by Susan Hasho
Marilyn Maye appeared at the Iridium Friday and Saturday nights, December 7 and 8th. Question is, how do you capture and write about Marilyn Maye? You can study her. You can divide the evening into chunks: The Rainbow section: “Look to the Rainbow,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “ Make Me a Rainbow” and “The Rainbow Connection;” the Ray Charles section and a section that seems to be character study of facets of a woman’s life. And then toward the end, a selection of songs, “Take Five,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “It’s Today,” “Here’s to Life” and finally the James Taylor song “The Secret Of Life.” All of these songs are signature songs for her and perfect examples of Marilyn Maye’s, well . . .perfection.
I certainly don’t think you can sum up Ms. Maye in a facile sentence, because she is the total of a vast world of experience, personal and professional and all these experiences show up in every style and every song she sings. Most often called a force of nature, this doesn’t quite describe what it’s like to be with her for an evening. More than anything, it feels like she’s with you and whatever else is happening— the superb musicians, the lights, the audience’s excited response, her incredible singing—all of her is totally focused on the music and in the moment, and on you. She’s powerful and intimate at the same time. And, she’s fun.
It was a generous and full evening and the range was gratifying. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was familiar but Maye’s phrasing goes to the sense of it, so she makes it her own. “The Rainbow Connection” was a great moment for its sheer joy. And Ray Charles’ “You Don’t Know Me” was notable for the lack of self-indulgence and the presence of clear-eyed fact.
“Guess Who I Saw Today” (Murray Grand/Elisse Boyd) is a signature song of Maye’s and opened the portraits of a woman’s life section simply, and honestly. ”Fifty Percent” (from the musical Ballroom) and “Country Boy” (Blossom Dearie) were plays in and of themselves and all had to be followed by a full-out “Your Cheatin’ Heart” –inevitable in Ms. Maye’s hands. And boy, does she rock!
One of her closing songs “Here’s to Life” (Artie Butler) becomes a revealing gift of courage and encouragement from the life and heart of a trusted, wise friend. It doesn’t get any better than that—doesn’t get any better than Marilyn Maye. She just has to be seen.
The band, needless to say, was amazing. Tedd Firth is her musical director and arranger and is also an incredible jazz pianist. The arrangements he has crafted fit her perfectly and add even more dimension to an already musically complex show. Steve Doyle on bass, Daniel Glass on drums and Jack Cavari on guitar round out a stellar band.
Iridium Jazz Club 1650 Broadway, New York, NY 10019 (212) 582-2121