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Savannah Music Festival: Jane Monheit/Jennifer Sheehan, March 24-26 

She's been one of America's best-loved jazz vocalists for the better part of a decade, but Jane Monheit — she of the sexy, smoky and utterly unique contralto — has a new focus.

His name is Jack, and he's 5 years old.

"As soon as you have children, your work becomes the second most important thing," Monheit says. "My career was my entire existence, and working up to my career was my entire existence throughout my childhood. So it was everything — everything was singing and music."

Not that Monheit, who'll perform with her trio, cabaret-style, for six Savannah Music Festival shows, has put her God-given gift out to pasture. On the contrary, she's just released The Heart of the Matter, her 11th album.

It's a lush and lovely record, juxtaposing torch songs and straight-ahead jazz with sweet interpretations of pop ballads ("Golden Slumbers," "Until It's Time For You to Go") and a dream-samba interpretation of the Sesame Street chestnut "Sing."

"Now I'm able to enjoy it more because I don't take it so seriously," Monheit explains, adding that — should you think otherwise — she isn't just cutting lullabies for her son. "I'm not afraid to speak my mind about things. I'm not afraid to just be who I really am, onstage and in the press and everything. Because it's not the utter, be-and and end-all, focus of existence any more."

As for "Sing," which was a long-ago hit for the Carpenters, "I've always wanted to record that. I've loved the Lena Horne version of that since I was a little kid. I didn't do it for a million years; I'm not sure why I just waited and waited and waited, I was too worried, probably, about what people would think.

"And now, I'm 35 and I've had a baby, and I don't care — I will sing what I want to!"

A brilliant scat vocalist, Monheit says her live shows "tend to be a little more straight-ahead, just because that's what we happen to do live. The records are always a little different from the stage."

At the SMF concerts, she and her band will play their set after an opening set from cabaret singer Jennifer Sheehan, whom Monheit has never met.

Stripped of their string and woodwind arrangements, songs from The Heart of the Matter and Monheit's previous, pop-tinged album Home, will be performed in the jazz-trio format. Several of them began as live, onstage numbers anyway, and were then orchestrated in the studio.

Pure, unadulterated honesty has become Jane Monheit's calling card. She explains how she chooses what she wants to record and perform:

"Most of the time they come to me naturally over time, and I'll have a list going in my phone," Monheit says. "But it all has to be really natural.

"I don't like learning new music for a record. That doesn't feel honest to me. If I'm coming in as someone's sideman, absolutely, but if it's my own record and I'm sitting down learning a bunch of new songs that I didn't already know, that's a little strange."

CS
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Bill DeYoung

Bill DeYoung

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Bill DeYoung was Connect's Arts & Entertainment Editor from May 2009 to August 2014.

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