Fresh off her smash Carnegie Hall solo concert on March 24, Marilyn Maye, considered one of the finest jazz singers of all time, performed Friday, the first of a two-night engagement at Feinstein’s at Hotel Carmichael, the room she opened two years ago.
I had seen Maye perform several times previously, including once at the Palladium with Michael Feinstein, and three times previously at the club that bears his name and which she opened two years ago. Considering that the singer, who recently celebrated her 95th birthday, sold out the venerable 2,800-seat Carnegie Hall, I was surprised if not dumbfounded that the 135-seat Carmel venue was only three-quarters filled. These days, the word “legend” is overused when entertainment figures are celebrated, but if anyone deserves that designation more, it is Maye who is the real deal, leaving me feeling grateful that I had the opportunity to see her yet one more time.
Accompanied by her long-time pianist and music director Tedd Firth, her trio also consisted of bass player Todd Hubbard and drummer Charlie Edwards, a Ball State University student. Once again, reflecting her instinct for what makes for a satisfying set list, Maye’s 90-minute program, during which she stood the entire time, consisted of some the Great American Songbook’s most beloved tunes, including several medleys of which she is famous for including in her shows.
Opening with “It’s a Most Unusual Day,” Maye followed with “Hey Old friend/I love Being Here with You.” The highlights of her show, which was peppered with recollections and bon mots about her storied career, shared in her playful, low-key manner, were many. They included “Look for the Silver Lining”; “Cabaret,” which she had the distinction of recording for the first time; “Here’s That Rainy Day/Stormy Weather,” sad songs which she said were Johnny Carson’s favorites; “Take Five” with riveting solos from the band; and “Come Rain or Come Shine.”
Right before her closing number Maye and the audience received a big surprise. That’s when Shane Hartke, owner of Addendum Gallery in Carmel and Maye’s close friend presented her with a proclamation from Mayor Jim Brainard making it “Marilyn Maye Day.” Obviously touched, Maye went on to sing, what turned out to be the very appropriate “It’s Today,” from the musical “Mame,” the title character she once played.
What makes Maye so distinctive is her striking ability to connect with her audience through the power of storytelling and create the intimacy that sets the cabaret art form apart from others. Obviously drawing from her extensive life experience, she eloquently interprets the lyrics of some of America’s finest composers with beauty and elegance. It was as opportunity to be in the presence of a one-of-a-kind artist with a youthful attitude, who is totally in the moment and to partake in an experience memorable for its rarity.