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Marian McPartland at 86

By Published: July 22, 2004

MM: So it's really my duty to put that out! I really should do that. You just gave me an idea. As a matter of fact what we did was have him redo a bunch of tunes that he had done on an earlier record date years before. It's terrible; I can't remember what's on there now. It's downstairs. When we hang up I'm going to go and have a look at it and see what's on it. That's really terrible that I have something that's so valuable and I'm doing nothing with it. Just awful.

LV: Well, you did it once. Just time to bring it around again.

MM: That's right, I should. I should. One of the guy's on the faculty at Eastman - actually, I lent him that record and he was going to do a whole Earl Hines program as part of his teaching ideas at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y.. I haven't heard it yet. He was going to tape it for me. He's such a fan of Earl Hines I thought he should borrow that, and I'm going to get it back when I go up there in a few weeks.

LV: That would be Bill Dobbins?

MM: You know we did something so funny, or at least it wasn't funny, it turned out great. (At Eastman) We did a three piano concert and we didn't rehearse or anything. We just picked 8 tunes and we played them. (Laughs). It was amazing. I don't think you could do that with anybody. They would have to be team players. It was me and Harold Danko and Bill Dobbins. Somebody recorded it. It's really not bad when you think we didn't say, 'Well, you take this chorus and you take this chorus.' We just listened to one another and we just did it. I aught to make a copy for you.

LV: I'd love to hear that. That's your favorite way of operating, isn't it?

MM: Well it's one of them, if you get the right people. I mean I love doing it if you get somebody who doesn't want to hog the show like Dorothy Donegan did. I mean, she didn't want to play two pianos; she wanted to play Dorothy Donegan and shove Marian into a corner.

But these guys are so wonderful. Its one of the best experiences I've ever had.

Are you coming to the thing in Sutton's Bay?

LV: Yes, and I'm bringing the whole family.

MM: Oh, wonderful. Well, they should hear some music anyway. I guess they do being around you.

(Ed: The conversation then veered off into life with small children at live music events to which McPartland said, "Well, give them a pair of drum sticks or a tambourine and have them join the band!" Then added, "It's natural that you would have creative kids").

LV: Well, let's talk some more about your music. I noticed Savoy re-issued your classic Hickory House Trio a couple of years ago.

MM: Oh God, I just don't think I was playing very well in those days. (Laughs) I think people buying them - I hope they're not listening too hard. They won't stop putting them out; they keep putting different covers on them and putting out the same old shit, my God.

You know, I've changed since then.

LV: Well, that's what the second part of the question was going to be: how do you think your playing has changed?

MM: Well I think it's become more reasonable. I just think I play better harmony, and I think I take more chances, and I'm not so technically - what was that lovely word you used? 'Adroit'? (Laughs). I've got arthritis in my fingers. In fact I always announce during the concert, 'That number came to you courtesy of the Arthritis Foundation.'

My hands look terrible but I can do anything I want to do, so, you know, I just think I'm playing all around with more good taste and not dashing up and down the piano. I guess I used to listen to all these guys like Bud Powell, and Phineas Newborn. They were great but that was their thing, not mine.

LV: I have to agree with you. Your playing has matured into a sense, like you said, of tastefulness, and of being able to rein in your technique to a musical purpose.

MM: It's not so much reined in (laughing); I just don't think I have any chops! Which is probably good. So if I think of something in my head I don't have to do it. If I can't do I don't do it, I do something else.

LV: The thing is, and Lee Konitz does this, too. When I saw that Hickory House record and I'm looking at the tunes and thinking Wow, she's played a lot of this material for a long time. I mean Lee Konitz has been playing "Stella By Starlight" for 50 years or more.

MM: So have I!

LV: How do you keep that fresh? It seems every time you approach it, especially over the last 20 years or so, you keep finding new things in there. How do pieces that have become so familiar still challenge you?

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