Jazz vocalist Janet Planet brings voice, technique to Lawrence

Sonia Emmons

I called Janet Planet as she was settling down for a nap in California, where she sang in a concert that evening. “You caught me just in time,” she said cheerfully.
Planet, a new part-time instructor in jazz vocal technique, comes to Lawrence with an impressive musical background. You could also say that the Appleton native is returning to Lawrence.
Though she’s something of a big deal in the vocal jazz world, Planet described her career this way: “I am a working singer.” In the course of her 30-year musical career, Planet has been a career singer for 25 years, as well as a session singer and a recording artist.
She performs “mostly in the jazz vein” but loves singing different styles like blues, rhythm and blues, and even commercial jingles.
Planet and her husband, Lawrence Lecturer in Music Tom Washatka, own a recording studio and a record label — Stellar Sound — right down the road in their hometown of Oshkosh.
The label has signed around 20 artists. Planet emphasized the opportunities for success as a career musician in the Fox Cities. “People need to understand that yes, you can do it from here.”
Planet remains an active performer. “I love to take on different personas as a singer!” As for teaching, Planet said her motivation stems from her students: “[They] have to listen to me for at least 30 minutes.”
She shared another pedagogical insight: “I’ve learned that singers put themselves into an ‘I am singing’ mode rather than ‘I am communicating.’ Jazz is more like speaking to someone, and I’ve figured out how to get people to communicate. It’s a gift, and I love to share it.”
Planet favors a hands-on approach to learning and teaching. “Everything I’ve learned is by doing. I used to be shy, but I wanted to sing so badly that I got over it.”
Along with teaching technique, Planet also wants to talk with students about living and working as career musicians.
“The way the general public sees it, you’re either an American Idol or you’re not.” But, she added, there are many hybrid careers within the music world that allow for mixing between performance and other musical opportunities.
Planet was enthusiastic when I asked how she felt about returning to Appleton. “Lawrence has always been such an icon, a great liberal arts college. And I was a townie — at least that’s what they used to call us.” (Planet was later informed that in fact, they still do.)
As the interview came to a close, Planet expressed surprise that she had not been asked about her name. She was happy to tell the story behind it: “Janet Planet is a nickname from when I was 16 years old, and I decided to keep it as my business name,” Planet explained. “I chose the domain name janetplanet.com and apparently, a few years later, Janet Jackson wanted it. So she got janetplanet.net, instead.”
Even Planet’s victory laugh is melodious.