For Long Island-born jazz vocalist Jane Monheit (www.janemonheitonline.com), music is — and practically always has been — a family affair.
“I think it’s great when music and family can combine,” she says by phone from her home in Los Angeles in late December. “It’s always been great for me.”
Born in Oakdale, N.Y., to musical parents who nurtured her love for vocalists, jazz and Broadway musicals, Monheit studied piano and woodwinds, sang in choirs and participated in community theater. Higher education at the Manhattan School of Music would further the familial theme.
That’s where she met Rick Montalbano Jr., who’s since become both her husband and primary drummer. The couple married in 2002. His father, Rick Montalbano Sr., is a noted New York pianist and educator who also got involved as an arranger and adviser to his daughter-in-law. Monheit and Montalbano Jr. have a 15-year-old son, Jack, which is why one of his parents will miss Monheit’s debut at the Arts Garage in Delray Beach on Feb. 4.
“Unfortunately, I won’t be on that show,” Montalbano Jr. says. “I have to stay back in L.A. with the kiddo. She’ll have a great band of her New York City guys with her, though.”
Longtime pianist, arranger and friend Michael Kanan was the only trio member Monheit could confirm in late December as she continued the search for a bassist and drummer.
“Because of the price of airline tickets, many of us now have multiple bands around the country and around the world,” Monheit says. “I now have an East Coast trio, a West Coast trio, and a European trio.”
One of Monheit’s releases, the 2016 album Songbook Sessions: Ella Fitzgerald (on her own Emerald City Records), showcases the primary source for her impeccable scat-singing, vocal phrasing, and breath control. Yet Monheit offers up some additional surprises among her primary influences.
“For scatting especially, Ella was my foundation,” says Monheit. “But I really love a lot of other scatters, especially from that era, which I’m really attached to, like Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, and Joe Williams. But I learned from a lot of singers in a lot of other genres as well; singers who are great deliverers of lyrics, like Bonnie Raitt and Joni Mitchell. And some of them are more from the musical theater world. Like one of my heroes, Bernadette Peters.”
It may be Monheit’s love for Broadway musicals that has most informed a career in which she’s best-known for interpreting the Great American Songbook. And when her feet were held to the fire early on, her theater and stage experience paid off. As a 20-year-old senior at Manhattan School of Music, Monheit finished second at the prestigious 1998 version of the Thelonious Monk Competition, now known as the Hancock Competition.
“The great Teri Thornton won,” Monheit says. “It was an unusual year. They’d taken away any age limitations, so she was in her early 60s then while I was 20.”
Having started her recording career shortly thereafter with the 2000 debut Never Never Land, Monheit has since released a dozen more albums; earned multiple Grammy Award nominations, written English lyrics for Brazilian composer Ivan Lins, and taught lessons and master classes through her website while performing at prestigious international venues. She started recording her next release in January.
“I don’t have a title for it yet, but it’s going to be a very high-energy album,” Monheit says. “We’re hoping for a late spring release. For the Arts Garage, I’ll do what I usually do when I’m in between projects. I’ll put together a list of tunes that I know people will want to hear, plus add some in that I really want to play, including some Brazilian music. But they’ll practically all be standards. The Great American Songbook is my life.”
It’s a life that the well-established Monheit now appears very comfortable within — much more so than early in her career, when the media often focused more on her looks than her talent. In fact, the vocalist, wife and mother punctuates that fact with phrasing seldom heard.
“I dealt with a lot of that early in my career,” she says, “and felt like I had to just continue to prove myself. It’s so nice not to have to do that anymore. Rick is on the road with me whenever our son is out of school. We just pack him up and take him with us. In a few years, he’ll be in college and Rick and I will be on the road together all the time. I love being in my 40s. It’s so great to be 46!”
Jane Monheit performs with her quartet at the Arts Garage, 94 NE 2nd Ave., Delray Beach. When: 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 4; Tickets: $55-$60; Info: 561-450-6357, artsgarage.org