Mothers in Jazz

Mothers In Jazz (3): Jane Monheit

“Mothers In Jazz” is a new series started by vocalist Nicky Schrire and this is the third interview. The initiative aims to create an online resource for working jazz musicians with children, those contemplating parenthood, and jazz industry figures who work with and hire musicians who are parents. The insight of the musicians interviewed for this series provides valuable emotional, philosophical and logistical information and support that is easily accessible to all. “Mothers In Jazz” shines a light on the very specific role of being both a mother and a performing jazz musician.

Jane Monheit. Photo credit Kharen Hill

Jane Monheit’s life in music reads like a jazz fairy-tale. At the age of 20, newly graduated from the Manhattan School of Music, she became first runner-up in the 1998 Herbie Hancock Institute Jazz Competition for vocalists (then the Thelonious Monk Institute). She was taken under the wing of the doyenne of jazz managers, Mary Ann Topper (1940-2019), and a sparkling career ensued. Jane’s early collaborations included working with the likes of Tommy Flanagan and Ray Brown, and she’d go on to record/perform with Terence Blanchard and Ivan Lins. With her “voice of phenomenal beauty” (New York Times) she deftly negotiated the world of major labels – Sony, Concord, Emarcy – in her early twenties. “Come Dream With Me (2001) spent 11 weeks as No.1 in the Billboard Jazz ChartsHer most recent album is “Come What May” (Club44, March 2021) (*)

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For the LJN Mothers in Jazz series, she talks honestly and forthrightly about how she has juggled motherhood and music. Jane lives in Los Angeles with her husband, drummer Rick Montalbano, and their 14 year-old son, Jack.

Jane Monheit. Photo credit: Kharen Hill

LondonJazz News: What is the best advice you received about balancing/juggling motherhood and career?

Jane Monheit: The best advice I probably received was that it was truly okay to just pack Jack up and take him everywhere. My instinct was to shelter and protect him. We even moved far out of New York City when he was born, so I was nervous to take him on the road. The mothers around me built up my confidence, and by three months old Jack was a fully passport-ed world traveler. I’m so glad we traveled the world together. We didn’t miss a single moment of his childhood, and he always had his parents there for him. I realize that takes a lot of privilege-help, money, enough gigs to support the situation. We were very lucky to have a serious network of friends and family helping out. I’m endlessly grateful for Jack’s “village”, and for the work that allowed us to keep our family together.

LJN: What information or advice do you wish you’d received but didn’t (and had to learn through trial and error or on the go)? 

JM: I wish more people had spoken to me about postpartum depression. I had a really difficult time. I toured until the absolute end of my pregnancy, and had to transition very quickly to suddenly becoming a mama, which was fairly dramatic after spending my entire twenties on the road. I had a hard time healing from a C-section. Breastfeeding didn’t work out, and I didn’t have music. It was extremely difficult for me. In retrospect I really wish I had been more prepared and had had support at the ready. Please don’t be afraid to reach out if you’re suffering-both you and your baby deserve the help you need.

LJN: Your top tip(s) for other mothers in jazz:   

JM: Don’t give up! I know so many mamas are afraid to try and balance it all, but it’s absolutely possible. Babies need fulfilled, happy parents, and that means time for you and your music.

LJN: Baby/child gear tips for travel/touring:    

JM: Less is more. You’ll quickly find ways to streamline things. Babies need less than you think. I’m still proud of how quickly we always got through airline security!

LJN: Best general travel/tour-with-child advice:

JM: You won’t need to bring a ton of toys. Kids truly do get creative and entertain themselves with what’s around! One of the greatest things I ever discovered are online libraries of children’s books. “Skybrary “is a great resource. Reading together was extremely important for my son and I, and books are heavy to travel with. An app worked wonderfully for us.

LJN: What has surprised you about becoming a parent and remaining engaged with your professional activities and ambitions?       
JM: I was definitely surprised by how much parenthood reinvigorated my love for my work. I was very conflicted and unhappy around music in my late twenties, but Jack’s arrival gave me so much inspiration. Everything changed. My work suddenly had much more purpose, and I certainly had so much more to sing about. He’s a teenager now and the feeling still hasn’t faded.

LJN: What boundaries have you set for yourself as a mother in jazz (could be related to travel/touring, riders, personal parameters, child care decisions, etc.)? 

JM: Child care was very important to me. I had a dear friend employed with us on the road so Jack had consistency and we always had someone there we could trust. (My husband is my drummer so we’re always onstage together and needed additional care.) Now that Jack is older, my boundary is holidays. They’re very important in our family, so we make sure we always have time to spend them together. Jack is in school, so my husband now stays off the road, and I’m always home for important days and events. (We home-schooled until he was in third grade, which was an amazing option for our family.)

(*) Jane Monheit’s most recent album “Come What May” was released in March 2021 and celebrated her 20th anniversary as a recording artist. It was also her debut for Club44 Records, a new Nashville-based label devoted to jazz vocals, Broadway and cabaret.

LINKS: Jane Monheit’s website

Come What May at Club44 Records

Categories: Mothers in Jazz

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