"Call Me Adam" chats with one of our country's national treasures, "Super Singer" (as hailed by former Tonight Show host Johnny Carson) Marilyn Maye about her upcoming show at 54 Below entitled Her Way, A Salute to Frank Sinatra from April 17-30 including a very special afternoon performance on Saturday, April 18 at 2pm, "A Saturday Brunch for the Swinging Bunch." Click here for tickets!
1. From April 17-30 you are returning to 54 Below with an all new show entitled Her Way, A Salute to Frank Sinatra. What are you looking forward to most about performing this show? It's the Great American Songbook and every song he did was a classic. I believe in that too. All his songs are story songs, vignettes, they're all wonderful stories within themselves and that's the kind of delivery I like to do. Some of the songs are going to be songs they've heard me do before, like the Cole Porter/Johnny Mercer songs, but there are quite a few they haven't heard. Many of his signature songs I wouldn't do until now, now that he's only with us in spirit.
I did this show the year Frank Sinatra passed away in several theatres around the US and it was a two-hour presentation. Now, because there are so many great songs in the show, the challenge is to cut the show down to an hour to do it at the clubs.
2. Out of all the legendary singers out there, what made you want to do a tribute to Frank Sinatra? The main reason, this is the centennial of his birth. As you may know, Adam, the great radio entrepreneur, Dick Robinson, presented me the first "Legend" Award from the Society For The Preservation of The Great American Songbook. I’m singing the great material Sinatra sang and recorded - - - the standards that will always live on if we, singers, continue to sing them for the genuine music lovers. Many of his songs are right for me to sing now because they talk about the autumn of his years and I'm in the autumn of my years, so they are appropriate for me to do. Also, I'm not a Sinatra sound-a-like and I don't think there can be anybody that sounds like Sinatra, so I think it's appropriate to do it from my point of view, you see, the show is called "Her Way" (laughs).
3. How did his career influence you? There were a great many coincidences between the two of us. He entered many amateur contests when he was little and won them and so did I. He worked with bands. I worked with local big bands when I was in my teens. There are a lot of similarities between our careers because I too am of that era, he's older than I, but it was my era when I started working and he was prevalent in that time when I was singing in my teens on radio shows. I'm sure I'll be singing many of those songs at 54 Below that I sang in my teens, like the Johnny Mercer and Cole Porter as I mentioned earlier, but I'll also be singing Gershwin as well.
4. What do you hope audiences come away with after coming to see this show? I always hope they are entertained. I work TO them and not FOR them. I hope they have a wonderful, happy evening. The joy this time is that on three of the eight nights the show is running we are celebrating some very special birthdays.
The first birthday we are celebrating is Josh Prince (Broadway choreographer and 2015 Olivier Award Nominee) on April 20th. Josh is celebrating his 40th birthday with 40 of his friends who have worked on such Broadway shows as Beautiful, Wicked, Chicago, Annie, Shrek, The Producers, On The Town, Movin' Out, and The Full Monty to name a few. Josh's fiancé, Michael Novak, a principle dancer with The Paul Taylor Dance Company will be at his side to toast the milestone, along with other members of the company who are also close friends. Josh's long-time representative, Mark Sendroff, will be raising a glass as will his agent at WME, Michael Finkle. Entertainment lawyer and Broadway producer, Doug Nevin, restaurateur Robert Guarino, and Broadway director, Marc Bruni, will also be in attendance. In Josh's letter to me he said, he has been a big fan of mine for years and can't wait to ring in the next decade with me and 40 of his nearest and dearest.
The next birthday we are celebrating is Dino Cataldi who is bringing 51 people from Philadelphia for my April 23rd show. Dino is a cancer survivor and he is now not only celebrating his 59th Birthday, but also celebrating the fact he’s discovered he’s cancer free. He purchased 51 tickets because he wanted to bring all the people who stood by him during his medical trial and tribulations. He told me that, mostly, he’s looking forward to seeing the expressions on the faces of those he loves, who have never witnessed the Marvelous Marilyn Maye!
Rebecca Seawright, the first female Assembly Woman representing the Upper East Side, is celebrating her birthday on April 24th (I performed at her recent inauguration). She is bringing 14 people to 54 Below.
Finally, we are, of course, celebrating my birthday, which I celebrate the whole month of April! So, every night with me will be a party!
5. What do you enjoy most about performing at 54 Below? It's a great room. The sight lines are wonderful. The sound is excellent. It's really a genuine nightclub and very comfortable for me - - - I grew up singing in nightclubs.
6. You started singing when you were just 7 years old. What singers inspired you growing up? Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, Mel Tormé, Jack Jones, and Jo Stafford.
