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Esteemed jazz singer Marilyn Maye performs at Carlsen Center


Sunday night, following an abbreviated set of instrumental music from the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, 90-year-old Marilyn Maye marched onto the stage with the authority of an incumbent president.

The packed house of nearly 1,200 fans was immediately brought to their feet as Maye quipped, “It’s good to be home.”

Maye decided to try her luck in New York City 12 years ago. After a short run at the now-defunct Metropolitan Room, an audacious review written by New Yorker Rex Reed announced that the 78 year-old was again back in town.

That review was the beginning of yet another long run for vocalist Maye. Since, she has been touring, presenting master classes for vocalists, doing sold-out performances in New York and around the world.

It was 1965 when the original Tonight Show host Steve Allen discovered Maye. She had been performing for seven years at the Colony Steak House, in the Ambassador Hotel at 36th and Broadway. Kansas City was enthralled with Maye and her trio, led by her then-husband & pianist Sammy Tucker.

Her first album, Meet Marvelous Marilyn Maye sported a full orchestra. It earned her a Grammy nomination, and Allen sang the young singer’s praises in the liner notes.

Maye was featured 76 times on the Tonight Show. She professed her love for Johnny Carson, Sunday night. The host once remarked following a Maye performance, “Take note young singers, that’s how it’s done.”

Maye performed a beautiful medley that included Carson’s favorite song, “Here’s That Rainy Day” and Ted Koehler’s poignant “Stormy Weather”.

She didn’t continue with Jay Leno, she said, “Because the band just wasn’t as good as the one led by Doc Severenson.”

Less than a year ago Maye was featured alongside the retiring Sir. Elton John on CBS Sunday Morning. She said from the stage Sunday night, “they filmed her all around New York and then followed her to Lake Okoboji, Iowa” where the singer has performed each summer, for the past 61 years. The CBS host told Maye she would get 6.5  minutes on the show and John would get the same. Then she said, “I ended up with 8.5 and he only got 4.5 minutes. You know, that’s how it goes.”

Sharp and full of life, Maye’s non-stop 90 minute show Sunday night was stacked with high kicks, high notes and down to earth songs. She opened with an obscure birthday tune to herself, charged into “On a Clear Day”, and followed that with a group of songs from “My Fair Lady”.

Several classics spoke of autumn, “a season she adores.”

When she finally stopped to address the audience, Maye told them, “I asked the driver to stop the car on the way into town.” She apparently wanted to gather up some pretty leaves to take back to New York.

She spoke of her command performance for actress Angela Lansbury’s 90th birthday, just three years ago. Maye said she told the actress, “I’m glad I’m not the oldest woman in the room.”

The singer traveled home with her longtime manager Helen Zarda and her pianist and musical director Ted Firth.

Firth led the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra from the piano, and Maye’s hand-picked rhythm section of Rod Fleeman-guitar, Gerald Spaits-bass, and drummer Todd Strait rocked the house non-stop, all at the singer’s steady command.

It’s difficult to portray in print, just how strong a performer Marilyn Maye is. She lives these songs. If the written lyric doesn’t fit her perfectly, she writes new lyrics. If her mood should change during a show—she’ll belt out a new line on the spot. If Maye doesn’t hear exactly what she wants from the band—she’ll scat the parts for them.

With perfect pitch, she has an incredible range, and one would think an unlimited amount of energy and charm. This is a performer that would rock any concert hall in the world—did I say she’s 90?

Marilyn Maye at the Carlsen Center Nov. 11, 2018

dbv98@mail.umkc.edu – www.marilynmaye.com

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