From the time she was a baby in the playpen Janie entertained the family with scat solos. She sang “Ragg Mopp” at age three standing in front of the TV as if she was in the show. She began staging reenactments of all the great musical numbers at the age of six directing her cousins in chorus roles. She was singing torch songs from the age of nine, and and began a life long love of live theater at age twelve when she was cast in The Pirates of Penzance.
She grew up in Palms just up the street from MGM. There her grandparents had been contract studio musicians, her uncle worked as a chef to the stars, and her cousin (Linda Darnell) was a famous screen actress. Her dad (a Hollywood High Alum) hung around a lot of actors and technicians, some of whom actually amounted to something (Lee Marvin, James Garner, Charles Knight, France Wing, Jack Johnson).
The Finwalls did shows. They helped organize the children’s theater group known as Junior University when the family moved to the Inland Empire. That was part of their family life just like baseball. Janie had a knack for it. She had voice and dance lessons from the time she was a young girl. She participated in two or three shows a year through junior high and high school.
During an audition for a Civic Light Opera production when she belted out “A Foggy Day” alone on the stage in a grey trench coat, the director, Jack Bunch, remarked that she would make a great torch singer. She was almost fourteen. She never forgot it. She did shows with Ruta Lee, Marni Nixon, John Raitt, and Dyan Cannon.
She learned the music of Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, and every popular Broadway show. She stayed up late into the night listening to all the great jazz musicians on a radio show that only broadcast from midnight to 2:00 AM. A great entertainer, she was often enlisted to sing for men’s business luncheons with a song or two, “Black is so becoming to a blonde…”
All the way through college she took music, dance, and theater classes. She gave up lunch to add an additional music courses, even marched in a marching band one summer, and did a stint as a vocalist in the rock band “Permanent Damage”.
She starred in Hello Dolly! and Stop the World, I Wanna Get off! But jazz was her true love. She set her eyes on the big band. She was the featured vocalist with the Cabrillo Jazz Ensemble, and had her own jazz trio playing various clubs in the greater Bay Area for several years.
What She Did for Love? She gave up show business. Marriage and family often interfere with careers, but she looked at it a differently. She was “cast” in the role of a lifetime: a Mother and a Middle School Teacher! She worked as a teacher for the many years her family needed her to have a reliable income, reasonable lifestyle and hours to match. While teaching she developed a successful drama and speech program for her students. She produced two shows a year and often thought she got more out of directing those kids than in her own performances.
Show business was never out of her mind or soul. After teaching for twenty years, Janie and her husband, Dave Roberts, made a stab at running a night club and dinner house. It was three years of excitement and productions. Many great Bay Area musicians entertained the crowds that frequent the Russian River during the summer months at their establishment Wild Jane’s. Notably: Kitka, The Housejacks, Tony D’Anna, Copperwimmin’…
A fan of Hawaiian music, she hosted a Sunday radio show, “Hangin’ Loose with Da Kini” (Not da kine, but Da Kini) on the local radio station: KGGV-LP 95.1 FM
Now back on the North Bay night club circuit, she has released her new album: “Born to Be Blue” a collection of Hot Jazz, Cool Blues, and Tender Ballads. The collaboration between arranger and pianist John Simon, along with bassist Tom Shader, and percussionist Kendrick Freeman make up the backdrop for Janie’s sound which can be gutsy, broad, and sassy to sweet and warm. You will love it!
Come see and hear why she is called “Wild Jane”!