Who We Are & How We Got That Way
Performing Jewish, Israeli, Yiddish and American favorites as well as Broadway show tunes…
Jeff Winter and Janis Fine—known as “Jeff and Janis”—bring a fresh interpretation to traditional and contemporary songs.
jeff and janisJeff and Janis are a Chicago based duo who perform at many functions including synagogue events, festivals, family gatherings, fund raisers, and many other events. Using acoustic instruments and vocal harmonies, Jeff and Janis are known for their cabaret style presentations and engaging presence.
Here’s our story…
A boy from Milwaukee discovers a love for Israel, Jewish education, and Jewish music—and becomes a professor of education at a university in Chicago.
While a girl from the southside of Chicago is enamored with American musical theater and Jewish music—and becomes a professor of education at a university in Chicago.
For both, performing Jewish music was placed on the back burner. That is, until a funny thing happened on the way to a Hillel event.
For a number of years JUF Chicago sponsored a citywide Hillel program for college faculty. A talent night became the venue for moving that love for Jewish music straight to the front burner!
Introduced by Patti Ray, Chair of the citywide Hillel group, as “two singing profs who must meet”, Jeff and Janis the musical duo was born “at last.”
…Combining their love for Jewish, Israeli, and American popular and show tunes, Jeff Winter and Janis Fine bring a fresh interpretation to traditional and contemporary songs.
Sing along—tap along—clap along!
Join their many audiences who have joyfully proclaimed: “at last!”
Pioneer Press: Arts & Entertainment Two for the show:
Duo celebrates a decade-long musical union
By Pauline Dubkin Yearwood (02/26/2010)
The shadchen who brought Janis Fine and Jeff Winter together was Patti Ray, director of the Loyola University Hillel.
But this wasn’t a romantic match-Fine and Winter are both happily married to other people. Rather, Ray was a musical matchmaker.
She already knew Fine, a professor in Loyola’s educational leadership program for the last 20 years, and knew that she was also a talented vocalist who often opened meetings and dinners by singing and accompanying herself on guitar.
“Patti said, listen, I know this guy-he sings, you sing, why don’t the two of you get together? So we met, we sang and people thought it sounded great,” Fine says during a recent three-way phone call, with Winter on the other line.
That was the beginning of the duo they called simply Jeff and Janis. For the last 10 years, they’ve entertained all over town, singing everything from Sinatra to show tunes to synagogue melodies, Cole Porter to Craig Taubman and everything in between.
They are thanking their many fans with a free 10th-anniversary concert and celebration at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 7 at Ezra-Habonim The Niles Township Jewish Congregation in Skokie.
Winter, who is also a professor-he teaches elementary and middle-level teacher education at National-Louis University-takes up the story. Once he and Fine decided to perform together, they went to vocal coach Fay Kaiser for a little professional polish.
“We brought her all our songs-liturgy, show tunes, Hebrew songs, Yiddish, Israeli,” he says. “She’s the mastermind behind our beautiful harmonies.”
Now they perform about 50 shows a year and have a repertoire of some 200 songs. “We like to do medleys, thematic medleys,” Fine adds.
“We’ll do period pieces from the ’30s and ’40s, or from Jewish composers, or Israeli folk songs. Over the years we’ve added other instruments” besides guitar and vocals, including percussion, autoharp, harmonica and, lately, ukulele.
“It’s a very eclectic kind of show, part cabaret style, show tunes, torch songs. I’m quite the torch singer,” Fine says with a laugh.
“She is,” Winter agrees.
Both believe their partnership was bashert, fated, not least because there are so many coincidences in their lives: Both are academics, both live on Keeler Avenue, both have sons named Josh who are either married to (his) or engaged to (hers) women named Liz. (Winter and his wife also have a daughter.)
Audience members often wonder out loud if the performers are husband and wife, so they’ve built a bit of shtick into their show in which they reveal that they are “happily married-to other people,” then sing the Cole Porter tune “You irritate me so” to each other. “We bring a little bit of Catskills to them,” Fine says.
They perform in many different venues, but, Fine says, “Jewish ones are our favorites. So much of what we do is wanting to really bring the remembrances of our early years-both our parents are from the ‘greatest generation,’ and it’s so joyful to share some of the Hebrew, Yiddish and Israeli songs we grew up with.”
“We’ve also been responsive to our audiences,” she adds. “So many people wanted to hear ‘My Yiddishe Mama,’ so we learned that. People want to hear songs that were meaningful to them, were part of their growing up. We have a medley tribute to the songs our fathers sang to us, our mothers sang to us.”
But it’s not just about nostalgia. “With Jewish music, we’ve added a lot of contemporary songs,” Winter says. “We do Friday Night Live musical services at different synagogues, and we include some pieces from people like Rick Recht, Bob Applebaum, Craig Taubman and Debbie Friedman. People are delighted to hear new interpretations of familiar liturgy.”
“My son-he’s 26 years old-and my nieces and nephews in their 20s and 30s say, Aunt Janis, we have you and Jeff on our iPods, in our cars,” Fine says. “We’ve been able to bring so many of the songs to today’s youth as well as delightful memories to those who knew those songs in the past.”
The duo performs often at Friday Night Live musical services, particularly at Ezra Habonim and Northwest Suburban Jewish Congregation in Morton Grove. These services “make the music and liturgy very accessible to all ages in a delightful way,” Fine says. “People clap and move to some of it. Some of it is reflective and beautiful. We have a wonderful following at those two synagogues and that’s been quite joyful for us.”
While they say they’re “in their element” playing before Jewish audiences, performing for mixed audiences-as in Mayor Daley’s noontime concert series in downtown Chicago-has its delights too.
There, “we may go from doing a show tune to an Israeli tune,” Fine says. “We may grab the audience on something they are familiar with and then they stay for the Yiddish and Hebrew songs. Nobody thinks, oh this isn’t my stuff. We’ve really enriched their understanding. Some people have it in their heads that klezmer is what Jewish music is, and we are not at all klezmer. We’ve educated them about Jewish music. This is a wonderful way of spreading Jewish music throughout Chicagoland to both Jewish and non-Jewish audiences.”
“Just like they said in that old ad, you don’t have to be Jewish-to enjoy our music,” Winter adds.
The 10th anniversary concert “will be a little bit of everything,” Fine says. “We’ve planned it to be a celebration, a party. We’ll serve cake and have our CDs there. It’s a time for us to kind of look back-the tenured professors are celebrating a 10-year anniversary.”
“We’ve earned ’10-year,'” Winter jokes.
Fine adds that the concert will include both old favorites and some new tunes and will “take people on a journey of what our 10 years have been about. We always have such a sense of gratitude, of joy that we’ve been able to do this,” she adds. “This is our way of thanking the community for their support and for enjoying our music.”
Jeff and Janis’ free thank-you concert took place at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 7 at Ezra-Habonim The Niles Township Jewish Congregation, 4500 W. Dempster, Skokie.
For more information or concert bookings, call (847) 677.5821 or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.