Jane Monheit on new album Come What May: ‘It was a total joy to make this record’

She’s considered one of the best in the world, combining virtuosity and technical ability with tone, artistry and creativity — not to mention a devilish sense of humour and command of every stage on which she steps foot.

Grammy-nominated and Billboard chart-topping jazz vocalist Jane Monheit celebrates 20 years at the top of her craft with Come What May, her first new release since 2016.

Touching on everything you’d expect from this diverse, world-class artist, Monheit brings together an outstanding selection of material from gems of the Great American Songbook, cabaret classics and Brazilian standouts. For the last five years, this is what fans have been waiting for.

Monheit joined us to talk more about her new album and the long road that led to it.

How are you doing?

It’s been an interesting time for all of us artists. We’ve all had to change our plans, restructure our careers, learn a whole lot of new skills. But I think we’re all coming out of it empowered. We’ve learned a lot about how to manage our own careers, take care of ourselves and get through a really questionable time. Ultimately, it’s been empowering.

The last time I saw you and your husband Rick [Montalbano Jr.] was at the Old Mill a few years ago, and you were performing together. That hasn’t been the case lately. When you were on the road, you were tag-teaming parent duties.

We have a 13-year-old son, so I’m officially the parent of a teenager. We home-schooled him on the road until he was eight and a half, and then at that point he needed to be in a school. The material we were working on was more difficult and he wanted to be with his friends. We put him in school, and so my husband has been staying home with him. He plays a lot of gigs here in Los Angeles, and I’ve been using substitute drummers. That’s been hard, but at least for the last year we’ve been all together again, and that’s been wonderful.

You’ve talked about being a traditional pop vocalist but with jazz values. How do these worlds intersect?

In the Venn diagram of jazz and traditional pop, a lot of that centre area is full of tunes. It’s really in the way we present them that changes things. We value swinging and we value improvisation — things that are not necessarily found in cabaret. They can be, but they don’t need to be. So, I think that’s a perfectly apt way to describe me.

Fans of yours have been missing the time that you took away from the recording studio. But it’s not like you were taking time off — you were still very busy touring and performing. How did the time away from the studio affect you in making this record?

It certainly brought us back with a ton of joy and excitement. Man, we were ready — especially because we hadn’t even played together because of the pandemic. The recording is literally our first time back together with a band. We’re capturing that. And then to add on to that, it had been five years since we’d been in the studio, and we love recording. It was a total joy to make this record. And the last five years of touring really informed it, because all of the music that I performed on this record are tunes that I’d been playing on the road.

So, you almost had the rehearsals all worked out already? There must have been a familiarity there that allowed you to get through everything more smoothly, especially at a time like this.

That was a huge part of how I planned the album, because we couldn’t rehearse and we had to record the whole thing in two days. I made sure that we didn’t need to worry, that we were going in with road-worn material that was familiar and worked in really well. It worked out really great for us.

You’ve been doing this for 20 years. If you were looking back at one or two of the things that informed you as an artist, can you put your finger on them?

Most importantly, working with the greats. The people that I had the opportunity to record with, tour with, play with. Most of them are gone now. When I think about people like Tommy Flanagan, for instance, I played a duo concert with him when I was 20 years old, or people like Ray Brown and Bucky Pizzarelli… I’ve been very, very lucky. I was smart enough to know that I should listen and learn as much as I could from them. That was really the life-changing thing — having the influence of those cats when I was just a baby.

And the modern cats — the Peter Eldridges of the world.

I can’t explain to you how lucky I’ve been to have the contact with the kind of people that I’ve had. And now, as a teacher, I get to pass that on to people. That is a huge honour. It’s something that we take very seriously in jazz.

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In everything you do, you bring a degree of professionalism and creativity. There’s an essence that comes through. It’s different, though, on camera versus on stage with a live audience. As a performer who has a beautiful relationship that you cultivate on stage, how do you handle the online stuff?

You know, it’s just so weird. I’m not even sure how I’m handling it yet, because I’m still just sort of floundering through it. It’s definitely unusual talking to an iPhone and pretending it’s 150 people, but I’m just doing my best. Generally when we’re doing our Zoom concerts, we have a small audience of my accompanist’s two very small daughters, so we at least have a five-year-old and an infant there that I can entertain.

You get through it.

We’re still making music, and that’s what matters. We figured it out, and we’re still making music.

There’s a little bit of a light at the end of the tunnel now. Do you have anything in the works to get you excited?

I do have things that are starting to come in and I’m thrilled. It looks like Europe this summer, probably. I’m starting to talk to some venues again that are starting to reopen. No plans on stopping the online performances until I have a full tour schedule, so we’ll still be doing that. But yeah, offers are coming in. It’s exciting to know we’ll be back on the road soon.

This interview has been edited and condensed.