Fairfield woman is corporate by day, a jazz singer by night
Fairfield's Antoinette Montague will tell you that success in business and success in the music industry depend on the same two elements -- talent and hard work.
Starting out 25 years ago as a typesetter for a Stamford publisher, Montague climbed through the ranks and today is vice president of human resoures for the company, The Boardroom Inc.
That was by day.
By night, Montague honed her vocal skills, hopping between some of Manhattan's iconic jazz clubs -- including the Zebra Room in Harlem's Lenox Lounge and the Blue Note -- and found mentors in legendary jazz singers.
Now 50, and with a couple of CDs to her credit, Montague will will perform in Fairfield for the first time on May 5. She will headline a benefit concert, "Fairfield Fusion: An Evening of Jazz, Swing and A Capella Music" at the Fairfield Theatre Company's Stage One.
The show benefits the Fairfield Foundation for Education, a nonprofit that supplements public funding of the town's schools.
"I learned in the business world that you need to hire the very best that you could afford, and that is what I do with my music," Montague said. "How could I not want to surround myself with the very best musicians possible?"
Easley, a saxophonist, is featured on Montague's first CD, "Pretty Baby," released in 2006. He also performs on her latest release, "Behind the Smile," which came out last year.
In writing the title track of "Behind the Smile," Montague reflected on recent emotional challenges. Within a short amount of time, Montague lost both her beloved sister and a best friend she had met years ago when they were both typesetters at The Boardroom.
Although the melody of "Behind the Smile" has upbeat swing rhythms, the lyrics reveal conflicting and ambiguous emotions.
"Everyone has had the blues, and, if you haven't had them, you're going to get them," Montague said with a laugh.
The youngest of seven children, Montague grew up in Newark, N.J., listening to Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. She alo enjoyed Nat King Cole, the Ink Spots, Paul Robeson and Motown sounds.
While attending Seton Hall University in New Jersey, she started visiting the Peppermint Lounge, a local jazz and blues club in East Orange, where she'd sit in and sing with bands.
After college, she began studying with her mentor, jazz singer Etta Jones. Then, when her day job in Stamford let out, Montague often would go to New York for the evening, sometimes singing in two clubs on the same night.
"In one night, I would go [to] Lucy's in Harlem and then across town to the Cotton Club," Montague said. Meanwhile, additional mentors --Della Griffin of The Dell-Tones and solo fame, plus Myrna Lake -- took her under their wings when Jones was out of town.
"I love this music because it breaks through a lot of barriers," she said.
Montague especially enjoys looking out from the stage and seeing people of all ages, races and economic backgrounds dancing and enjoying the music together, she said.
And the singer is looking forward to sharing some old jazz favorites with the Fairfield audience, she said. "Many people have followed me to gigs in New York and New Jersey, but they've been dying for me to perform closer to home."
"Fairfield Fusion" marks the first official fundraiser by the Fairfield Foundation for Education. The organization was founded last year "to enrich the curriculum and get new programming into the classrooms," board member Beau Villecco said.
The group encourages Fairfield teachers to apply for grants to fund creative programs. "We hope that by funding these programs, eventually they'll become items in the (school) budget," she stated.
Last year the Foundation donated $5,000 to programs in six Fairfield schools. One initiative involved purchasing iPads to teach students with autism. This year, the goal is to donate $10,000, Villecco said.
Tickets for "Fairfield Fusion" range from $35 to $75. To purchase tickets, call 203-259-1036 or email the box office at: boxoffice.fairfieldtheatre.org .
FTC is at 70 Sanford Street, downtown.