Jane Monheit sings it all

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Randee St Nicholas

Jane Monheit is barely 31 years old, yet she brings more swinging brio, complex vocal phrasing and tear-drenched tremolo to some of jazz’s greatest classics than someone with decades more heartbreak than she could have yet experienced. And her Pre-Raphaelite curls and startling aquamarine eyes present more than a pleasant picture on stage.

Twice Grammy-nominated, Monheit will be bringing her echoes of Ella Fitzgerald and June Christy to Pepperdine’s Smothers Theatre this week, in a concert heavy with some of the singer’s favorite holiday songs.

She’s traveling some 6,000 miles from Switzerland, following a multicity tour, to land in Malibu the afternoon before her performance.

Monheit spoke with The Malibu Times from her hotel room in Zurich last week, while juggling her six-month-old son, Jack.

“It’s been amazing traveling with this little guy,” Monheit said cheerfully. “He never had any problem with jet lag or anything. Everyone else in the band got colds, but he’s been fine.”

In January, Monheit is releasing “The Lovers, The Dreamers and Me,” her seventh album since her 2000 solo debut, “Never Never Land.”

Despite such a remarkably prolific chronicle, Monheit said she is still figuring out everything she wants to do. While her releases offer a generous mix of jazz classics by the likes of Cole Porter, she also features tunes by Paul Simon, Leonard Bernstein and Brazilian songwriter Ivan Lins.

“I do a lot of Brazilian, but my dad is a bluegrass musician, so I like folksy stuff as much as jazz,” Monheit said. “I’d also like to do some Big Band stuff someday and maybe a musical theater-themed project. But I have no idea to the order of it all.”

Monheit studied vocal jazz at the Manhattan School of Music, where she graduated with honors in 1999, receiving the William H. Borden Award for Outstanding Accomplishment in Jazz. As an undergraduate, she won the first runner-up prize in the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute Vocal Competition. Already, other singers are covering her arrangements of classics like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

But she insists that she can’t be labeled simply a jazz singer.

“Sure, I was influenced by singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Judy Garland,” Monheit said. “But also Bonnie Raitt and Barbara Cook. They’re different kinds of singers and you can get something from all genres.”

Her vocal style, which can range from soaring to intimate in a seamless minute, has attracted some world-class sidemen, including the late Michael Brecker on saxophone and bassist Ron Carter.

“I have been lucky enough to work with so many amazing musicians,” Monheit said. “Ray Brown, Tommy Flanagan. You collaborate with these guys and you try to learn what you can.”

Her rising star has been all the more notable having come before the age of 30, when most jazz singers just begin to develop range and tone, along with the life experience that colors interpretation.

“When you’re a singer, everything in life affects your sound,” Monheit said in exploring the influences of her style. “There are changes in your voice when there are changes in your emotional maturity. Coming into adulthood has been interesting.”

Monheit has navigated “coming into adulthood” with enviable success. Her albums have all been released on major labels (Concord, Sony) to uniformly rave reviews and her tour schedule is demanding.

Having a husband who plays in your band (Rick Montalbano, also a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, has played with virtuoso musicians like Brad Mehldau and Clark Terry) helps with the rigors of touring, particularly when accompanied by an infant. But Monheit said it will be nice to be home for the holidays, with a moment to savor some family time.

“I would love to do Broadway someday,” she said. “But right now, I’m still doing Mommy.”

Jane Monheit performs at Smothers Theatre Saturday, at 8 p.m.. Tickets can be obtained by calling 310.506.4522 or online at Ticketmaster.com