I witnessed one of the greatest nightclub performances I’ve ever seen when
singer Marilyn Maye took the stage at Catalina Jazz Club in Los Angeles. I’ve
always loved her voice, but here I witnessed her mastery of an audience, her
savvy and showmanship. Many of the people in the audience were show-business
veterans as well who cheered her on during an astounding 90-minute performance.
(She doesn’t play “the age card,” but there’s no getting around the fact that
she’s 85, in remarkable voice and great shape: you try standing on a stage for
an hour and a half!). Yet there was barely a blip on the media landscape
heralding her presence in L.A. The Los
Angeles Times doesn’t cover jazz any more on a regular basis, and what used
to be called popular music—the mainstream part of the musical spectrum in the
1950s and ‘60s—has pretty much vanished except for radio stations that still
play “the music of your life.”
In a similar vein, I’ve searched for coverage of David Pollock’s splendid new biography Bob and Ray: Keener than Most Persons (Applause Books), which I wrote about HERE a few weeks ago. Despite an introduction by one of their most fervent admirers, David Letterman (their first collection of scripts had an intro by no less than Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.), this book has also been marginalized by the gatekeepers of contemporary culture.
“Who remembers Bob and Ray?” I daresay quite a lot of people who followed their amazing forty-year career.
I know, I know: there I go sounding like an old fogey. Well, I’m not that old. I just haven’t developed amnesia about great singers, comedians, and musicians I came to love when I was growing up.
The late, great Larry Gelbart once said, “When vaudeville died, television was the box they buried it in.” I feel lucky to have grown up during that first generation of TV when variety and talk shows exposed me to a cavalcade of 20th century show business. I didn’t always understand the appeal of some veteran performers, as when Ed Sullivan would trot out Sophie Tucker or Ted Lewis. But Sullivan, Steve Allen, Johnny Carson, and Mike Douglas (to name a few longtime TV hosts) introduced me to all sorts of talented performers, young and old, and for that I’ll always be grateful.
It so happens that Carson was a huge fan of both Bob and Ray and Marilyn Maye. Through his show, and others, they reached an enormous national audience that wasn’t yet splintered into fragments by a cluttered cable TV menu. Some of those viewers are senior citizens now but they’re still watching TV, reading magazines and newspapers, and purchasing books and CDs, if not downloads. They constitute a hugely underserved audience.
I, too, still enjoy the great entertainers who continue to work the remaining cabaret and concert circuit. And I love reading books about the show business I came to know as a kid. I wish it were easier to bring younger people into this circle, but it’s an uphill climb. I could shrug and say, “It’s their loss,” but I also feel a responsibility to spread the word as best I can. My daughter saw Marilyn Maye for the first time last year in New York City when she sat in one night with Vince Giordano and his Nighthawks—and damn near stopped the show. That’s one more fan under the age of 30…and counting.
You can read more about Marilyn, see her upcoming performance schedule, and purchase CDs HERE. She’s also conducting a Master Class in L.A. at the North Hollywood Arts Center, from 12 to 5 pm, this coming Saturday. Call 816-591-1114 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for additional details. You can find all things related to Bob and Ray HERE. And please, tell your friends.