The first time I ever heard Jane Monheit’s voice, I was taking voice lessons. My teacher asked me to listen to a song on one of her CDs, which he had purchased after hearing one of her songs piped in a restaurant where he was having lunch one day. He told me that Jane Monheit’s voice had stopped him in his tracks. After hearing her unique version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, I stopped in my tracks, too. Like my voice teacher, I went out and bought a copy of Jane Monheit’s 2001 CD, Come Dream With Me. After that, I found myself buying more music by Jane Monheit.
I’m no expert on the recording industry, but it seems that over the past few years, standards have been making a comeback on the music scene. Artists like Diana Krall and Michael Buble have reintroduced the American public to the elegance and style of songs from the past. Jane Monheit has voice that is custom made for classic songs. She handles complex musical arrangements with ease; at the same time, she offers expressive lyrical interpretations of songs, giving them a fresh appeal. I’ve become quite a fan of Jane Monheit’s music. Today, I’d like to present ten of my favorite songs performed by Jane Monheit.
10. I Won’t Dance (with Michael Buble)- This song appears on Jane Monheit’s 2004 album, Taking a Chance On Love. Michael Buble joins Jane Monheit on this charming duet in which Monheit and Buble insist that they won’t dance with each other. The two have a flirtatious chemistry, which definitely adds to this song’s appeal. This song was written by Jerome Kern, Dorothy Fields, Oscar Hammerstein II, Otto Harbach, and Jimmy McHugh. I can believe that so many people lent a hand in creating this song when I listen to the complex arrangement.
9. Why Can’t You Behave- Composed by Cole Porter, this bluesy song also appears on 2004’s Taking a Chance On Love. Jane Monheit’s delivery is very impressive as she contorts her voice to caress and embellish each word. I like this song mostly because Monheit sings it like she’s exasperated but very much in love. There’s something about her reading that speaks to my heart, even though I never have to ask my husband why he can’t behave. On the other hand, I bet he’d like to ask me why I can’t behave!
8. If- Yes, this is the very song that Bread made famous back in the 1970s. A brilliant remake of that old song appears on Jane Monheit’s 2001 album Come Dream With Me. I call it “brilliant” because I never liked the original version. I thought it was sappy and whiny. Jane Monheit managed to recreate this song into a sophisticated jazz number. Her voice is sweet and sincere, but it’s never corny. Kudos to Jane for changing my mind about this pop relic.
7. So Many Stars– Jane Monheit’s version of this classy number, which appears on her 2001 album Come Dream With Me, is not the first one I ever heard. Back in 1995, opera star Kathleen Battle came out with a brilliant jazz album called So Many Stars. “So Many Stars” is the title track of that album, which I own and love, so I knew Jane Monheit would have a tough act to follow with her cover of “So Many Stars”. Jane Moneit does an impressive job with her take of this moody, sensual number. Listen for an elegant sax solo by Michael Brecker.
6. More Than You Know– Jane Monheit’s cover of this romantic classic appears on her 2000 album Never Never Land. When Jane Monheit sings this song, she sounds like a sophisticated woman who has experienced a lot. Amazingly, she was just 22 years old when this album was recorded. You’d never know she was so young by her delivery and the simple, understated way this song is arranged. It’s just Jane Monheit singing, backed up by Kenny Barron on piano and Bucky Pizzarelli on guitar. Don’t miss it.
5. Honeysuckle Rose– “Honeysuckle Rose”, included on 2004’s Taking a Chance On Love, is a lot of fun to listen to, but if you’re a singer, you might also appreciate Jane Monheit’s skill as she effortlessly handles this song’s idiosyncratic rhythms. Even if you’re not a singer, you might admire the way this song starts the CD off with momentum and style. This song, with its energy and upbeat mood, is great to listen to in the morning.
4. My Foolish Heart– For some reason, my husband just loves Jane Monheit’s version of “My Foolish Heart”, which appears on 2000’s Never Never Land. Frankly, I like this song too. The lyrics are lighthearted and romantic, the music is flirtatious and festive, and it’s a great vehicle for Jane Monheit, who was so young when she recorded this song. Hank Crawford and David “Fathead” Newman contribute memorable solos on the alto sax and flute respectively. The best part about this song, though, is the fact that it sounds like Monheit and her band had a great time recording it. Even if they didn’t have fun, it sure sounds like they did.
3. I’m Through With Love– Before I bought the album, I wasn’t familiar with “I’m Through With Love”, which is on 2001’s Come Dream With Me. Once I got into the CD, I got into the song, which Jane Monheit handles like a virtuoso. Just like the title suggests, this is a song about someone who sounds disgusted with love and wants to give it up for something that is less of a hassle. You’d think this song would be depressing, given the subject matter, but Jane Monheit’s voice is full of indignant spirit and pluck, even as she bids “goodbye to spring.” Even though the song has Monheit vowing to lock up her art and stock it with icy, frigid air, I get the feeling that the mood will pass, which is a good thing.
2. Over The Rainbow (2001 version)– Jane Monheit’s version of the classic, “Over The Rainbow” is so good that I’d actually consider putting it at the top of the list. The first thing to know about Jane Monheit and “Over The Rainbow” is that Monheit has done several versions of this song. The one that I like best appears on 2001’s Come Dream With Me, but there’s another version on 2004’s Taking a Chance On Love. The newer version was used on the soundtrack for the movie Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. I love her older version of this song because she sings it with so much heart, as if it were writtem just for her. Frankly, I’m surprised this song starts off Come Dream With Me. It’s so strong, with Monheit singing acapella at first, and then launching into a glorious understated rendition, that I would think it would have been great at the end of the CD. The songs that follow it, while very good, still tend to pale in comparison to this masterpiece.
1. Bill– Until I listened to Jane Monheit’s cover of “Bill”, which is a song from the Broadway show Showboat, and appears on 2004’s Taking a Chance On Love, I thought my favorite song by her was her cover of “Over The Rainbow”. But Jane Monheit gives this song such a moving, intimate, classy reading that I actually like it better than any of her other songs… at least the ones I’ve heard so far. It helps, too, that my husband’s name is Bill. The lyrics, which are about a totally ordinary guy who manages to make his woman fall extraordinarily deeply in love with him, remind me a lot of my love for my Bill. On the other hand, even if I’d married a guy named Steve, I’d probably still love this song. It really is something special.
I predict that Jane Monheit is going to go places, with her lush, expressive voice, her amazing vocal technique, her considerable good looks, and her very talented band. I tend to listen to her music when I’m lingering over dinner with my husband or when I’m in the mood for romance. While she tends to perform a lot of tried and true classics, I have heard her take songs from the folk and pop era of the 1970s and turn them into jazz infused gems. I’m always impressed when an artist covers a song and totally remakes it into their own. I can think of a few other songs Jane Monheit has done that I could have included on this list. On any other day, I might change my mind and add them. But for today, the above ten songs are favorites of mine. If you check them out, I hope you like them as much as I do.