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Monheit plays Durango Cool Jazz event

Jazz vocalist Jane Monheit did not have the typical childhood aspirations of what she was going to be when she grew up. She wasn’t going to be a teacher, a doctor, a nurse or any of those youthful career choices kids traditionally set their sights on for future doings. She instead knew very assuredly in fact that she wanted a career in the arts, in particular music. Monheit was going to be a jazz vocalist, and since locking her eyes on that prize, she’s made a solid and straight beeline toward that goal, singing in bands and booking her own shows as a teenager to studying at The Manhattan School of Music to now performing around the world.

Monheit will perform in Durango tonight (Friday) and Saturday at the Lift at Cascade Village, as part of Durango Cool Jazz’s winter series “The Divas Sing Jazz.”

Performing has been part of the plan since Day One.

“Oh yeah, from birth, absolutely,” she said. “Quite literally I was already telling people I wanted to be a jazz singer when I was a toddler. I’ve always been on one very, direct path.”

That path of being that jazz singer began with the audible consumption of a load of all types of music, as it was something that was on her house, pretty much all the time.

“I was raised on this music, from my grandparents mostly. My father is a bluegrass musician, so there was a little more bluegrass, and musical theater, stuff like that in my house. But I really got jazz from my grandparents,” Monheit said. “It was just a lifetime of education. It was nonstop, it was constant, constant, constant music, every single day. The only time I didn’t have music was when I was in like, math class.”

Joined by Max Haymer on piano, Karl McComas-Reichl on bass and Dan Schnelle on drums, the performances this weekend will include Monheit dipping into the vocal jazz canon as well as holiday tunes, many of which are featured on her latest holiday album “The Merriest.” She’ll also pull from the pop realm, which could include tunes from the last four decades, but also from the original, first round of “pop” music.

If you go

WHAT: Jazz vocalist Jane Monheit.

WHEN: 5 and 8 p.m. today (Dec. 9) and Saturday.

WHERE: The Lift at Cascade, 50827 U.S. Highway 550.

TICKETS: $150, includes dinner.

MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.durangocooljazz.com.

“I’ve covered The Beatles, I’ve covered Joni Mitchell, I’ve covered Fiona Apple, I’ve covered Paul Simon, Burt Bacharach, Stevie Wonder. I grew up on a big mix of music, so yeah, I do occasionally sing a tune like that,” she said. “I think that sort of body of music goes incredibly well with the Great American Songbook; it’s a direct descendant, so it works well to put those kinds of tunes together.”

With only 40 tickets sold for each show, this remains a casual and intimate, club performance. Any live show is better in a small room instead of a large hall, and that goes for a vocal jazz show with a sultry, cocktail-lounge vibe, as the performer is there for you and 39 others. Monheit’s career has found her playing rooms of varying sizes, but it’s the shows like this she digs the most.

“The small venues are fun because I like to talk to the audience, make them laugh and screw around and have a good time. You get into a vibe with the people, and it’s a really good time, you know what I mean? But then a big hall, like you’re on stage at The Hollywood Bowl and you’re sweeping across the stage in your gown and the audience is huge and you’re in the spotlight. That’s your ‘I’m a star’ moment that you’ve dreamed of your whole life,” she said. “But I think where you have the real fun is in the clubs.”

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at liggett_b@fortlewis.edu.