Tributes to the jazz greats of yesterday, performed by the artists of today, are many. But few of today’s artists can boast the same intimacy and familiarity with the objects of their musical affection as Shawnn Monteiro. On her new CD, "To Carmen With Love," Shawnn pays tribute to the artistry of the legendary – but often overlooked – jazz vocalist, Carmen McRae. But Monteiro, who’s earthy voice and masterful phrasing is reminiscent of McRae’s, chose McRae for a few very good reasons.
“My dad, Jimmy Woode,” she explains, “played bass with Carmen for quite a while, and my godfather, trumpeter Clark Terry did also. I used to listen to them tell stories about their time with Carmen and it was fascinating.”
The influence of Carmen’s music and the direct connection to it takes Monteiro’s tribute to the next level. With a similar singing style, the same, spare three-piece band, and a love of the repertoire, Monteiro made it a mission to bring greater attention to the amazing craft and music of McRae.
“I really want Carmen to be heard,” she says. “She was just a great entertainer, a great singer.”
On "To Carmen With Love," Monteiro is helping to do just that. In preparing the album, which was produced by Monteiro and Mike Renzi, Shawnn took great care in choosing the songs she had a feeling were special to the singer. She sifted through her own three-dozen-plus recordings by McRae, and pinpointed the songs that kept popping up in their grooves: “That Old Black Magic,” “Lamp Is Low,” “Old Devil Moon,” “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” and “I Have the Feeling I’ve Been Here Before.” A few years ago, a former band mate presented Shawnn with a DVD of McRae’s last performance, recorded back in 1986. “All the tunes I loved were on it,” she says, and their inclusion convinced Shawnn she was on the right track. “She had a love in her heart for them, obviously.”
And so does Shawnn.
Along with recording and gigging, Monteiro shares her love for McRae and jazz in general as an adjunct professor at Rhode Island College and the Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford. Not only that, she deepens her commitment to the genre by giving master classes in jazz vocals all over the world – including in Italy, France, Croatia, Spain and more. She takes teaching as seriously as singing.
“I teach them about this thing we call jazz. It’s our American art form. I turn my students on to this music, and they say, ‘Oh my God! We’ve never heard this! And I tell them, ‘Unless you pass it on, it’s going to die.’”
On "To Carmen with Love," Monteiro is doing her part and much more in keeping the glow of jazz alive. It’s in her heart, it’s in her performance, and it’s in every note she sings.