Soulgigs.com presents Maysa
16 June 2013 Jazz Cafe
When she was about 14, Maysa’s uncle took her aside and turned her on to jazz. “I used to listen to Janet Jackson and all of that and he wanted me to stop listening to pop music,” she recalls. “He told me to turn on PBS one night and that’s when Al Jarreau was on and I was like oh my God! What is that? I want to do that!”
She then started studying jazz masters ranging from Dianne Reeves and Carmen McRae to John Coltrane and Stanley Turrentine. “I listened to them to get a different sound.,” she adds. “I think all of them are in me somehow.”
The songbird studied music at Morgan State University before heading to California to sing back-up for Stevie Wonder. During a tour break from Wonderlove, she auditioned for Scottish drummer, Steve Harvey, who was best friends with Jean-Paul “Bluey” Manunick of Incognito. Bluey was looking for an American singer to front his band and asked Harvey to compile a list of 25 prospects. He put Maysa on that list. “Bluey asked Steve which one of these singers would you trust with your children and he said me, so Bluey called me first.” Bluey asked her to sing Stevie Wonder’s tune “Don’t Worry About A Thing” over the phone. He, then told her where the official audition would be the next day and to show up there. The following day, Bluey’s manager called her and said she didn’t need to audition after all. Bluey had hired her and wasn’t considering anyone else for the spot.
The next few years were a whirlwind as Incognito reached new levels of fame with Maysa at the forefront. Their 1992 CD Tribes Vibes + Scribes produced the band’s first American urban radio hit with the favorite “Don’t You Worry `Bout A Thing” which was equally huge in Europe. Their 1994 CD Positivity is their biggest seller to date, pumping out megahits like “Still A Friend of Mine” and “Deep Waters.”
A turning point for Maysa came in 1994 when GRP Records Vice President of A&R Carl Griffin experienced an Incognito performance at the Northsea Jazz Festival. “We were playing the biggest room, The JVC room – 18,000 people,” she recalls. “If I waved my hand, they waved their hands. It was one of those surreal moments. At the end of the show, I was walking down the ramp to leave the stage and Carl was walking up. He stopped me and said, `I think its time for your solo career.’”
A year later GRP’s Blue Thumb imprint was releasing Maysa’s self-titled debut CD that featured radio charms “Can We Change the World,” “Sexy” and “What About Our Love?” While firmly established as a soloist, Maysa continued to perform with Incognito off and on. After GRP founders Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen sold their label, they founded N2K Encoded Music and Maysa moved there with them and recorded three other fine albums before joining the Shanachie roster in 2005.