I may have had more fun at a Birdland performance Friday night than anything else legally possible in Manhattan. Miss Maybell and the Jazz Artistes, a four piece band (nine instruments), plus guest trumpet offered songs from 1900 with equal gusto and integrity. Not only don’t they poke fun at dated material, but vocalist/musician Maybell barely cracks a smile – a little odd, but one grows accustomed. Pianist Charlie Judkins intermittently shares origin and pedigree of material. Syncopated musical crosscurrents emerge in hot jazz, blues and ragtime. It’s impossible to sit still.
“Ma Blushin’ Rosie” (Edgar Smith/John Stromberg 1900) skips in as a vocal duet with bassist Brian Nalepka, Maybell on banjo. “Rosie, you are my posie/You are my heart’s desire…” The vocalist’s nasal alto sounds almost as if it’s passing through a megaphone (a la Rudy Vallee), Nalepka’s cushions. Andy Stein’s grinning violin (fiddle?) slip/slides with terrific skill. Ragtime piano is jaunty. “Where’d You Get Those Eyes?” (Walter Donaldson 1926) opens the door to call outs. “Those arms, those charms/That hold me tight- Hey! Awright!” which begin the set understated and later erupt in unison. (Remember Glenn Miller’s “Pennsylvania 6-500?”)
Charlie Judkins, Miss Maybell, Brian Nalepka, Danny Tobias, Andy Stein
For “Sailin’ Down The Chesapeake Bay” (Jean Havez/George Botsford 1913), Maybell dons/plays a washboard, replete with punctuating bell. The never recorded “Oh How She Can Dance” (Walter Leopold/stage star Emma Carus 1919) is jazz with a southern lag. “When you see her shake and quiver/Looks just like Swanee River…” Maybell tilts from side to side, silver flapper fringe swinging.
Adding to the washboard on “Put Your Arms Around Me Honey” /Hold me tight… (Albert von Tilzer/ Junie McCree 1910), Maybell hangs a Bob Burns Bazooka Kazoo from her neck while coordinating vocal duet with Nalepka. Talk about rubbing your stomach and patting your head! The song scampers with glee. Fiddle zig-zags, slap bass is authentic, resonant, cool.
“Oh Boy What a Girl” (Frank Wright/Frank Bessinger/Bud Green 1925) was original to Eddie Cantor, then rewritten with feminine perspective by Lee Morse. Nalepka plays um-pah tuba. Judkins’ keyboard hands are terpsichorean. Fiddle manifests figure eights. “It Looks to Me Like a Big Night Tonight” (Egbert Van Alstyne/Harry Williams 1908) is a story-song about partying. Maybell gestures. “Whoo hoo!” Fiddle hits and draws. “Taxi!” calls Nalepka. “Here we go!”
Guest trumpet Danny Tobias arrives for the rest of the set packing an assortment of mutes, each facilitating its own tone or wah-wah. “The Original Jazz Band One Step” (Introducing “That Teasing Rag” Joe Jordan 1919) is one of several instrumentals. Slap bass reverberates. Fleet-fingered piano seems like four hands. A single caveat is the similarity of arrangements. “Oh Johnny!” (Abe Olman/Ed Rose 1917) brings back the kazoo. Really you have to see the Dr. Seuss-looking instrument to fully appreciate it. Maybell plays with nonchalant pizzazz.
“Warm It Up To Me” (Blind Willie McTell 1933) is a boogie woogie blues. Maybell picks up her guitar, Stein, his saxophone (legs extended out, feet crossed, yet dancing.) “Ah hah!” Trumpet is clean, bright, staccato. “Minnie the Mermaid” (Bud DeSylva 1923) “I forgot my morals/There among the corals” takes us to an exuberant, closing “Hello Ma Baby”…Hello ma honey,/Hello my ragtime gal…
Catch this group wherever you can. It’s a foot-tapping, head-bobbing tonic for what ails us.
Photos by Ian Herman
Miss Maybell and the Jazz Artistes
Miss Maybell – Vocals, Washboard, Banjo, Guitar, Bob Burns Bazooka Kazoo
Brian Nalepka- Vocals, Tuba, Bass
Andy Stein- Violin, Saxophone
Danny Tobias- Trumpet
Birdland 315 West 44th Street