Marian McPartland: Living Through the History
“ Holding the pose took a minute or two, but getting everybody together took hours. ”
At the age of 91 she's still going strong with Piano Jazz, as well as periodic performances and composing new music, including the ambitious symphonic piece, "A Portrait of Rachel Carson."
- Jimmy McPartland
- Boys' Club
- The Sixties
- Piano Jazz
- Still Going Strong
, Benny Goodman, Fats Waller, everybody. I have been going on ever since.
All About Jazz: You studied classical music at the Guildhall school of music in London. Was it during this time or earlier that you first encountered jazz?
Marian McPartland: It was much earlier because I started playing the piano at home, when I was about three, and I started to hear jazz on the BBC. Then when I was in my early teens I started to play jazz and I had a boyfriend who brought records over to my house, so I listened to everythingDuke Ellington
AAJ: Looking back and listening to any of your early jazz inspirations now, has your opinion of the artists/recordings changed?
MM: No, I don't probably play in the same style as I did then but the artists are just as great. I was lucky to meet Duke Ellington later when I was at the Hickory House. He and I became very good friends, and I was with Benny Goodman for a while. I knew all the people that I listened to as a kid, and then when the war came I went with the USO to France and Belgium. That's where I met my husband, Jimmy. We were married over there and that was my first trip to America, after I had married Jimmy.
AAJ: Regarding jazz versus your classical studies, had you seen it as an "either/or" proposition?
MM: I never had an "either/or" thing. Actually when I went to the Guildhall, I was already playing jazz, sort of for fun, and the thinking at the Guildhall was that I might become a concert pianist. But of course that never happened because I was offered a job playing with a four piano act. It wasn't exactly jazz but it was sort of "Pop jazz." I never really went back to classical music.
AAJ: Like the composer Alexander Scriabin and few others, you are a synesthete (associating different musical keys with colors). Have you always experienced music this way?
MM: A couple of jazz musicians I know have the same thing; Jim Hall was one and he and I used to talk at different times about how we associate certain keys with a certain color. But I never knew that Scriabin did that. I have always had it in my head. I never felt like talking about it for a long time, but it was there.
AAJ: You ended up leaving school to tour with Billy Mayerl's Claviers, which was a four piano vaudeville act. What do you remember of your hiring and job description?
MM: I was thrilled. My parents weren't. They were hoping I wouldn't go, but of course I did go. If I hadn't, my life would be very different because I never really went home again. I was always doing something on the road and then the war came. I met Jimmy doing USO camp shows in Belgium and then came to New York after the war ended.
AAJ: You performed as Marian Page?
MM: I started out as Marian Page, which was sort of an alias because my parents weren't too thrilled with me. Then when I got to New York, I found out there was already a Marian Page who played in New York at the Monkey Bar. So I very quickly became Marian McPartland which, as a name, has stood me in good stead ever since.
AAJ: Your parents were not pleased with your choice. Given all that you went on to do, did they ever come around to approving?
MM: Yeah, they did, especially when I would get write-ups and reviews, records, all the good things that would happen to me. They were very pleased about all that.
AAJ: Your father offered you one thousand pounds to stay in school. Was there any temptation? Was there an implicit understanding in the offer that you drop jazz altogether?
MM: Yes he did. He didn't want me to go on that trip with the four pianos. He wanted me to stay at the Guildhall. Of course, I didn't take the money.
MM: Well, I had always been able to playhe hated the wordDixieland (and I did too). But I could play all those tunes. I listened to a lot of those players of the day. I could play with him and enjoy it very much, but then when bebop came along I could easily switch to that. Still to this day, I love to play with a Dixieland bandnot full time, but once in a while it's fun. And of course I enjoyed playing with Jimmy. I guess I am still a middle of the road bebopper. I don't know how to describe myself.
AAJ: Eventually you moved stateside  first to Chicago, then New York (1949). Did either location directly affect your artistic identity?
MM: I think I just got better, being in New York and getting this steady job at the Hickory House, which lasted about ten years. During that time, I think I learned much more about how to play, and I feel I am still learning. I don't think you ever stop learning.
AAJ: Was it at this point you began to record?
MM: We did record in Chicago, but then when we got to New York I was signed to Capitol and made four records with them. Actually, I then later started my own record company, Halcyon. Then I went with Concord; they took all my Halcyon recordings and put them out on Concord.
AAJ: Had you preplanned the size of the ensemble and format you wanted for recording?
MM: Oh, sure. I certainly knew what I was going to do. The first record I made for my own company was a duo with bass and piano. It sounded so good at the time, and still does years later. I went on to record with other people: Dave McKenna, Alec Wilder and many others.