december 2009

Jane Monheit
Epic Records
Released: 2005

Inspired by her affection for Ella Fitzgerald's 1960 holiday classic, Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas, Jane Monheit crafted her own swinging, sultry Yuletide offering in 2005 as her Epic Records debut and first production credit (she co-produced with the legendary Al Schmitt). If Ella is a touchstone for this gifted young vocalist, then she does her proud by romping through a big band treatment of "The Man With the Bag," more than holding her own against a punchy horn arrangement and delightedly sprinting and scatting through the verses in a high-spirited vocal attack. On the dreamy side, she wafts her way sultrily through "Moonlight In Vermont," exploring soothing textures in both her high and low registers to create an über-romantic mood in a small combo setting in which the soft piano and vibes support enhances the cozy setting. In a cool romp through Leroy Anderson's "Sleighride" she works ahead of and against the combo's steady rhythmic pulse in an impressive demonstration of her impeccable sense of dynamics and mood. Tackling the evergreen "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," her voice framed solely by ruminative acoustic guitar passages from her regular accompanist, Miles Okazaki, she works the lyrics deliberately, using the textures in her vocal palette to underscore the singer's shifting moods as the lyrics describe a conflicted journey from doubt to affirmation of God's existence. A taste of funky Christmas is offered in a gently grooving version of Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas" complete with soulful horn section and a breathy, R&B-tinged vocal from Monheit; and a medley of "I Love the Winter Weather/I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm" showcases a driving, big band arrangement and a frisky, angular vocal so upbeat and jolly you can practically hear Monheit smiling through her delivery as she luxuriates in toying with the rhythmic line. The Season is a keeper, a first-rate Christmas conception blending the traditional with the new, never forgetting what it's celebrating but taking a few calculated chances within a familiar framework. Surely Ella would approve. —David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024