Marian McPartland's Legacy

Wednesday, 21 August 2013 06:35 PM Written by 

Marian McPartland's death yesterday at 95 at her Long Island home ends a career that began in her native Britain in the years before World War II and culminated with her 32 years (from 1979 to 2010) hosting her immensely popular Piano Jazz program on NPR.

Like her friend, the late George Shearing, McPartland, born Margaret Marian Turner, dropped out of formal music training to play piano in vaudeville and gravitated to the great American jazz pianists.

She came to America from England after the war with her husband, Chicago jazz trumpet virtuoso Jimmy McPartland. They first played onstage together when McPartland was performing in Britain during World War II and wound up supplying the music at their 1946 wedding in Germany. The couple divorced in 1970 but remained close friends and occasional musical collaborators until Jimmy McPartland died in 1991.

In America, she didn't follow her husband's roaring old-school jazz style but instead gravitated to the newer sounds of bebop. Along the way, she became a jazz icon and among the first great female jazz instrumentalists (along with Pittsburgh's own Mary Lou Williams, trombonist Melba Liston and guitarist Mary Osborne) among the first revered female jazz players. In the waning days of Manhattan's 52nd Street jazz enclave, She was also part of the famous group photo of various jazz greats immortalized in the famous 1958 Art Kane photograph A Great Day In Harlem.

1955: The Marian McPartland Trio with bassist Bill Crow and drummer Joe Morello, playing the Count Basie favorite "Tickle Toe."

1975: Marian may have chosen bop but could swing out with this group of old-school jazz greats associated with jazz trumpet great Bix Beiderbecke including Jimmy McPartland on cornet. With the group is legendary jazz violin innovator (and offstage wildman) Joe Venuti, trombonist Speigle Wilcox, alto horn player Dick Cary, clarinetist Jack Mahue, bassist Major Holley and drummer Cliff Leeman, on "Avalon."

From the same concert, playing Beiderbecke's piano composition "In A Mist."

McPartland, who performed on her own and with others, had hosted a radio show in New York in 1964, doing loose, informal interviews with musicians that became the prototype for what she did on Piano Jazz, starting in 1979.  According to the New York Times, she announced her retirement in 2011, a  year after recording her final show.

In this brief video portrait, she explains her career and the show's beginnings.

McPartland with two jazz piano icons on Piano Jazz.

November 6, 1978: Bill Evans.  He plays portions of "Waltz For Debby," and "All of You." McPartland joins in at the end.

March 23, 1984: Doing "Take Five" with Dave Brubeck

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