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Marian McPartland at 86

By Published: July 22, 2004

MM: Well, it's such a beautiful piece that you can change key, and you can change tempo, and you can do it as a medium tempo tune and then you can do it as a dead slow ballad, or if you want to do it as a waltz. I'm not too fond of changing things into waltzes, but sometimes that works.

But mostly the harmony. I love to play in the different keys like B or F sharp, or keys that most people don't play in, because they have a better resonance or something. I'm really not fond of F and C. I just stay away from those if I can.

Anyway, I have no idea what I'll play at Sutton's Bay. Maybe...I just started playing a tune I haven't played for years by John Lewis, "Afternoon In Paris"? I remember I used to play that at the Hickory House, then suddenly I forgot all about it, and I've been sort of digging up some of the old tunes like "Bohemia After Dark" and some of those things that Oscar Pettiford taught me when he used to come and sit in.

LV: I love "Bohemia After Dark."

MM: I do too. I like minor tunes. That's something Mary Lou Williams used to tell me: If you're not feeling right about what you're doing and you play a minor tune it all comes back, falls into place. I don't know if that's true, but I do it. There are so many good minor tunes, like "Yesterdays" and "How Deep Is the Ocean," although that winds up as being a major key.

There are a million good tunes. I started playing more Bill Evans again. Years ago I used to play "Very Early." In fact, he wrote it out for me in one of his excursions when we were both in London. I learned to play it and then, I don't know, I totally forgot it. I had to relearn it all over again. It is such a great tune.

Then we had a show with Sue Mingus so I learned a whole lot of Mingus tunes, including "Goodbye Porkpie Hat" which I had never really learned. That's a great tune. Nobody plays it. Hardly anybody.

LV: Wow. You would think they would because it's jazz standard.

MM: It should be, but it's not.

LV: So when you do "Afternoon In Paris" do you do that contrapuntal line in the beginning with those two lines in the melody?

MM: Not really. I more or less do my own thing on it. I should play more John Lewis tunes. Like "Django" is a nice tune. We had John on "Piano Jazz" two or three times. Such an interesting player. He killed me the way he would swing playing right in the middle of the keyboard, just playing two or three notes, not really getting far out or anything. He was a very interesting player.

LV: Yes, and one of the brilliant composers, arrangers and music director. John Lewis, wow! You know, many people have recently heard your "Piano Jazz" with Ray Charles. That was rebroadcast quite a bit.

MM: I know. I loved being with that guy. He was so sweet. He played quite a lot of piano on that show. I did a couple with him, I guess. I didn't hear it until later. They added another tune in there, which I didn't really notice until afterwards. But, I think Concord is going to put that show on a CD. We've got several "Piano Jazz" shows out on CD. We've got Dizzy and Brubeck, Carmen McRae, Chick, Bill Evans of course, Mary Lou Williams and now Lionel Hampton. I just called Elvis. They want to put his show out on a CD. I didn't hear back from him yet, but I hope I will.

LV: Elvis Costello?

MM: Yes. It was a really good show. He's changing into a sort of straight-ahead ballad singer. We had such a ball. We did mostly standard tunes, which I didn't think he knew, and of course we did his tune "Almost Blue." I love that! I love that tune, and then there was one that Burt Bacharach wrote, "Painted From Memory," that's a nice tune.

Elvis is appearing in Avery Fisher Hall in a couple of weeks with an orchestra. Three different dates. I want to go if I can. He's certainly different from the way he used to be. It's great that he can turn around and do something else. I'm dying to hear him and Diana do something together. In fact I'm trying to get them to do the show together.

LV: Good luck with that. I think everybody would love to hear that.

MM: I think so.

LV: I know they appear in this new movie Terminal 1 with Benny Golson. I don't know if they sing at the same time.

MM: You know, somebody mentioned my name in there, in that film. I don't know too much about the film. People are getting autographs of the people in the (Esquire Magazine photograph known as) A Great Day In Harlem. Somebody said, "I've got everybody except Marian McPartland." I thought how nice to be in a movie with Tom Hanks!

By the way, I got a Grammy, which was a big thrill.

LV: When was that?

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