The masterful Jane Monheit performed with violin virtuoso Mark O'Connor Saturday night at New York City's 92Y.
Monheit opened the show by admitting that although she is a New Yorker (Long Island native and a New York City resident), she had never been to a concert at the 92Y.
"I'm ashamed of myself," she joked, introducing a dry, fiercely sassy humor previously not on such apparent display at her former New York City engagements. She lives on the Upper West Side, it's "impossible" to get around the park, but they "took a cab," so all is well.
Monheit first performed a wonderfully upbeat interpretation of the Gershwin classic "Soon," with her band consisting of Michael Kanan on piano, Neal Miner on bass, and Rick Montalbano on drums.
For such a brilliant vocalist, the tune seemed almost too effortless. But, as soon as she took up her infamous scatting mid-song, it became clear that she was not employing any shortcuts this evening, and that that we were in for a performance of consummate skill and poise.
She introduced O'Connor in time for her third song, leaping into a charming "Fascinating Rhythm." Monheit said she believed voices and violins were meant to be together, and her musical interplay with O'Connor prove this sentiment well.
The two musicians have collaborated on a total of eight tunes, many of which were for O'Connor's album "Hot Swing," a tribute to his friend and mentor, the legendary French jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli.
The Grammy Award-winning O'Connor, known for his Appalachia Waltz collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer, infused Monheit's devotion to the American Songbook with such original fiddling motifs that each standard, already taken in new directions by Monheit's vocal interpretations, scaled to new heights with O'Connor's flare.
The evening's musical high note was certainly Monheit's hauntingly moving "Over The Rainbow," that became especially touching when she connected the song to the suffering occurring in Long Island and other parts of the tri-state area hit by Hurricane Sandy.
"I always cry when I sing this song," Monheit said. And perhaps because she said her grandparents were impacted by the storm--the same individuals who taught her the song when she was a little girl--or perhaps because the week that was is still aching us to the core, Monheit's "Rainbow" was more emotional than ever, and in one word, exquisite.
O'Connor's solo here was brilliant and beautiful, with just enough hopeful touches to accompany a song that sometimes feels just so sad.
The evening was neatly divided in two, with one 15-minute intermission. Monheit and O'Connor donated proceeds of CD sales in the lobby to Hurricane Sandy disaster relief efforts, an announcement that was greeted with great applause by the audience.
O'Connor led the second act with his own composition. After a couple of songs, including a fun and energetic "Honeysuckle Rose," the band startlingly interrupted Monheit and broke out into a rendition of "Happy Birthday."
Singer Jim Caruso walked on stage with a bouquet of white roses and a birthday cake. The entire audience, along with her band members, O'Connor and Caruso sang Monheit happy birthday, an occurrence that was simultaneously absurd and wonderful. Monehit and Caruso together performed "Can't Give You Anything But Love."
Because she has no holiday shows to perform this year, Monheit lamented, she closed the show with "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," another song, like "Over The Rainbow" that simultaneously mixes feelings of joy and melancholy.
"Starbucks already has the red cups out and it's my birthday," she said sassily. She returned for an encore, performing the upbeat "Love Is Here To Stay."
"It's very clear, our love is here to stay," she knowingly sang. Yes, Ms. Monheit, the feeling is certainly mutual.