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Interviews

Marian McPartland: Living Through the History

By Published: June 1, 2009
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Boys' Club

AAJ: Your trio had a residency at The Hickory House, which was part of the 52nd Street scene. Was there any preconceived notion of what you could do as a woman—still a relative rarity in jazz—leading a group?

MM: I think all that woman stuff actually went by me because I was married to Jimmy. There was a lot of talk about men not wanting to play with women but I never had that problem. I guess because I was the leader, I could call up any man I wanted and if he didn't want to play with me he didn't have to, but that never happened.

I always had great players, like my really fine trio with Joe Morello

Joe Morello
Joe Morello
1928 - 2011
drums
and Bill Crow. I recorded for Capitol with them, and later, even though we parted company, just a few years ago for fun we made a record for Concord with that trio. It was really nice to have the group you played with so many years before still get together and play. I think we sounded as good as we ever did.

AAJ: That version of your trio featured Bill Crow and Joe Morello. Joe would go on to be a part of Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck
1920 - 2012
piano
's quartet and Bill would be a stalwart for many West Coast tours and albums [Zoot Sims
Zoot Sims
Zoot Sims
1925 - 1985
sax, tenor
, Gerry Mulligan
Gerry Mulligan
Gerry Mulligan
1927 - 1996
sax, baritone
]. Are there any other former band mates whose names became more recognizable with time?

Marian McPartlandMM: Not really. I had Ben Tucker on bass, Dave Bailey on drums. I guess they were fairly well known and we recorded for the Time label—two or three records.

AAJ: You were one of three women in the 1958 photograph by Art Kane, A Great Day in Harlem [Mary Lou Williams
Mary Lou Williams
Mary Lou Williams
1910 - 1981
piano
, Maxine Sullivan
Maxine Sullivan
Maxine Sullivan
1911 - 1987
vocalist
]. What do you recall of that day?

MM: I always think about that. That was the greatest photo ever made. It is just as well known and as much desired today, as ever. Jean Bach made a film out of it. I was certainly very proud to be in it. I felt very bad that Jimmy wasn't in it. He was just too lazy to get up. I begged him to get up.

Of course, at the time I didn't realize that it was going to be such an important photograph, or else I think I would have wrestled him to the ground to get him up. Unfortunately, he didn't make it, but then nor did people like Duke [Ellington]. Some of his sidemen did, so obviously he must have been in town, but he didn't show.

There were some people who hadn't seen one another for ages. I hadn't seen Mary Lou that often. I know the whole date was late because [Thelonious] Monk wanted to choose an outfit so that he would look different from everybody else, but he wound up looking just the same as everybody else. He kept trying on different jackets and hats; I forget what he eventually wore.

It was a mixed group. You see some of the people like Pee Wee Russell
Pee Wee Russell
Pee Wee Russell
b.1906
clarinet
and I am not sure if Bobby Hackett
Bobby Hackett
Bobby Hackett
1915 - 1976
trumpet
was there, but then you'd see some of the Ellington gang. Down in the front next to me was Oscar Pettiford
Oscar Pettiford
Oscar Pettiford
1922 - 1960
bass
; we were very friendly. He used to come to the Hickory House and sit in quite frequently

Holding the pose took a minute or two, but getting everybody together took hours. Art Kane had a terrible job getting everybody to stay still and in their place, not turn their back when talking to somebody else. It was a hard job getting everybody to behave. It was like a party, getting together people who might not have seen each other. They were anxious to talk; they didn't give a damn about the picture. Finally it got down to that—he wound up rolling up a newspaper and using it like a megaphone to tell everybody to keep quiet.

AAJ: Once everyone was assembled, did it dawn on all of you artists that it was an important thing occurring?

MM: No, I don't think it did. It was just as if it was a photograph. We were told, "All right now, they are taking the picture. Keep still. Keep smiling." That was how it got taken in the end.

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Recording

AAJ: After recording for various labels, you started your own, Halycon (1969-1977). What was behind your decision to do this?

MM: The fact that I wasn't with a record company and I couldn't seem to get anybody interested. Rock was beginning to show and be around and I said, "Well, if nobody will hire me then I will start my own damn record company!" That's how it started.

Marian McPartland



I had a couple of wealthy friends who helped me with shipping and packing—stuff like that. I would say it was a fairly successful enterprise. The records are still out and the name is still known.

AAJ: Did being the label owner bring more freedom?

MM: Oh sure. I could do exactly as I wanted on the record dates. It wasn't a case of "play this tune" or "you can only have ten minutes of different things," which you have when you are recording for somebody. When we were doing our own thing, we could do what we wanted.

I chose to record Dave McKenna because I felt he wasn't really getting to be as well known as he should be, although he did have some records out. The record that he put out on Halcyon turned out very, very well. It's still around.



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