7. When you think back over your career, what are a few of the highlights you are most proud of? What was the toughest time for you? Oh wow, that's a very tough question. I've lived so long and worked so long, I've worked all my life. It's so hard to say, but the difficult times were more in my personal life, with my husbands, my three alcoholic husbands, yet they were a joy, too. One of them was a great dancer and we owned a dance studio together for nine years. I worked very hard in that studio. I taught in the vocal department and he taught the dancing. He was a terrific dancer, but an alcoholic. My third husband was a genius pianist and we worked so beautifully on stage, but off stage it was very, very tough. It was very hard because he was such an alcoholic. He was kind of Jekyll & Hyde. He was a wonderful guy when he was sober, but not so nice when he was drinking. Those were my hard times.
These years are my happiest, especially my last nine years in New York. All the people in New York are really the entertainment lovers and they "get it." This year I worked November at Iridium, January at The Metropolitan Room, February at Birdland. Last week I performed in Palm Springs at a private party honoring my friend, Bob Mackie. It’s been a busy, wonderful time in my life...all kinds of different shows and the audiences have been so responsive. It's really been a joy. And now we have eight days at 54 Below.
I've been getting a lot of Lifetime Achievement Awards - last March, the most recent came from the Manhattan Association of Cabaret and Clubs. In May, the Gem Theater, located in the Jazz District of Kansas City, will be presenting me another Lifetime Achievement Award. I, usually, always tell them, "Wait a minute, I'm not finished yet. There's still a lot more to do."
8. This actually leads into my next question. What haven't you done yet that you would like to? I would love to do my symphony concert at Carnegie Hall. That would be a really big moment. Beyond that, my fantasy world would be working with "The Muppets." I'd love to have performed a show with them.
I'm very fortunate to be teaching now, doing my Master Classes, and designing shows for other very talented people. That has been a great addition and very rewarding to my life.
9. What made you want to start teaching Master Classes? Many people suggested it, but one friend was most insistent and the more I thought about it, the more I saw that this was a good time in my life to share what I've learned through 80 years of working.
10. What have you learned from your students that you teach in your Master Classes? ?I've learned singing is the greatest therapy when you have a deep passion for it. Those who have a deep passion and really really work at it are the ones who succeed. It's always very rewarding to me when I see that I’ve made a difference.
11. What's the best advice you've ever received? I worked a great deal in Vegas with the great comedian Shecky Greene. He said to me many years ago, "Marilyn, you try to make your work too perfect. You're too slick. Make a mistake now and then. Show people you're human." And now making a mistake is no problem at all (laughs).
12. What would surprise people about Marilyn Maye? Oh, most people know everything about me. I'm not a closed book or very mysterious. I do have a lot of theories. One is "Flexibility is the key to fun and life." My other motto is "Ever Onward" in all areas. I’m an Aires, I always just forge ahead. My philosophy is "keep moving."
13. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? I would like to have the super power to have only beautiful music always and for people to concentrate on that instead of what's happening in the world.
14. If you could create your own signature drink, what would you call it and what ingredients would you put in it? I’d call it the "Maye-Time Martini." That’s an apple martini with just with a little more Triple Sec in it.
15. When you were growing up and started performing, did you always feel you'd achieve the success you have? What is it like to look back to being a little girl in Topeka, Kansas, to now being helmed as one our country's most legendary performers? Well, I'm not sure I'm being honored that way. I would be thrilled if that were really true. From your mouth, to God's ear. But it's thrilling in New York that I can walk down the street and be recognized. The show biz friends I've made have been so supportive and fill my life with happy times and purpose.
I've really just worked all my life and not focused on stardom. I focused on work and the quality of work. The main thing is to entertain. The audience is the most important. I always tell my students, "The audience is the star. You're not the star. The audience is the star. You work to them and hope they walk out having had a good time."
16. How do you want to be remembered? Lovingly (laughs).
Marilyn Maye is a cultural and musical treasure. Her entire life has been committed to the art of song and performance. After working as a professional singing performer since she was 15 years old, she was "discovered" by Steve Allen during her eleven-year engagement at the Colony in Kansas City. He presented her many times on his national television show. From those appearances came an RCA recording contract. She has appeared 76 times on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, the record for a singer. Perhaps the simplest Marilyn Maye accolade came after one of her show-stopping appearances on the show, turning to his audience of millions, Johnny Carson said, "And that, young singers, is the way it’s done."
Her place in popular music history was assured when The Arts Council of The Smithsonian Institution included her RCA recording of, "Too Late Now" to include in their significant album of the 110 Best American Compositions of the Twentieth Century.
Ms. Maye has seven albums recorded on the RCA label and 34 singles include the first hit recordings of "Cabaret" and "Step to the Rear." She recorded "Step to The Rear" as the national commercial theme for Lincoln Mercury. Her album of great ballads, The Lamp Is Low, arranged and conducted by Peter Matz, is considered a classic. Her Take Five is noted as 'timeless' by jazz reviewers.
