Marilyn Maye – The Secret of Life
Feinstein’s at the Nikko, March 8, 2019, San Francisco, CA
Touring her current and very aptly titled show The Secret of Life finds the indefatigable Marilyn Maye is fine form and as fresh and current as a spring breeze. Maye, who turns 91 this April must have discovered her own secret to life and from the tenor of her song collection, one of the main components must be love.
Using smart arrangements by musical director/pianist Ted Firth and solid jazz virtuosity by locals John Wiitala on bass and David Rokeach on drums, Maye deftly works her magic on tunes like “What the World Needs Now is Love” (B. Bacharach / H. David), 1940’s “Let There Be Love” (L. Rand / I. Grant) and an extended medley that included Rodgers and Hart’s “My Funny Valentine” and “My Romance” alongside “I Would Still Choose You” (W. Mitchell / A. Green).
The gorgeous ballads are delivered with what I call her ‘bold nuance’, a confident authority over her craft with the sophisticated subtleties and intelligent shading of her modulation. Remarking on how Johnny Mercer always put the right lyric on the right note after singing “Come Rain or Come Shine”, Maye threw in a passing reference to her much sought-after Master classes. Every time I see this woman is a Master Class. At 90, she’s at the top of her game, able to grab an audience by their lapels and demand your interest in the gentlest of ways.
A My Fair Lady medley included the jazziest “On The Street Where You Live” you’ve ever heard. In a nod to her 76 appearances on The Johnny Carson Show, Maye sang Johnny’s favorite request of her, Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke ‘s “My Rainy Day Is Here”. Maye works wonders with Murray Grand’s wry take on adultery, “Guess Who I Saw Today”, then segueing into Billy Goldenberg and Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s poignant “Fifty Percent”, about a widow rediscovering romance.
Maye is a true thoroughbred, gaining speed and energy as the set progresses. By the time to hit the medley of the optimistic “Secret of Life” and the finest ode to longevity and wisdom in “Here’s to Life” (A. Butler), you kinda got the feeling you’re seeing true greatness. To hammer home Maye’s relevance and connection to the present moment she encored with Jerry Herman’s “It’s Today”. When she sings: “I know that this very minute has history in it, we’re here! It’s a time for making merry, and so I’m for making hay. Tune the grand up, dance your shoes off, Strike the band up, It’s today!”, you know she means every word.