Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Maude Maggart at Stuyvesant High

The free River to River Festival goodness continued this evening despite the crazy rainstorm outside. The organizers thought ahead and moved the waterfront event inside to Stuyvesant High School's theater auditorium. On the bill was up-and-coming cabaret star Maude Maggart, with pianist and jazz crooner Tony DeSare opening. The turnout was pretty impressive, but if more people knew about how great she is, I bet there wouldn't have been an empty seat in the place. How often do you get to see a top-notch cabaret artist for free?

I first heard about her on WNYC during Jonathan Schwartz's weekend-afternoon shows devoted to the American songbook. She is Fiona Apple's sister, but she also comes from a very musical family besides going back at least two generations. During her set, she told about one pair of grandparents who used to play in a swing band together—she was the singer, he was a "reed man." MM said they supposedly first met at a sheet-music store where she was singing "You Go to My Head," which would've just been out about that time. It may be just an apocryphal story, but it's a great lead-in. Her rendition literally gave me goosebumps, it was so soft and gently intoxicating (like the lyrics say), and I loved the particular way her voice rose up on the title line.

Her style and voice are best suited to darker, more melancholy numbers, ones filled with longing or memory or mystery or even devilishness (like "Pack Up Your Sins and Go to the Devil in Hades"). She said she has an affinity for early Irving Berlin and Cole Porter lyrics as well as other songs that came out during the '20s and the beginning of the Depression. She did a great medley of "42nd Street" and "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" (the Harry Warren one, not Green Day's). She also sang a fun version of "Alexander's Ragtime Band," and for the first time, I could decipher those lines: "They can play a bugle call / Like you never heard before, / So natural that you want to go to war."

How times have changed, said the older lady sitting next to me. She seemed to thoroughly enjoy herself throughout the show, remarking how refreshing it was to see young people play the kind of music that she likes. She also told me how much she likes living in Battery Park City, where Stuyvesant is located. She said she feels like it's an island amid an island, but warned me "not to tell everyone" for fear the "secret" would get out and things would change.

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