Post Number: 138
|Posted on Tuesday, November 01, 2011 - 07:00 pm: ||
SHE’S THE BEST PROFESSOR IN ALL THE LAND:
MAUDE MAGGART AT THE RRAZZ ROOM, 2011
You’ll be saying Yessir
The band is grand
He’s the best professor
In all the land
—Irving Berlin, “Everybody Step”
I saw Maude Maggart the other night (The Rrazz Room at Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason Street, San Francisco). She was sensational.
Accompanied only by John Boswell, her musical director and pianist, she tore the place apart. Dressed in black for Halloween, she looked great and her voice seemed to have grown stronger and more controlled. And wow, does she know how to move around a microphone. What she did was not only an expression of superb musicianship: it was choreographed. (Maggart is a dancer as well as a singer.) Every turn of phrase in the immensely diverse set of songs she sang—from 1911 to 2011—was illustrated by a gesture, a movement of her body.
There were old faves from the American songbook by people like Berlin and Porter (beautiful rendition of the rather rare, brilliant “Down in the Depths on the 90th Floor”) but also selections by people living now, one of whom was in the audience.
Maggart has the extraordinary ability to let you know she understands where a song may be excessive while, at the same time, she reaches into the song to find where its genuine emotion lies. You feel that she is not the first person to sing these songs, but she is the first person to understand them so well. She is at a distance from most of her material—most of these songs were written long before she was born and there was some discussion of Sinatra, Crosby, etc.—but the moment she begins to sing she is capable of an extraordinary, transformative energy in which she becomes the exact singer for that song. She enters into her material the way a spirit might enter into someone’s consciousness, not to possess it but to explore it.
Maggart does not turn everything into “a Maude Maggart song”—she is not a stylist in that sense; rather, she transforms herself into whatever the song requires, and she has a formidable array of vocal capabilities for doing that. This transformative capacity, which depends on the power of the singer’s imagination rather than on the force of the singer’s invented personality, is a formidable strength, but in an America which values “individuality” and whose stars tend to manifest as eccentric individuals who stay exactly the same no matter what they are doing, it may also be a liability. Though Maggart has some personal stories to tell—she speaks to the audience as she might to a friend—she also speaks intelligently of the music itself, postulating its sources and noting her relationship to them. (I’d take issue with one of the things she said—though her statement is undoubtedly partly true. She suggested that the “shoulder-shaking,” tremendously rhythmic, tremendously energetic music invented by songsters like Irving Berlin and George Gershwin was the result of a liberating freedom from Victorian strictures. I think, rather, it had to do with the rise of cities and of the fact that the work people do in cities tends to be body-denying rather than body-affirming: you don’t till the fields, you sit at a desk. The music she sings is a deep expression of the body—she is clearly right about that and we feel it as she sings and moves—but I think it is as much compensatory as it is expressive: the music’s deep source—and its “dark side”—is the bodily denial that accompanies “urbanity.”)
Maggart wondered why the Rrazz Room had decided to book her on Halloween. I don’t know, but perhaps it’s because Halloween is the only American holiday that features Magick. And Magick is a deep element of what this marvelous sorceress is all about. Most singers give us an upfront view of their overstuffed egos. This lady inhabits—to use a favorite word of both Robert Browning’s and Ezra Pound’s—personae. The many “selves” she conjured up for us gave us “a portrait of a lady”—but it was, as all true portraits ultimately are, stunningly multiple. “Your mind and you are our Sargasso Sea,” wrote Pound (“Portrait d’une Femme”):
These are your riches, your great store; and yet
For all this sea-hoard of deciduous things,
Strange woods half sodden, and new brighter stuff:
In the slow float of differing light and deep,
No! there is nothing! In the whole and all,
Nothing that's quite your own.
Yet this is you.
Maude Maggart is a “girl singer.” What is a “girl singer”? Perhaps we can understand this phenomenon via the great American songwriter, Irving Berlin.
