Music News & Reviews

Jazz Town: American Jazz Museum fittingly salutes singer Marilyn Maye in May

Marilyn Maye will perform Saturday, May 23, at the Gem Theater.
Marilyn Maye will perform Saturday, May 23, at the Gem Theater.

For a musician with real integrity, nothing is as important as the next gig.

No matter how many great gigs you’ve played, how many tickets and recordings you’ve sold, how many honors you’ve received, you want to be sure that the sound, the spirit and the chops are just right for the next gig. And the one after that, and the one after that…

For singer Marilyn Maye, the next gig is very important indeed. She’ll be accepting the American Jazz Museum’s Lifetime Achievement Award on Saturday and performing a “Maye in May” retrospective of songs associated with her and songs that will surprise you.

It has been a lifetime of staying true to her own art and her own craft for Maye, who’s 87 and in the kind of performing condition that singers a fraction of that age can envy. She has kept the music flowing from times of wide recognition to lean times and back again.

Seventy-plus years ago, the girl with the voice that wouldn’t quit was singing “God Bless America” and other pop songs on Kansas radio stations. As a teen, she was on the radio in Iowa and Kentucky.

Later there were gigs at, as she likes to say, every Elks lodge in Illinois.

In the mid-’50s, Maye was booked for a short engagement in Kansas City that ultimately was extended for more than a decade. She became a powerful draw, a big fish in the region’s deepest musical pond. Television host Steve Allen became a fan, and that led to a real breakout success in the ’60s through recordings and regular appearances (she cites the number 76) on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight” show.

Fashions change, and the spotlight moved away from the kind of music Maye represents so well. But she’s an artist who simply has to perform, with a knack for singing the most durable American songs. Even in lean times, she kept doing her shows her way, wherever she could.

Eventually, the world caught up to her again. One of the best times in her career is right now.

For the past decade or so, Maye’s jazz-tinged cabaret artistry has been selling out some of the best rooms in the country, and she can also sell out master classes that draw all kinds of young singers who want and need to benefit from her artistry.

Right now, she’s just getting back from some gigs at Michael Feinstein’s club in San Francisco, and she’s heading out on the road again next month. She’s on something of a career peak, a peak that’s remarkable for a singer of any age.

Especially for a woman with a voice that won’t quit and a world of experience that turns the music into something much deeper than a mere showbiz performance.

She won’t accept anything less than making music that’s informed by a lifetime of artistic integrity. Kansas City’s one-of-a-kind Marilyn Maye is truly worth celebrating with occasions like this show.


▪ The Blue Room, 1600 E. 18th St., has a Monday jam led by bassist Seth Lee at 7 p.m. Saxophonist Brett Jackson’s Society Red band celebrates the music of Dexter Gordon at 7 p.m. Thursday. Tenor saxophonist Doug Talley’s quartet appears at 8:30 p.m. Friday, and the Jazz Disciples plus singer Lisa Henry and poet Glenn North perform at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

▪ Take Five Coffee + Bar, at 6601 W. 135th St., Suite A-21, in Overland Park (behind the Von Maur store), has tenor saxophonist Rich Wheeler’s quartet at 8 p.m. Friday and organist Chris Hazelton’s Boogaloo 7 at 8 p.m. Saturday.

▪ The Green Lady Lounge, 1809 Grand Blvd., has the Foundation 627 Big Band at 8:30 p.m. Sunday; drummer Philip Wakefield’s trio at 9:30 p.m. Monday; percussionist John Kizilarmut’s trio at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday; guitarist Adam Schlozman’s Earth Trio at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, followed by organist Ken Lovern’s OJT at 9 p.m.; drummer Kevin Frazee’s trio at 9 p.m. Thursday; pianist Tim Whitmer’s quartet at 5:30 p.m. Friday, followed by the Boogaloo 7 at 10 p.m.; and guitarist Myles Gorham’s trio at 6 p.m. Saturday, followed by OJT at 9:30 p.m.

▪ The Broadway Jazz Club, 3601 Broadway, has vibraphonist Peter Schlamb at 7 p.m. Wednesday; pianist Roger Wilder at 7 p.m. Thursday; singer Molly Hammer at 7 p.m. Friday, followed by trumpeter Stan Kessler at 10:30 p.m.; and singer Paula Saunders at 7 p.m. Saturday, followed by pianist Doriel Demps with bassist Ben Leifer at 10:30 p.m.

▪ The Jazz Underground series at the Westport CoffeeHouse Theatre, 4010 Pennsylvania Ave., has tenor saxophonist Matt Otto’s group at 8 p.m. Thursday.

To reach Joe Klopus, call 816-234-4751 or send email to


Marilyn Maye’s “Maye in May” concert takes place at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Gem Theater, 1615 E. 18th St. Tickets are $45; see or call 816-474-6262.