By Myra Chanin
I can’t think of a more perfect Valentine gift than spending 90 delicious minutes watching and listening to Billy Stritch and Marilyn Maye spread musical love, as they’re doing this entire week at Birdland. Correction, there is something better. 120 minutes or more of the above. Marilyn and Billy are both forces majeures of American Song. Superior and equal, they connect in miraculous, mystical, joyful and trusting ways. Both are broadly and diversely accomplished and they never cut musical corners. You always get the best they have to give, which is beyond considerable.
At would-ya-believe 86, Marilyn Maye is ageless. She looks even better at 86 than she did at 85. Always handsomely dressed, bejeweled, coifed and made-up – off stage as well as on, Marilyn’s the Mississippi of melody; the Energizer Bunny of stagecraft, the Houdini that makes poetic lyrics fling off their chains. Every note she sings is meant to give pleasure or comfort and it does. She came a long way from a teen-aged amateur contest winner, but forget the past. Even at 86, Marilyn has plenty of present and future ahead of her.
In his own right, Billy Stritch is an award-winning composer, arranger, vocalist and jazz pianist as well as Marilyn’s musical mate, often supplying the shimmering frame for her music. Watching him work is to observe his physical link to melody and rhythm. His body connects directly to the keyboard and his spine shifts with the rhythms his fingers play. He always knows and gives Marilyn what she needs — musical, vocal and emotional support. Billy was also a musical prodigy. At the age of 12, he was playing at the local First Presbyterian Church in his hometown of Sugarland TX. The many subsequent requests for his services convinced him to learn all the popular standards and his older sister opened his ears to the beauty of Elton John and Billy Joel as well.
Their current show consists of 29 exquisite songs about love, exquisitely chosen, sung, played and performed, starting with This Can’t Be Love and It’s Love, before moving on to I Got the World on a String and then a personal minor key moody favorite of mine The More I See You.
The more Marilyn sings, the more buttery her voice becomes. The more Billy plays, the more sensuously his fingers float over the piano keys. The mood continues through I’m in Love Again, More Than You Know and I’m in the Mood for Love, where the vibe gets sexier. Then, Falling in Love with Love, Let’s Fall in Love, I Love You, Why did I Choose You, Hey There, I’m Through with Love, What do you Get when you Fall in Love, Nobody Belongs to Me, What is This Thing Call Love, Hello Young Lovers, When the World Was Young, The Story of Love before melding If I were a Wealthy Man with My Funny Valentine and closing with What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life, and I Could Write a Book and. . . an encore of I Love the Look of You. Enough with love already! The audience didn’t agree. They made Marilyn come back for a second encore where she sang the song they requested, That Old Black Magic.
After the show, Marilyn signed autographs and spoke to fans in the bar proving that not only is she a superb singer, she’s also a mench.
If you’d like to get lucky for Valentine’s Day, bring the love of your life to Birdland this week. Even if you strike out, seeing Marilyn & Billy’s show is the greatest stroke of luck. I think they deserve a Nobel Prize in Economics for always giving you double your money’s worth.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto