"Though I miss the 700 pounds of glitter a little bit — because, for God's sake, it's glitter! — I realize I don't need it to be beautiful," says Jane Monheit. "I don't need to be lathered with makeup and corseted to be beautiful." Is that really the reigning glamour girl of jazz speaking? Yup. Things have changed. To be precise: Monheit's become a mommy.
The sultry beauty first took the jazz world by storm a decade ago at the tender age of 21, when she nabbed a finalist spot in the 1998 Thelonious Monk Competition — and, subsequently, a record contract, a Billboard-topping album, a Grammy nomination and gigs at the best rooms around the globe. But with the birth eight months ago of Jack, her first child with drummer husband Rick Montalbano, the lady with the buttermilk chords is full-heartedly embracing the next chapter of her life.
"Motherhood has impacted me enormously," says Monheit, who begins a national tour in New York (from Jan. 20–Feb. 7) at Feinstein's at Loews Regency. "My priorities have changed so much. I can enjoy work in a way that I never could before, because I'm not taking it so seriously. I'm a completely different person in my work now." For example? "I have much more fun onstage! I'm not so concerned about everything being perfect all the time. Like, I can just let all of that go and enjoy the really fun parts of my work, because the really super important part of my life now is about being a mother. I don't have to be terrified about every little thing at work. It's just my job.
"It's the greatest job in the world," Monheit is quick to add, "but it's just my job." Monheit's engagement at Feinstein's is timed with the release this month of her ninth CD, "The Lovers, The Dreamers and Me." Recording the first half of the album while nine months pregnant, Monheit says, "was the happiest time in my life. That first half of the record was like the comfort zone — it was standards, Great American Songbook, my husband and my band, stuff that I'd been planning on recording for a long time." (To that end, listen for songs by Jimmy Dorsey, Cole Porter and Leonard Bernstein.) "Then I had the baby. And a couple months later we did the second half, which was all new material.
"It was unusual for me. I was sight-reading charts in the studio, working with musicians I hadn't worked with before." And singing pop selections. Interpreting songs from contemporary artists Paul Simon, Corinne Bailey Rae and Fiona Apple, Monheit says, "was so awesome, after spending a lifetime singing songs of long-dead gentlemen."
The still fashion-conscious Monheit seems to have found inner peace and a new outlook on life. "I'm so much happier now that I've simplified everything. I mean, I do still like to dress up [for shows], but I do it a lot less now than when I was younger. I used to tour the world with suitcases full of sparkling evening gowns. I would travel with ten pairs of shoes, a carry-on just for jewelry, and a separate carry-on that was my professional makeup case. I was into it, man, into it," she says with a laugh. "Now I'm good to go with a couple of little black dresses, a pair of shoes that goes with them, and a lot of diapers."