Marilyn Maye
Feinstein’s at the Carmichael Hotel, Carmel, IN
Saturday, January 28th

By: Katie McGrath

A 20-something audience member at Marilyn Maye’s beautiful show at Feinstein’s at the Carmichael Hotel said to her companion as they left the club, “She deserves the National Medal of Freedom. I’ve never seen anyone like her.”

Indeed, Maye is amply qualified for the award given by the President of the United States to those who make “an especially meritorious contribution to national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

Her contributions in these areas are indisputable. Her concert at Feinstein’s Hotel Carmichael on Friday, January 28th in Carmel, Indiana could be Exhibit A for the nomination committee, viz to wit, her contribution to:

Our national interests: Her show opener, “It’s a Most Unusual Day” (Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson) took on a new meaning in this time of disunity and disease. Marilyn Maye unites us with music that celebrates uniquely American composers from Fats Waller to James Taylor with songs about the ups and downs of love and, if we’re lucky, wisdom that is closely followed by gratitude for the lessons learned.

She appeals to a remarkably diverse audience representing the fabric of America, crossing boundaries of age, race, gender, jazz purists and cabaret fans, dwellers of big cities to smaller ones. She loves and welcomes them all. Smiling after a nod to a failed romance, she said to her Carmel audience, “Here, tonight with you – this is my happiness place. It’s been this way for almost all of my life.”

World peace: President Lyndon B. Johnson said, “Peace is a journey of a thousand miles and it must be taken one step at a time.” Maye’s recent travels took her several thousand miles, from New York to Boca Raton to Carmel, IN, with stops along the way, and more to come, packing the clubs and serving up peace with her jubilant light, one song at a time.

She engaged warmly with her audience about Carmel, Indiana and the beautiful Feinstein’s at the Carmichael, concluding the conversation with, “OK, now we’re friends, aren’t we?” as she eased into her version of Stephen Sondheim’s Hey, Old Friend. She slowed down the pace and invited everyone to join her in a toast at the lyrics, “Here’s to us, old friend,” and they all did, relishing the chance to raise a glass and get cozy with Maye and each other, dissolving the line between performer and audience as Maye started swinging a jazzy “I Love Being Here with You” (Peggy Lee and Bill Schluger). At the lyric, “I love to hear you call my name,” her audience, unprompted, shouted a vigorous “Marilyn!”

Significant cultural endeavors: she has won scores of trophies and awards attesting to her lifetime work of shaping our culture and keeping the Great American Songbook utterly relevant and current. The Smithsonian Institution chose her recording of Too Late Now for inclusion in its Best Performers of the Best Compositions of the 20th Century permanent collection. The late Johnny Carson called Marilyn Maye a “Super Singer” and proved his opinion by having her on The Tonight Show 76 times, more than any other singer. Ella Fitzgerald dubbed her “The greatest white female singer in the world.” The Houston Chronicle termed her “A National Treasure.”

But her endeavors from the inside out are just as important. On this night in Carmel, she sang as though the songs were brimming up inside of her and simply had to be expressed. She moved lithely and seemingly unconsciously with the music, ably supported by pianist Russ Kassoff, drummer Daniel Glass and bassist Mike Tucker. She closed with a cheerfully humanistic The Secret O’ Life (James Taylor) and then took flight with a breathtaking treatment of one of her signature songs, Here’s to Life (Artie Buffer and Phyllis Molinari).

Right smack in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of the nation’s heartland, Marilyn Maye used her profound gifts of voice, personality and youthful vibrance to bring a shimmering sense of peace in a 6/8 beat to her audience. She concluded her stunning 90-plus minute set with a promise to return and an invitation to join her for her upcoming 94th birthday celebration at Feinstein’s 54 Below in New York City.

Photo Credit: Chet Whye, Jr.