Following her October 2nd, 2014, most successful Kansas City Symphony concert she performed a five day engagement at the famed Crazy Coqs in London. She was received with rave reviews and full houses.
Her recent, September, 2014, five-day-run at New York’s most prestigious jazz room, Birdland, lead to another week’s engagement at Birdland from February, 10th through 14th, 2015.
To celebrate the beginning of 2015, Ms. Maye and her trio appeared at New York’s Metropolitan Room on New Year’s Eve (her fourth consecutive New Year’s eve there) and continued through January 10th.
In March, 2013, she completed a two-week run with added Held-Over performances at the prestigious New York nightclub – 54 BELOW. Quote Stephen Holden, New York Times "She has more voice and stamina than most singers half her age. Her voice is full and rich and perfectly in tune, and she displays a voluptuous enjoyment of singing. She is a symbol of resilience." May, 2014, she presented her "Tribute to Johnny Carson" show to sold-out crowds each night. In June her held-over nights were performed to standing-room-only audiences.
Her many symphony concert appearances around the United States include; Philly Pops, Peter Nero conducting, Phoenix Symphony, Doc Severinsen conducting, Florida Philharmonic, Omaha Symphony, Kansas City Symphony, Tulsa Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, Des Moines Symphony and other orchestras. The Carnegie Hall appearance with the New York Pops honoring Stephen Sondheim was reviewed as follows: "And speaking of star power, it was the lady billed as Special Guest of the evening who brought along the biggest keg of drama dynamite, the performer who got the biggest hand; she was sent out to take a rare second bow. She had the audience at her feet and then on its feet with their standing ovation." In 2013 Ms. Maye made her 2nd appearance at Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops Orchestra and received that same standing-ovation reaction when she sang the tribute to the composer, Frank Loesser.
Ms. Maye’s 65 engagements, in the last nine years, at various venues in New York include multiple-night runs at the Metropolitan Room, the jazz venue, Birdland, five two-week runs at Feinstein’s Loews Regency Hotel, New York’s Town Hall, the 92nd Street Y Theater, 54 Below, New York Symphony Space, The Appel Room at Lincoln Performing Arts Center, last month at the Iridium and for the last ten years at Rose Hall on the Mabel Mercer Convention. Her engagements throughout the country include Hollywood’s jazz club - Catalinas, The Colony Hotel, Palm Beach, the Kingsborough College, Brooklyn, NY, the Regent Seven Seas World Cruise, San Francisco’s Razz Room, West Coast Jazz Party, Dakota’s in Minneapolis, The Sheldon Theater, St. Louis, Gem Theater and the jazz room, Jardine’s in Kansas City, the Art House, Provincetown, The McCallum Theater, Palm Springs and many others. For the past 58 years she’s appeared at the beautiful lake resort, The Inn at Lake Okoboji.
Maye’s starring roles in theater include Can Can, Follies, Mame and Hello, Dolly. Maye recorded the album, Marilyn Maye Sings All Of Hello, Dolly, with liner notes by composer, Jerry Herman, which was released as a CD.
In The Wall Street Journal last year, Will Friedwald wrote, "When going to hear Marilyn Maye, you’ll find on one side of the room are the Broadway and cabaret people, who tend to like their singing big and theatrical, with a lot of drama and stage presence. On the other side is the jazz crowd, who want everything hip and cool and understated. Ms. Maye is the only pop-song diva working today who can satisfy both crowds at once."
Stephen Holden, New York Times, wrote "As Marilyn Maye threaded her way from the stage through a packed house of cheering admirers at the end of Friday’s opening-night performance of Mercer, The Maye Way, I overheard comparisons to Judy Garland’s 1961 concert at Carnegie Hall. You can sense a similar electric connection between singer and audience."
Cabaret Scenes magazine recently noted, "She’s reached the pinnacle of icon status....Ms. Maye casts a unique spell on the young." And Opera News raved "No entertainer gives you more in terms of great music, great theater, and great comedy."
Ms. Maye conducts her master classes "The Art Of Performance" in New York, Los Angeles, Florida, St. Louis, San Francisco and Kansas City. She also, coaches privately, sharing the techniques and the experiences of her lifelong career. When she creates and directs acts for other singers she receives raves in their reviews.
Will Friedwald, Wall Street Journal, reviewed singer, Gabrielle Stravelli, "Her current show starts in a manner reminiscent of her director-mentor, the brilliant Marilyn Maye, with a fast, swinging jazz waltz medley, which proves that it's no sin to learn from the best."
Rex Reed, New York Observer, reviewed one of her performances, "Her show is not to be missed…….It’s a master class in singing conducted by a polished pro who majored in "unforgettable." She makes you think of forgotten words like "craft" and she handles a room like a political candidate."