Before the finale of Tuesday night’s Café Carlyle show celebrating the varied compositions of Frank Wildhorn, the Grammy and Tony Award-winning composer quoted his frequent collaborator, lyricist Jack Murphy, as once offering that “Great singers are a songwriter’s best friends.” Even though Murphy’s thought is hardly original, no words could be more true after listening to the scintillating songstress Jane Monheit and the performing powerhouse Clint Holmes deliver 16 songs that are solid but wouldn’t exactly be called classic examples of what passes for the late 20th century Great American Songbook.
Michael Kanan is originally from Boston, MA, where he attended Boston College. His first jazz instructor, Harvey Diamond, was a student of legendary pianist and composer Lennie Tristano. After several years of study with Diamond, and many freelance gigs in Boston, Michael moved to New York City in 1991, where he studied for a year with Sal Mosca and then with Sophia Rosoff, with whom he currently studies.
From 1995-2001, Michael was the accompanist for vocal great Jimmy Scott, with whom he toured the United States, Europe and Japan, made numerous TV and radio performances, and recorded three CDs.
In addition to his work accompanying vocalists like Mr. Scott, Jane Monheit, Annie Ross, and Madeleine Peyroux, Michael has also played in many instrumental settings. He performed in New York with guitar wizard Kurt Rosenwinkel, and with him recorded the popular CD Intuit for Criss-Cross. Michael was also a founding member of the International Hashva Orchestra, which included Mark Turner and Jorge Rossy and has led his own trio, with bassist Ben Street and drummer Tim Pleasant, on two recordings for Fresh Sound Talent: Convergence and The Gentleman Is a Dope. His most recent CD is a duet album with saxophonist Nat Su, Dreams and Reflections.
For the last eleven years, Michael has been the pianist/arranger for the Jane Monheit band, touring the United Sates, Canada, Europe, Brazil and Japan and performing on several of her albums and DVDs.
Born and raised in Manhattan, Neal received his high school diploma from the Interlochen Arts Academy, and attended the Manhattan School of Music. Most notable of his private teachers were classical bassist Orin O’Brien of the New York Philharmonic, and jazz bassist John Webber.
Neal started playing regularly at an Upper West Side jazz bar called Augie’s at the age of 19. It was there that he was initiated into the New York City jazz scene, backing many young jazz stars such as Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein, Brad Mehldau, Eric Alexander, Chris Potter, and Roy Hargrove, all of whom have gone on to garner critical acclaim.
Over the years Neal has accompanied jazz legends such as Jon Hendricks, Annie Ross, James Moody, Bob Dorough, Bill Henderson, Frank Wess; and new jazz stars like Jane Monheit, Stacey Kent, Ann Hampton Callaway, Dena DeRose, Loston Harris; and fashion celebrity and T.V. personality Isaac Mizrahi. Neal has also held the bass chair in large groups such as the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra, Carnegie Hall Big Band, and the Village Vanguard Jazz Band.
In 2006, Neal’s latest CD, The Evening Sound, was released on the Smalls Records label. This recording captures a sound inspired by his close association with Smalls jazz club for more then a decade, and showcases Neal’s talents as a composer and bandleader. This CD can be heard on radio stations nationwide.
Neal joined the Jane Monheit band in April, 2007.
Rick Montalbano has been playing drums professionally since his early teens. Growing up in a professional musical environment – his father is jazz pianist and organist, Rick Montalbano – offered him unique exposure to world-class musicians, including legendary saxophonists Sal Nistico and J.R. Monterose. Years later, he would win the very first J.R. Monterose Memorial Scholarship.
While in high school, Rick was selected as one of five young musicians to be awarded a scholarship from the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, a prestigious international competition.
In 1997, Rick moved to New York City where he was awarded a full scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music. There he began working with some of the finest musicians in the world, including Brad Mehldau, Phil Woods, Randy Brecker and Clark Terry. He also completed several recordings including two with virtuoso tenor saxophonist Ari Ambrose (Steely Dan).
Since 2000, Rick has been the drummer for the Jane Monheit band, touring the globe in support of a series of acclaimed albums. He has performed on Jane’s recordings, TV appearances, and DVDs.