BY TOM LAVIS
Jane Monheit has never doubted that singing would be her life’s work.
With a natural inclination for swing and an affinity for improvising, the international singer will heat things up during Pitt-Johnstown’s Winter Jazz concert at 7 p.m. March 23 at the Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, 450 Schoolhouse Road in Richland Township.
Her performance will continue Winter Jazz’s 20-year tradition of presenting the world’s top jazz performers.
Monheit, who has performed at most major concert halls, cabarets and jazz venues around the globe, loves to sing in the styles of Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Bernadette Peters.
“I grew up listening to all of them,” she said during an interview from her upstate New York home, where she was taking two days off prior to resuming her tour.
Her supple voice makes her a distinctive vocalist in the contemporary jazz scene.
“I’m a jazz singer, but I love musical theater, and that’s something I hope to do more of in the future,” Monheit said.
She has demonstrated diverse tastes in music, ranging from jazz to Brazilian to rock.
Monheit’s career started to take flight when, at age 20, she was named first runner-up in the 1998 Theolonius Monk Institute vocal competition.
Critics say her sincere and romantic interpretations of songs have made her a favorite in the jazz and cabaret worlds.
Monheit has garnered numerous accolades in the past decade.
She has released seven albums and has collaborated with the likes of Michael Bublé, Ivan Lins and Terence Blanchard.
Monheit considers her most recent album, “Home,” to be her most mature and heartfelt album to date.
“ ‘Home’ is a return to my roots as a jazz singer,” she said. “It’s a classic jazz vocal album that features my family and friends.”
The CD features the band she has worked with onstage and off for most of her career, as well as special guests such as John Pizzarelli, Mark O’Connor and Larry Goldings.
This is her first album for Emarcy/Universal records, and it also marks her debut as sole producer of a recording.
Monheit said the album features timeless love songs.
“They never go away; they are meant to be sung over and over again,” she said. “To me, music and lyrics are equally important.”
While her local performance will likely include selections from “Home,” Monheit shies away from divulging the program’s lineup.
“I generally don’t like saying what songs I’ll do in a performance, but audiences look forward to me singing ‘Over the Rainbow,’ ” she said. “A successful performance for me is akin to the show business adage of making audiences laugh and cry.”
Her closeness to the songs and the musicians who play them are what “Home” is all about, she said.
She tours with her longtime band, which includes Michael Kanan on piano, Neal Miner on bass and her husband, Rick Montalbano, on drums.
“I have the utmost respect for the members of our band because we all love one another,” she said. “Mike and Neal were the first people outside our family to hold our son when he was born.”
But when on the road, Monheit is a full-time parent to the now energetic 4-year-old.
“I’ll be signing CDs after the performance, but I also will be looking forward to getting backstage to care for my son, who travels with us on the road,” Monheit said.
“Since I became a mother, I feel like I’m much more expressive and honest, and I sound much more mature.”
The jazz extravaganza is the arts center’s only fundraiser.
Through the years, the event has featured some of jazz’s top names, including Arturo Sandoval, the Ramsey Lewis Trio, Savion Glover, Dave Brubeck, Dianne Reeves, Wynton Marsalis, the New York Voices and the Count Basie Orchestra, Stanley Turrentine, Shirley Horn, Paul Winter, Paquito D’Rivera, Terence Blanchard, Gary Burton with Sergio Salvatore and the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All Star Big Band.
The Blackington Endowment Fund provides support for performances, exhibits, education and operations at the Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center.
Mike Bodolosky, arts center executive director, said the money raised is used to offset artists’ expenses throughout the year.
“Most recently funded include the Broadway productions of ‘Hair,’ ‘Blast’ and ‘Cats,’ past winter jazz artists and the ever popular Capitol Steps,” Bodolosky said.
By supporting the Blackington Endowment, patrons help offset costs, which makes it possible to present world-class entertainment at affordable ticket prices.
Lynn I. Barger, chief advancement officer at Pitt-Johnstown, said the Blackington Endowment is the largest of several endowments that allow Pitt-Johnstown to provide a regular season of high-quality performances at the performing arts center.
“Through these endowments, Pitt-Johnstown can depend on funding to be available year after year to sustain this valuable public service,” Barger said. “Those who sponsor and buy tickets to the Winter Jazz performance each year are making much appreciated donations to the endowment principal that will provide support to the performing arts in the region for years to come.”
Tickets for the event are $35 for regular seats, $39 for premium seats and $10 for students.
The performance and post-concert reception is $100.
Patrons will have a chance to meet Monheit and enjoy an open bar and hor d’oeuvres in the studio theater of the arts center.
What: Winter Jazz with Jane Monheit.
Where: Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, 450 Schoolhouse Road in Richland Township.
When: 7 p.m. March 23.
Tickets: Available from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays at the box office or by calling 269-7200, (800) 846-2787 or visit www.upjarts.org.
Cost: $35 for regular seats, $39 for premium seats and $10 for students or $100 for performance and postconcert reception.
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