Sally Mayes in “Now and Then: Jazz/Standard Time”

February 29, 2024

At the top of her exciting new show, Now and Then: Jazz/ Standard Time, singer Sally Mayes barreled on to the stage like the proverbial blond bombshell, grabbed the room, and didn’t let go for the next hour, much to the delight of her cheering audience. Accompanied by Tedd Firth on piano and Tom Hubbard on bass (each of whom has rarely been better), Mayes was a bloody marvel as she took a personal dive into the Great American Songbook including songs from her recordings over the years. 

Sally Mayes (Photo: Bill Westmoreland)

She opened with the Lambert, Hendricks & Ross classic, “Cloudburst” (Leroy Kirkland, Jimmy Harris, Jon Hendricks) maneuvering its lyrical and melodic twists and turns with style, incorporating a knowing comedic sheen to the proceedings.  Most singers who attempt this material are so busy with just getting the words out they neglect the acting; no worries about that in this show.

The great lyricist, Dorothy Fields, was the source of many of the show’s songs and it was easy to see why her witty and wise words appealed to Mayes. The singer’s thoughtful, conversational delivery informed the lyrics of each song, never lost even in the jazziest of arrangements. “Alone Too Long” (Arthur Schwartz, Fields) had a cooler swing than the opener; it had an infectious big band feel and seemed designed for a horn section, which her voice supplied all on its own.  Setting the song up as a response to first holding her newborn child, Mayes transformed “The Way You Look Tonight” (Jerome Kern, Fields) into a deeply moving lullaby.  

Revealing another side of her prodigious talent, she then did an original, “New Song” (Tex Arnold, Mayes) which was a dizzying whirlwind of words, cleverly written and brilliantly delivered.  Every stop along the way was worthwhile and memorable. Among the highlights were a welcome revisit to the piano bar classic, “He Ain’t Mr. Right” (Jeff Franzel, Amy Powers), still hilarious after all these years as her clowning built to a bluesy frenzy. A warmly funny reminiscence of the great singer-songwriter Kenny Rankin led into “In the Name of Love” (Rankin, Estelle Levitt), sizzling with vocal excitement.  

Relaying a brief but telling cameo of a friend’s devastation at marital infidelity, Mayes revisited “Angel Eyes” (Matt Dennis, Earl Brent) and completely changed any view I ever had of the song. It was a true tour de force—a piercing monologue and a stunning musical statement gorgeously sung and superbly played. It removed the mystery that customarily clouds the lyric and told a new and completely satisfying story instead. 

As the show moved to its close, Mayes brought a bit of her Texas roots onto the stage with “Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy” (Guy Wood, Sammy Gallop) done with a delightful twang and a fabulous self-penned bit of vocalese. The final number returned once again to Dorothy Fields with “Close as Pages in a Book” (Sigmund Romberg, Fields), inspired by jazz legend Mark Murphy’s interpretation, honoring him but providing a wonderfully personal close to a magical show. 

There was one technical fly in the ointment and while it was irritating, the singer’s performance overcame its intrusion. The sound on the vocal mic had too much reverb and had an unnecessarily loud, tinny, thin tone when there should have been a richer, warmer resonance reflective of her remarkable voice. As this situation continued through the evening, especially on the up-tempo numbers and when she used her head voice, I found it hard to believe no one on the room or show staff noticed and attempted to fix it.  

This show was the second in a series under the umbrella, Now and Then.  There are two more to come—The Stories and The Great Big Huge Broadway Extravaganza. Anyone who has seen one of the first shows will no doubt be getting tickets for these immediately. Anyone who missed those should make every effort to be there.  These are special shows, indeed, by a very special singer, Sally Mayes.  


Presented by The Green Room 42, 570 Tenth Ave., NYC, Feb. 22, with additional shows on May 16, June 20, 2024.


About the Author

Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”