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Artist Profiles

Marian McPartland: Queen of Piano Jazz

By Published: March 13, 2003
Appropriately, documentation has become an essential element of Piano Jazz. At its inception the show entertained people who liked the music and wanted to know about musicians. But it has become an archive with a catalog of over 500 artists. Rosemary Clooney and Dave Brubeck's segments were released on CD this month by Jazz Alliance (via Concord Records). Other releases include Dizzy Gillespie, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, and Clark Terry.

"I try to delve into the background of the musicians," said McPartland. "I think it will be important down the road, years from now when people want to research them."

The show is educational for both listener and host. McPartland considers Ray Charles a favorite guest. "He's such a wonderful man and I had always wanted to find out a certain way he plays," she explained. "He plays very much behind the beat. Listening to him I could never quite figure out how he did that. So when we were sitting down at the two pianos I was able to play with him and figure out exactly what he was doing."

That's treasured information for McPartland whose 65 years as a performer have made her a living legend. Born in England, she left home and joined a vaudeville act during World War II. After meeting her husband, cornetist Jimmy McPartland, she went on tour with his Dixieland band before going out on her own and procuring a 10-year residency at 52nd Street's Hickory House.

McPartland recorded her latest album, Live At Shanghai Jazz (Concord, 2002) at the Chinese restaurant in New Jersey. Her book Marian McPartland's Jazz World was published last month by the Illinois Press. Although she maintains an active schedule with her own music, she's still very much devoted to Piano Jazz, and is thrilled about what's to come on the show.

"I'm always going forward," she said. "I'm looking to the future. We have so many good people coming up, people we've just recorded that haven't even been on the air yet. So that's really where I'm looking is ahead, not back." !

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