Ask Marilyn Maye why it’s been more than a decade since she has appeared in a San Francisco venue and, after a thoughtful pause, she replies, “I just don’t know!”
The alliteratively named singer (born Marilyn Maye McLaughlin) has been riding a renaissance wave from coast to coast since her 2006 concert appearance at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall for The Mabel Mercer Foundation.
Maye’s recent reviews are raves, reading as if she were being discovered for the first time. Fact is, she has been performing for more than 70 years, starting out as a pre-teen, Depression-era talent show contestant, singing to her mother’s piano accompaniment.
In addition to playing “every Moose and Elks club in the state of Illinois,” she laughs, Maye recorded seven albums for RCA in the 1960s and ’70s plus another half-dozen CD-era releases, and was nominated for a Grammy.
She played all the major spots on the nightclub circuit, headlined
several radio shows and made myriad television appearances including an open invitation from Johnny Carson that resulted in 76 guest spots on “The Tonight Show.”
As rock changed America’s musical appetite, Maye sought theater opportunities to replace the ever-dwindling number of nightclub venues.
Roles in “Can-Can,” “Follies,” “Mame” and “Hello, Dolly!” were successful — she recorded a CD of the “Dolly” score, singing all the roles — but the theater’s fourth wall constrained her.
“I loved doing them, but my preference is to play directly to an audience rather than go through a character to reach them,” she says.
Her love of the Great American Songbook informs most of her repertoire, though she does touch more recent — by comparison at least — works by artists such as James Taylor and Ray Charles. She’s also added master classes for singers to her schedule.
“I usually choose material originated by male singers,” she says. “I tell students to do the same, meaning look to the opposite gender. We don’t need a Tony Bennett or Mel Tormé sound-alike. I tell the girls, ‘If you listen to Barbra Streisand, you’re gonna sound like Barbra Streisand.’ So look for an original approach.”
At 81, Maye takes the frequent focus on her age in stride and attributes her still-vibrant voice to good training and a moderate lifestyle.
“Through the years the reviews have always been good, so I don’t read it as all of a sudden they think that I’m singing well,” she says. “Whenever I perform, it’s a party. So, San Francisco, this is your open invitation!”
Where: Rrazz Room, Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco
When: 7 p.m. today-Saturday; 5 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $30 to $40
Contact: (866) 468-3399, www.therrazzroom.com