Like many another songwriter, Irving Berlin understood the force of suggestion. If a popular song was to be truly popular, people would have to remember it—so it can’t hurt to place semi-subliminal suggestions to remember a song in the song. “You keep coming back like a song,” Berlin wrote, “a song that keeps saying, ‘Remember.’” And in another, playing on a common American expression one hears often, “Remember the night, the night you said….” The song conjures up not only sexuality but memory.
But a young singer singing an old song conjures up memory too. The song is made new—and the singer is a momentary embodiment, a “presence-ing,” of someone who first sang it or of someone you loved long ago. “She gave your very first kiss to you, that was Laura,” wrote Johnny Mercer—and that is a girl singer as well. A girl singer is a kind of free-floating reincarnation—a reincarnation with a microphone. There, she is all the woman who are not there.
Maude Maggart was born Amber Maggart, but at the age of twenty she took the stage name of Maude after her paternal great-great grandmother, Maude Apple. In addition, her maternal grandparents were Millicent Greene, a dancer with George White’s Scandals, a series of 1920s musical reviews, and Johnny McAfee, a vocalist and multireedist of the big band era. “They met in 1937,” writes Maude Maggart, “How rich it must have been for two musicians to fall in love at a time when some of the greatest love songs ever written not only brought them together in the first place, but continued to weave a soundtrack through their love’s inception, marriage vows, and the birth of their daughter, my mother.” The songs Maggart sings keep her grandparents and even her great-grand grandmother present not only in her consciousness but in ours.
Songs stay in our heads, resonate, prod us into awarenesses we scarcely knew were there before the music told us that they were. Maude Maggart’s singing “weaves a soundtrack” that keeps romance alive in our lives; she reminds us that ghosts dance in our very being—that we are ghosts ourselves, constant reincarnations of a gene pool that is full of surprises.
Post Number: 385
|Posted on Wednesday, November 02, 2011 - 10:32 pm: ||
I enjoyed/appreciated this last evening when I first read it - a treat to my imagination.
I have response to share. I hope to have time in the near future.
To me, especially after reading the Foley column here, Maude Maggart is the wonder
and why Rrazz booked her - singing not only sensational,
Post Number: 139
|Posted on Thursday, November 03, 2011 - 05:10 pm: ||
Thank you, Michael. I agree with everything you say here, and I'll be interested to see your further response. Maude Maggart is terrific.
Post Number: 387
|Posted on Thursday, November 03, 2011 - 10:58 pm: ||
Your article identifies/explains why I like the singers & songs that I like: Why I like Music.
to be continued, and continued in bits & pieces
Post Number: 141
|Posted on Friday, November 04, 2011 - 04:58 pm: ||
Thanks for that wonderful compliment, Michael. I'll look forward to the bits & pieces.
Do you know these words--from "Deep Purple" by Mitchell Parish:
The sun is sinking low
Behind the hill
I loved you long ago
I love you still
Across the years you come to me at twilight
To bring my love's old thrill...
When the deep purple falls....
Maude Maggart has a wonderful version of it on her most recent CD, Maude Maggart Live
Post Number: 388
|Posted on Saturday, November 05, 2011 - 12:17 am: ||
Your girl-singer, Maude Maggart, sounds like a girl-singer I have enjoyed listening to since I was 17: Stevie Nicks.
"Once in a million a lady like her rises"
^^ from Nicks' signature song "Rhiannon"
Your essay succintly surmises the essence of why I have been a patron-listener of this singer songwriter.
The qualities you identify in Maude are similar to those of Stevie. Sister-singers.
"transformative capacity" - isn't that the quality of all genuine Art.
Why am I hearing Keats' "negative capabilty"
It makes me wonder it these singer-artists are aware of this quality - their Gift
I hope to share another joint of this disjointed discourse.
It will probably be more of the Stevie Nicks
She's my mary jane
("[Her] music is my aeroplane") - the quote is from a lyric by the Red Hot Chili Peppers