lasts, the more she broadens her musical range. Singing in foreign language.
Here to tell us more about it is the Grammy-nominated vocalist herself, Jane Monheit. Welcome to the program. Thanks for having me. You're quoted as saying this and I'll quote you exactly. What was holding you back? Well, you know, I don't know if anyone is at the beginning in this industry. It's a difficult thing and I started very young, as well, so you know there's lots of people around telling me who they think I should be, what they think I should do.
I don't know what to do. I'm listening to different people. I'm trying to figure out who I want to be. I mean, I was fresh out of college and the idea of just being myself didn't necessarily seem like the right thing to do at that point. You know, I had to always say the right thing and be in the most glamorous dress and all of that, you know. And now, I'm 35 and I've had a child and I don't care. I'm so happy to just be myself, you know, whatever that means, whether it's the choice of the song or what I talk about or the fact that I wore sneakers to this interview when, 10 years ago, I would have worn five-inch heels, you know.
Well, you might as well be comfortable. It makes you more relaxed. But what's the difference between, say, a musician that never rises to the greatness of their first album and one that improves over time? Well, it's such a hard thing because you have your entire life leading up to your first record.
Everything that ever inspired you if you're a songwriter, all of the music that you've written over the years - that's a really hard one. And then you have to make your second album a year later and all you've done is promote the first one and tour and you haven't had time to live and be inspired, you know, so it's very difficult.
For me, I take so much inspiration just from my everyday life that I'm able to sort of keep going and the songs find me and it's also easier for me because I'm not a songwriter. I'm interpreting the work of others for the most part so it's easier for me to put together a project because I don't have to write, you know, between 10 and 15 songs. Well, we're going to talk about the song that you did write.
But first let's examine a little more closely covering someone else's music. And you've said that a big part of your selection is based on the lyrics, the story of the song. So want to talk about a song that was originally performed by Buffy Sainte-Marie.
Singing You're not a dream. You're not an angel. I'm not a queen. We'll make a space in the life that we'd planned.
And here we'll stay until it's time for you to go. Out of the many dozens - if not hundreds - of songs you could've chosen, why this one? Well, you know, it's funny. It's a song that I always loved - especially the Roberta Flack version, I really love. And when Gil and I got together to put the album together - Gil Goldstein, our producer and arranger - he brought some song ideas to me and he suggested this one and I hadn't thought of this song in a million years and I was so thrilled to have remembered it.
I was so excited that he thought of it, so we recorded it. And it was a funny experience recording this because it's a love song, obviously. But as I was singing it in the studio I had a total epiphany about what the song means to me. You know, I have a little boy, he's about to turn five, and I realized that that this song, it's really sort of about the end of his childhood. Singing And though I'll never, never in my life see you again. Still I'll stay until it's time for you to go.
And so I ended up having this really heartfelt interpretation of it because I'm singing about this little person they'll never see again, you know, he'll be gone forever. Of course, the man he'll grow up to be I hope I see every day of my life, but my little boy will be gone.
And so that's sort of, well, really, what I was singing about when we recorded that. You know, you're on record giving a lot of credit to your producers. You just mentioned Gil Goldstein. Many people listening to this interview are going to have no idea what exactly a producer does and often rarely notices who produces a track, right?
What is it about Gil that makes a difference? You say he turns music into magic. How does that work? Gil is a very hands-on producer. He's there for every moment. He's fully invested in helping you make the best record that you can and I love him so much for that. Whenever we make music together it always ends up being really honest and sincere and beautiful.
That's incredibly quick, considering some contemporary artists take months to put an album together. I wonder how did you resist the temptation to keep tweaking. We didn't have any money for it.
You know, it's like you have your album budget and that's what it is. And in jazz we don't have those huge budgets that pop singers have. You know what I mean? We have just enough to make the thing. So was that a pro or a con?
Well, I look at it as a pro because it forces us to do our jobs, you know. I mean, Ella Fitzgerald was not taking months to make a record; neither was Sinatra, neither was anybody. They had to go in there and nail it and do their job and I take a ferocious pride in my ability to really be good at my work.
Do you know what I mean? Be a strong musician and be able to nail a vocal. And so we did all of the tracks in two days and then the third day I just went through and fixed some vocals and we've made some edits. We didn't even rehearse. I mean, we had like a very tiny rehearsal with just the trio because everybody knows how to do it You know, that's the point.
We shouldn't need months to make a record, that would be ridiculous. I mean, when we get on stage live we have to nail it, so why not do that in the studio too?
Well, let's get back to some music that, you know, when this guy was writing they also didn't take months to do an album. Let's take a listen. Singing Some folks were meant to live in clover but they are such a chosen few. And clover being green is something I've never seen 'cause I was born to be blue. When there's a yellow moon above me, they say there's moonbeams I should view. But moonbeams being gold are something I can't behold 'cause I was born to be blue.
You know, when I listen to that track Jane, although you are your own unique vocalist, I hear the sweetness of like a Karen Carpenter voice in there. How do you decide how much to tinker with a classic?
A song like that many people have heard a number of times, how much do you mess with it? I just do what comes naturally. I tend to not over-think that kind of stuff. And honestly, it's for me it's really about any sort of improvisational choices reflecting the lyric and not just doing them just to do it, and all that kind of stuff. Oddly enough, this goes back to what we were talking about earlier, in that as a vocalist gets more years under their belt, sometimes the music gets simpler.
There's not the striving me to impress people with your vocals. Do you feel that? You know, when I was young, I moved to Manhattan at 17 to go to the Manhattan School of Music and, you know, singers need to prove themselves always to the instrumentalists.
And so I was, you know, improvising nonstop, singing as much as I could, you know, here, I know all the changes, I know everything, I can do everything you can do all the time.
And I've definitely simplified as I've gotten older because the lyrics are more important than a bunch of needless improvisation.
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