To see Part One of the interview, please see this link: http://www.nitelifeexchange.com/interviews-mainmenu-154/1306-interview-with-janet-planet-part-one.html For tix/reservation info for the Aug 13-14 performances, please see: www.feinsteinsatloewsregency.com...
Q: You mentioned earlier, and in your show, that you’ve had these long-lasting relationships with musicians. Quite unusual! How does that factor into preparing or improvising or changing arrangements, overall approaches to songs, reading each other's minds/breathing as one onstage?
A: Time is what it's all about. How much you put in on your own instrument, but also how much you put in together with other players. Because of the area in which I live, unlike New York, the depth of players is somewhat limited but there are still great musicians that live here and frankly, everywhere. You just don't find them around every corner. I have to remind myself how lucky I am to have had 30-year relationships with the musicians in my community. Many of them were my original mentors. John Harmon, Tom Theabo and my husband Tom Washatka have been in my musical life from the beginning. Tom Theabo actually, "discovered" me. If you don't mind, I'll give you a little background on how we met. I used to go to a jazz club called Champagne Charlie’s when I was in school and checked out this duo called Two Much: Tom Theabo on guitar and Dave Janke on vocals. They were doing songs from Eddie Jefferson, George Benson, The Isley Brothers, Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown.....all with guitar/vocal. Dave also played conga and harmonica. They were fantastic! I was especially blown away by Dave's interpretations of Jon Hendricks, Eddie Jefferson and King Pleasure's vocalese. I had my head into blues at the time. I was 20 or 21 years old when I started to really listen to the music. Tom Theabo introduced me to all the great singers. Then, he very patiently worked with this "raw" talent in the aspects of subtlety and kept reigning me in. I was a "belter" when I met Tom. Our first song together was "Fly Me to the Moon.” After years of transformation musically, different sizes of groups, evolving styles -- to keep working -- and a book's worth of interesting stories, we're still doing it. You cannot replace years and years of commitment. With that comes a familiarity that can breed contempt, but as we cycle through life, we realize we are more grateful and less regretful. And, we're still learning and growing. I like to say that singing with Tom is like sitting back in a big easy chair. I can sit there for hours and adjust it when needed, but it's always comfortable and supportive. Within that support comes the freedom to take chances and play and sing "like you don't care." That's when the magic happens. The edit systems retract and the improvisational nuances surface. Our arrangements draw from the various styles we've been involved with, or influenced by. The longevity allows us to trust not only what happens on stage, but how "we hear music." Over the years, it's been difficult to trust myself. I guess that's part of a perfectionist's personality. But, with time comes trust in not only each other, but the manifestation of trial and error eventually brings you to your own voice. And that's what you trust. After a while, one realizes there's always going to be someone better than you out there, but with time you realize, it's not about “better"–it’s about honesty.
Q: What songs will you be doing that have traveled with you for years that you have found new things in, grown into, changed your perspective on, hearing anew, because of years going by or a certain experience?
A: "I Like You, You're Nice" is a Blossom Dearie tune that I learned in my late 20s. When I first studied the melody and lyric, I wasn't "hearing" the intervals like I do now. It's a relatively short piece that has all the elements I look for in a song; unpredictability, challenge, romance, humor, surprise. Blossom Dearie made it looks so easy. Now, at almost 52 years of age, I can hear the intervals and I look forward to the punch line "I'll make you a marvelous, wondrous, and quite notorious....cup of Costa Rican Coffee!" Another example is "A Sleepin’ Bee." Tom and I pulled that out from the "parchment" of stacks of music for this gig. I love our arrangement of it. The song begins rubato until 4 bars before the solo, then we swing the tempo, there is a short solo, then I come back in with the final “A" section. But, my favorite part of the song is the last "vamp." That's the element of surprise that I think we discovered during some restaurant gig where no one was listening. We'd often keep ourselves going by making ourselves laugh through "music humor." I think every musician has one or two "music jokes" up his or her sleeve. At the end, I hold the last three words, straight tone, while the band creates a "scene." The bass pedals, the guitar arpeggiates and the drums lightly fill with cymbals. It's just a joy to sing. There are many songs that have those nuanced twists and turns in our repertoire. Time has a way of putting music under a microscope.
Q: Any amusing or very interesting stories you want to share about singing in NYC?
A: The first time I sang in NYC was at St. Peter’s, “the jazz church,” on Lexington. I was asked to sing at the annual Alec Wilder Tribute concert. It was 1995. John Harmon accompanied me on piano. It was my first trip NYC and we were delayed in Chicago overnight because of snow. We took an early flight and arrived in time to get to the church and sound check. In the audience were Jackie and Roy, Sam Pilafian and a host of other respected and legendary musicians that were champions of Alec Wilder's music. The song I sang that “brought the house down" was "Did You Ever Cross Over to Sneden's?" I was so nervous that I literally could not breathe. In, and most importantly, out! How was I to sing?!! I looked into the faces of these lovely people and their love of this music brought me to the moment and allowed me to relax enough to get the song out. All I could remember thinking was, "just sing the story." It wasn't my best performance by any means, but afterwards the kindness I encountered and the COMMENTS... so intelligent, insightful and personal, made me feel like I was home.
I remember calling my husband -- from a phone booth! This was before cell phones -- and said, "Sam Pilafian just told me he loved my pianissimo... what's a pianissimo?" I couldn't wait to get back to your city and I'm thrilled to have the honor of singing in this esteemed club called Feinstein's. My plan is to come back often, and stay late!