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The last few weeks have been quite a ride for those of us in the northeast US. We have had record snowfall, icy roads and frazzled nerves. Most of us have spent quite a bit of time stuck inside our homes waiting for a respite from this winter barrage. On Valentines Day, I decided to take the drive to Baltimore to see Maysa perform at The Eubie Blake Jazz Center.

The center is primarily a museum and cultural center, but they have a room upstairs which has been converted into the most intimate jazz club. I could not have imagined a better scenario to see my first full on show by the incomparable Maysa. I have seen her at different shows as a guest vocalist and last summer I saw her Underground Divas show with Caron Wheeler and N’Dea Davenport, but this was my first true Maysa show. I am a believer. She delivered a show full of vocal dexterity, humor and a lot of happy feeling.

She came out looking fine in her long black dress with straight ravenous hair to the grooving “Sympatico” from the METAMORPHOSIS CD. The voice – a smoky contralto, instantly had the crowd under her spell. “Like mind, body and soul,” she sang, with her background singer Angela Phillips, who ably supported her throughout the show. They kept that groove going with “Hypnotic Love” from SMOOTH SAILING. One of Maysa’s most beautiful songs “Out of The Blue,” from the CD of the same title was up next. It has a hip rhythm, but the lyrics are the key because it is about her son who was born very pre-maturely. She sings this with pure passion. She started out with a percussive scat while Angela sang the chorus…”Out of the blue into my heart, wasn’t expecting you so soon.” At the end of the song, as Maysa scatted, Angela chanted “So glad your with me. Baby, I love you.” What a beautiful love song from mother to son.

As she was starting the next song, a gentleman got up from his table. Maysa asked where he was going. She wanted to know because he was the subject of “Take Me Away,” reminiscing about when they ”drove to Rehoboth Beach.” It was potentially embarrassing, but he took it in stride as he returned from the bar with his drink. “Don’t let it go to your head, no,” she warned.

Next Maysa moved into her “standards” segment, songs which she said she hasn’t sung since she was 18. You wouldn’t know it the way she embraced “When I Fall In Love” from her current A WOMAN IN LOVE CD. It was a very tender and emotional reading supported by graceful piano by musical director Will Brock and with a gorgeous sax solo by Carl Cox. Then came “Round Midnight.” On the new CD the arrangement is a little funkier than usual, but this live version was straight up jazz with some organ slipped in by Mr. Brock and muted trumpet by Jimmy Wilson.

Sticking with the new CD, Maysa did the lovely “Honeybee” one of the strongest smooth jazz tracks. This afforded her a chance to really get into some unleashed scatting at the end. This also gave us an appreciation of what a rhythm section should sound like courtesy of Charles Baldwin on bass, Richard Tucker on guitar and Timothy Hutson keeping it solid on drums.

Calling out for ”old school” in the house (yes we were in full effect), Maysa dipped into a medley of “Wishing On a Star” from the SWEET CLASSIC SOUL CD and “Send For Me” from FEEL THE FIRE. Except she flipped the script a bit when she “realized” the lyric…”I thought everything was fine. You say you got to get away to find yourself”. The expression on her face was priceless! She turned it into a declaration of her own independence. And then continued with her “self-empowerment” cover of “Zoom” from the same CD. Closing out this segment was “Happy Feeling” the uplifting Maze anthem that she claimed as a way of life for her and her wish for us all.

Apparently many of Maysa’s acquaintances were in attendance and she cajoled (even threatened) Miss Rhonda to come up and sing “Betcha By Golly Wow” with her. But she left her to sing it on her own except some harmony on the chorus. She enjoyed her moment in the spotlight and so did the audience.

Maysa closed the evening with a most appropriate version of My Funny Valentine, which she sang through completely then started over with a more stark arrangement. She spent a good portion of this second take away from the microphone, approaching the tables and serenading the audience members directly. It was something beautiful to behold and a powerful inspiration.

I have loved her unique style and range through Incognito’s recordings since 1992 and her 8 solo CDs since 1995. Seeing her perform live on her own terms brings another dimension to her as a woman and an artist. First and foremost, she LOVES what she is doing and it shows. The years of experience have made her so comfortable on stage, and that combined with the cozy setting, her slamming band and her home-town crowd, summed up a perfect evening. She mentioned possibly doing a monthly gig at this venue. That would be a God-send. I envision her doing a more straight jazz show. Hopefully audiences will give her the room to explore this territory that is obviously the root of her artistry.

About the Writer
Michael Lewis is a long-time associate at His industry experience includes Sony Music, Motown and La Face Records, and a tenure at HEAR Music. He is grateful to contribute to sustaining the legacy of R&B and soul music.

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