Just before Christmas 2001, I had a truly horrible day when a confluence of personal turmoils plunged me into a dark pit of despair. That night, on the Letterman show, I saw one of the most beautiful women ever. She was a singer performing a cozy, warm rendering of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." The combined force of her loveliness and her voice shined out like a beacon of hope in the darkness, revealing the power of beauty to heal one's pain.
This was my introduction to Jane Monheit. She's a red-hot jazz vocalist phenom from New York, and quite the lightning rod of controversy among jazz critics and listeners. Folks either think she's a marvelously skilled prodigy or an overrated, mediocre talent whose notoriety is the product of shrewd marketing. Jane's detractors claim that she's trading on her good looks and her safe, retro-styled vocal delivery of old standards. I'm no jazz expert, but I'll say that I'm far more taken with her photogenic properties than her musical prowess. I think her singing's great, but my God, she has to be one of the top three or four most beautiful women I've ever seen.
Precisely one month after I first heard of her, I got to see Jane in concert at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. It was a splendid experience. I came prepared with a pair of pocket binoculars -- I didn't care if that was a tacky display to be making at a jazz show, I was there to see the lady the best I could. And boy, was she gorgeous. Her singing was quite a lot better than on her recordings, more relaxed and passionate. Jane's heart-wrenching performance of "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" ended in solid applause for well over one full minute. All those critics really need to set aside the CD's and hear her live before they write that vitriolic baloney about her not having any chops.
The other issue about Jane Monheit that bears discussion is her size. Jane is unquestionably a full-figured woman who carries more than a few "extra pounds," and still, every media article enthuses about her tremendous beauty. There is hardly ever any mention of her weight, or any concessions that she looks great "for a big girl," or has "such a pretty face." People just seem to agree that she's sexy and beautiful, without special qualification. This would seem to be a good thing. Perhaps even revolutionary. Then again, a lot of the photography I've seen of Jane seems to be deliberately "slenderizing" -- remember, I've seen her in the flesh, so there ain't no fooling these eyes -- which means perhaps, sadly, the media hasn't accepted her voluptuousity, it's just been camouflaged from their view.
Indeed, during the intermission at the concert I attended, I overheard several murmurings about Jane not looking like her publicity photos. One woman behind me declared that she "shouldn't be wearing a dress like that" (a strapless black evening gown that clung tightly across her hips and tummy). And consider this depressing bullshit Alexander Gelfand wrote in his cover story on Jane for the December 2001 Jazziz magazine, the one time I've seen a journalist make an issue of her size:
There has been much fuss about the singer, but, in truth, it's hard to understand what it is all about. In person, she is far less nubile than the cover art on her latest CD would suggest. ... [W]ithout the cheesecloth and soft lighting, she seems more Rubenesque than sylphid. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is somewhat disappointing, especially considering the attention her looks have garnered in the press.
Let's see... how many things are wrong with that picture? Gelfand is asserting that curvaceous looks are incompatible with a reputation of great beauty, and are thus "disappointing." Sigh. Okay, he's entitled to his opinion. But what pisses me off is when he equates the word "nubile" to "thin." I do believe that "nubile" means "young and sexually mature," which has nothing in the slightest to do with being skinny. Why didn't this hack just come right out and say, "She's a lot fatter than she looks on her CD," instead of perverting the English language?
Because I'm telling you right now, Jane Monheit is one of the most nubile creatures ever to grace God's green earth.
Jane Monheit Albums
Come Dream with Me (2001)|
Taking a Chance on Love (2004)|
The Lovers, The Dreamers and Me (2009)|
The Heart of the Matter (2013)|
Jane Monheit Gallery