Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, NYC, September 18, 2016
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes
Marilyn Maye is proving that 88 is the new 48 and she’s got just the room to show her stuff in the dazzling Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Johnny Carson, who booked Maye for 76 appearances on The Tonight Show, knew a good thing when he saw it.
With a boost of jazz in her songs, this was one of Maye’s best shows. Like the legendary Mr. Gillespie, Maye is musically sophisticated, a ruler over her performances accompanied by master instrumentalists: Musical Director/pianist Tedd Firth; bassist Tom Hubbard; drummer Eric Halvorson; and guitarist Rod Fleeman. Like the room’s namesake, Maye swings hard, she’s is on the mark harmonically, witty and surprising.
Her varied song choices included an intimate duet of “I Remember You” (Victor Schertzinger and Johnny Mercer) with guitarist Fleeman, as the rest of the room seemed to fade away. She took “Luck Be a Lady” (Frank Loesser) as a jazz waltz, intensifying the rhythm and keeping the energy flying. Sparks flew with Duke Ellington and Bob Russell’s “Do Nothing Til You Hear from Me,” and Dizzy would have cheered Maye’s hard swing into “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.”
Maye’s songs are from the Great American Songbook and she is always intent on the lyrics. A highlight was an intro of “Paradise Cafe” (Barry Manilow/Bruce Sussman/Jack Feldman) setting a Scotch-and-saloon mood for “Guess Who I Saw Today” (Murray Grand and Elisse Boyd). She followed with “Something Cool” (Billy Barnes) and “Lush Life” (Billy Strayhorn), forming a touching character study of a betrayed woman.
Yet, as she delves into the lyrics, Maye is also a jazz singer and full of complex new melodic thoughts, turning her phrasing to complex directions. Even familiar renditions of standards like “On the Street Where You Live” (Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe) showed jazz touches with scat and rhythm twists. Hubbard started off Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick Out of You” on a subtle bass before Firth moved in on piano and she had the song in flight. By the time she got to George and Ira Gershwin’s “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” the packed audience was in the palm of her hand.
Maye is a pro who has been at this game almost her entire life and has played rooms from majestic Carnegie Hall to local “joints” around the country. With a nod to Ray Charles, she delivered “Come Rain or Come Shine” (Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer) with a quiet thoughtfulness, then picked up the beat, adjusted the rhythm and thundered it to a finish with the talented Firth playing a crazy piano. “Just for a Thrill” (Lil Hardin and Louis Armstrong) was a thrill, suggesting the mood of Ray Charles, and Maye adding a generous scat as the band swelled behind her.
After “Satin Doll” (Arlen/Mercer), as spicy as the club’s gumbo, some sly Fats Waller including a lusty “Honeysuckle Rose”(lyric by Andy Razaf). The show closed with Paul Desmond and Iola Brubeck’s “Take Five,” a mouthful for any singer. No problem for Maye, who bit in with precision, and Halvorson stood out with some busy drum work and all the bells and whistles.
Like Dizzy Gillespie, Marilyn Maye is a hard worker. Her last statement was “Here’s to Life” (Artie Butler/Phyllis Molinary) sharing, “For I have learned that all you give is all you get/So give it all you’ve got.” Then she got ready for the next show.