Jazz Monthly: With a groove that will grip you like a vise and a variety of hooks that will pull you in and not let go, my next guest has solidified her place in the Funky Groove Hall of Fame. Her live performances is like no other. Every time out she gives it 120% and if you can’t get your groove on with this young lady, there is something wrong with you. Her latest record is called Metamorphosis and it is case in point of the wonderful performer that she truly is. It merely adds another row of track lights on her already amazing career. Please welcome the incomparable Maysa Leak. How you doin’, Maysa?
Maysa: I’m fine. How are you?
Jazz Monthly: I’m wonderful. I am really digging Metamorphosis.
Maysa: Oh, that’s good.
Jazz Monthly: This is just fantastic. Man, I mean, every song has just got such a hook, a groove. I mean, it just grabs you and don’t let go.
Maysa: That’s good. I hope so.
Jazz Monthly: Yeah, and I think it’s sort of like this beautiful blend of 1960s jazz with 2008 jazz. It’s got some Ella Fitzgerald, it’s got some Nancy Wilson and it’s got Maysa all over it. I mean, it is funky, girl!
Maysa: Oh, that’s good. Thank you.
Jazz Monthly: Yes indeed. And you’ve got to take me back because there are a couple of things I found out about you recently. I thought I knew my girl Maysa, and I gotta say this and I don’t think I’ve ever said this before and I’m gonna try to be as professional as possible, as I usually am, but I just gotta say I love me some Maysa! (Both laugh.)
Maysa: That is so nice. That’s so cool.
Jazz Monthly: I mean, no matter where I am, when I hear you, it’s like, oh, stop, everybody.
Maysa: That is so cool. This is great.
Jazz Monthly: Oh, that’s the real. I’m feeling it every time out. And I know I’m speaking for thousands of people when I say that.
Maysa: Oh, thank you. This is great.
Jazz Monthly: I have seen your audiences so captivated and in such a groove when you’re on stage and so I know I’m speaking for thousands out there when I say that.
Maysa: Aw, that’s good. And it’s a blessing, really, when I’m standing up there. That makes me feel so good because I’ve been working for 17 years and through working with Stevie [Wonder] and Incognito, all that kind of stuff, to be able to reach people, that’s just my whole goal. That’s what it’s all about for me and it’s all about the people who buy my music and what I can help them through, whatever they’re going through, or if I can help them have a good time. That’s what my whole life is about, making the right music for people.
Jazz Monthly: And you have done that. And I love your unmatched eloquence, your passion and your strength for delivering every time out because you have accomplished that, and I think you have really done that on the level of those that you’ve worked with like Stevie. We know how Stevie can move people from the stage.
Jazz Monthly: we know how Bluey can do that, and you have absolutely nailed it. You have.
Maysa: Aw, thanks, Smitty.
Jazz Monthly: You’re welcome. Now I was watching Baisden After Dark a few weeks ago and lo and behold, my girl shows up, and it’s Maysa on Baisden After Dark, so automatically I’m excited.
Jazz Monthly: And I’m so thankful that he asked you this question about your humble beginnings, and I did not know that you had aspired to be an opera singer in the beginning.
Maysa: Yeah, this was what I degreed in from Morgan State University. I spent seven years on the Morgan Choir and training in classical voice techniques with my voice teacher for such a long time, but the jazz music and jazz funk was calling me so hard, I really couldn’t dedicate my life to singing opera, but of course all the training and everything I’ve had I incorporated into what I do so that I keep my voice going for longevity.
Jazz Monthly: So you were at Morgan State and you were in the Morgan Choir?
Jazz Monthly: Wow. Now I saw you totally off the cuff sitting on a barstool on Baisden After Dark. He asked you to just do a little something in opera and, girl, I’m sitting there like I can’t believe this. It was incredible. You just ripped off a line like you were opening at Carnegie Hall. It’s like look at her! I said you wait til I see her again, you know? All this time. (Both Laugh)
Maysa: I usually—I was doing it in my shows. On my second solo CD, All My Life, one of the songs—the title song “All My Life”—I wrote an excerpt from an aria and so instead of, you know, I just sang it in Italian and all it says is that “I’ve been loving you all my life” in Italian and I did it in the aria form so that people would see what I learned in school basically, and it’s singing Italian on the album. That’s kind of fun.
Jazz Monthly: Yeah, man, but I just never put two and two together until I actually heard you say that, and I’m like wow, and you could just have this dual career in funk jazz and opera.
Maysa: So yeah, so yeah, I mean, and it’s awesome when I can show what I was learning and it was so diverse at Morgan as far as my vocal technique. They taught us to try to do more than one thing and because I love jazz so much and Dr. Nathan Carter really recognized that, and my teachers at Betty Ridgeway, they would tell me that I really could at any time just go straight and be an opera singer if I wanted to.
Jazz Monthly: Wow, that is so sweet. Your voice has such strength and such stamina, and it’s the kind of voice that people readily identify with and it’s a voice that you can just mesmerize people with because it fills the room like nobody’s business.
Maysa: Oh, awesome.
Jazz Monthly: I’ve seen you do a show to tracks.
Jazz Monthly: And it’s like sometimes some artists can really pull that off, and it’s great, but your performance, it’s like you forget it, you just forget all about—
Maysa: Oh, good.
Jazz Monthly: You forget all about the fact that there’s no one else up there but you because you just take over.
Maysa: Yes, I do. Because I have to make up for the fact that I don’t have musicians because I absolutely love trading spiritual things musically, trading off with musicians, because that’s what it’s really about. It’s a conversation. And to not have the actual musicians up there where I can look them in the eye, we can laugh or joke or wink at each other or actually play off of each other, it’s really difficult to do, but when I have to do tracks, I just try to make it come alive as much as usual because it’s hard on everybody, really, because a lot of people don’t like tracks. A lot of the audience people don’t like it either.