A Joyful Experience: An Espresso With Antoinette Montague

July 29, 2022

When we went into lockdown in March 2020, jazz vocalist Antoinette Montague was already streaming jazz and blues to people sitting at home. As she explains, “I was one of the first jazz educators to use Zoom back in January 2020 with my Marymount College students. And because of that, it was easy for me to be one of the first to bring jazz and blues to listeners via Zoom.”

> Don Jay Smith

As a result, the singer, who has shared the stage with jazz artists such as Benny Powell, Wycliffe Gordon, Christopher McBride, Bernard Purdie, Mulgrew Miller, Winard Harper, John Di Martino, Wynton Marsalis, and Frank Wess, stayed extremely busy during the pandemic: teaching, mentoring and performing.

“I recognized that, as jazz educators and performers, we needed to use this great music as a way of helping people heal. We were playing jazz and blues as a means of service, not for self-service,” she continues.

That is why she is so highly regarded as a vocalist, an educator and a mentor. She is Senior Vocal Instructor for Jazz Power Initiative; an adjunct at Marymount College and the New School; a teacher at the Newark School of the Arts; and singing instructor for Jazzmobile at the Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music.

About her role as an educator, she says, “There are many skills that these young people learn that are applicable to life. I hope that I’m preparing my students for their futures because most of them will pursue a career other than music.”

Even more, she is very active in community affairs, serving on the Duke Ellington Center for the Arts, Advisory Board Chair for International Women in Jazz, and on the Community Advisory Board of WBGO.

As if that doesn’t keep her busy enough, Antoinette is also the CEO of Jazz Woman to the Rescue, a nonprofit foundation which encourages the donation of musical instruments for young people. She has been recognized for her activism with many accolades and awards, including most recently “Jazz Women of Courage.”

Antoinette is best known as a dynamic vocalist whose high energy and range of song choice keeps audiences totally engaged. “I think my music is, as Duke Ellington said, beyond category because I draw on the different forms that influenced me growing up and I interpret them as a jazz and blues singer.”

Antoinette explains, “My mother loved Ella Fitzgerald, but I also loved Louis Armstrong, Aretha Franklin, the Clara Ward Singers, and Nat King Cole. Later I was mentored by Carrie Smith and Etta Jones.”

New York and New Jersey audiences will have four opportunities to hear Antoinette’s interpretations of many great songs including “I Love You, Porgy,” “Natural Woman,” “Who Taught You That,” and “Up Jumped Spring,” beginning on Saturday, July 9, when Jazzmobile presents Summerfest at MacDonough Street in Brooklyn, then with Jazzmobile at Grants Tomb on July 13.

Later in the month, Antoinette performs music from the Great American Songbook in A Night of Jazz and Soul with Antoinette Montague at the Newark Museum on July 29. The next night, she heads to Morristown and the Morris Museum’s Back Deck. As the Morris Museum touts “Antoinette Montague doesn’t give concerts, she gives an experience. And there is no better place to experience her jazz phenomenon.”

That’s why she calls her group The Antoinette Montague Experience. “People come to see us not only for great jazz and blues,” she adds, “but also for the total joy of the show.”

And joyful says it all. Not only is Antoinette a powerful vocalist, she is an exuberant stage presence whose happiness is infectious. Her group, usually consisting of pianist Danny Mixon, bassist Melissa Slocum, saxophonist Peter Valero, tap dancer AC Lincoln and a drummer, also shares that joy. Everyone is having a wonderful time as musicians and as human beings and audiences are drawn in immediately.  

Hearkening back to a New Orleans-style musical celebration, Antoinette will often begin and end a concert with her band marching through the audience. This tradition certainly lets everyone know that they are in for good time and it is obvious from the smiles which are everywhere. She sums it up, saying, “One of the rewarding aspects of performing is to have people return again and again because they enjoyed the show.”

This summer is the time to hear her sing and enjoy her show. Antoinette Montague is busier than ever and she likes it that way.

Antoinette Montague appears with the Newark Museum on July 29, and the Bickford Theatre on July 30 with pianist Danny Mixon, bassist Melissa Slocum, saxophonist Peter Valero, tap dancer AC Lincoln and a drummer.

A Joyful Experience: An Espresso With Antoinette Montague copyright Jazzespresso 2022.
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