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Marilyn Maye: The Queen Of Cabaret

Marilyn Maye on stage at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola.
Jazz At Lincoln Center
Marilyn Maye on stage at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola.

Marilyn Maye could easily be nominated as the voice of experience: At 88, she's one of our greatest living songbook singers, as well as a jazz-cabaret star of singular achievement. A vocal stylist both sensitive and swinging, with a deep understanding of her chosen tradition, she's had a storied career, and doesn't seem the slightest bit inclined to slow it down.

Maye has had hit singles — like "Cabaret" in 1966, and "Step To The Rear" the following year — as well as notable success on the musical-theater stage. She holds the record for the most appearances by a singer on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,where she logged a total of 76. She's performed her share of symphonic concerts, notably with the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall.

But her natural habitat is still the nightclub, where she can stretch out and banter with a crowd hanging onto her every word. She has long been one of the most beloved figures on New York's lively cabaret circuit, performing at places like the Metropolitan Room and Feinstein's/54 Below.

This episode of Jazz Night In Americabrings you into one such room — Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, one evening last fall — as Maye plays a set full of insight, warmth and puckish whimsy. (Hear the tangent she shoehorns into a take of "I've Got You Under My Skin.") You'll also hear Maye reflect on her long career, starting with the amateur contests that landed her a radio show in Topeka, Kansas, at age 9. She also fields insightful questions from her trusted piano accompanist, Tedd Firth.

"I always say I work to the audience, not for them," says Maye, who puts that philosophy to the test night after night. Hear her on Jazz Night,and you'll know precisely what she means.

Copyright 2021 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.