Last week I had the honor of not only handing Marilyn Maye her trophy at the 27th Annual MAC Awards, but then a couple days later singing in her masterclass. What an incredible performer, teacher and person!
I had first met Marilyn last September, when Michael Feinstein invited me to sing at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency at a performance of “Michael Feinstein and Marilyn Maye: Swingin’ the Night Away”. I was blown away by Marilyn then, and even more so now that I’ve gotten to see her further perform, as well as teach.
Marilyn’s MAC Award was “Celebrity Artist” for “The Happiest Sound in Town,” at Feinstein’s. After receiving her trophy she sang original lyrics about the event, which segued into “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”. My view was from the wings, but that didn’t diminish the effect of her engaging performance.
I had recently seen Marilyn perform in a Peggy Lee tribute at 92nd Street Y and her show “MAYE-den Voyage” at 54 Below. Be it a large hall or small, this 87-year-old firecracker commands the stage and brilliantly captures the attention of each audience member. I learn so much from watching her perform!
Last Sunday morning, though, it was my turn to perform for her. The venue was “Don’t Tell Mama’s” for this Marilyn Maye Masterclass Marathon- 10 am to 3 pm. Five hours non-stop genius at work.
I was in the middle of the running order, so got a feel for her teaching style before I was called up. Then it was my turn and I headed to the piano to talk tempo with the amazing Barry Levitt (another MAC Award winner whom I had the privilege of presenting with a trophy,) before taking center stage.
Marilyn spoke briefly with me as I introduced myself and my piece (“Ev’rybody Says Don’t” from Anyone Can Whistle,) then the intro started. It was a little faster than I was used to singing, but I dug in and started spitting out the words to this fast patter song. No sooner had I gotten a few bars into it, then Marilyn called a halt. “Too fast,” she said. No nonsense. No messing around. No singing through the piece first. Just getting down to business immediately. She quickly instructed me not to sing with the wrong tempo, but to just stop and tell the pianist. “You’re not married to the tempo that somebody sets. It can be a mistake on their part or your part. It isn’t a mistake at all. We just want it slower.” And with that correction, we began again with a more conservative tempo, enabling me to sing my best. The relaxed tempo really allowed me the time to get out the plethora of words and take my time to interpret what I was singing. Marilyn’s response was “Just darling!” My smile got even bigger.
On to the second song, “Here’s that Rainy Day”. I fell in love with this song last summer, hearing my good friend, Nick Ziobro, sing it in his winning performance at the Feinstein competition. This seemed like a good opportunity for me to sing the beautiful ballad. When I announced this second song, Marilyn’s immediate response was “I don’t believe you have lived through enough to sing this, you’re too young. But I want to hear you to sing it, so sing it!” So, I sang it. What followed was a lesson in mic technique, interpretation, engaging the audience and ornamentation. Marilyn Maye is brilliant. She doesn’t just talk to the students, but gets up and shows them example after example. I learned so much that can be applied to everything I sing.
After singing, I received a hug from the wonderful, brilliant, generous icon that is Marilyn Maye.
I continued to learn as the afternoon went on. Marilyn never slowed down. Each and every student got 150%. I certainly hope for many more times to be in the presence of Marilyn Maye, be it her performance or mine. What a blessing to have an opportunity to be a part of this Master’s class!