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Live Reviews

Cool Jazz in a Cool City: IAJE in Toronto 2003

By Published: January 28, 2003

She also shared stories of her family. Her mother was disgusted with her decision to become a professional musician, announcing "You'll come to no good. You'll marry a musician and live in an attic" (the latter two things indeed came to pass). She admitted to stealing her sister's boyfriend since she wasn't into jazz. Marian, who joined the British equivalent of the USO to entertain the troops, said ladies were instructed to wear backless dresses (to help improve morale, no doubt). It was during one of these performances that she ran into Chicago cornertist Jimmy McPartland, whose initial reaction was something like, "Oh, hell, there's a woman and she wants to play. And she'll be terrible." The pianist said she was the only one who didn't seem to know who he was, an already established star. Yet a whirlwind romance ensued and before she knew it, they were married and soon heading to the U.S. Even though Marian played some with her husband, he saw her abilities and encouraged her to launch her own career. She also told of turning his practice scale into an original composition, "Melancholy Mood."

McPartland began a 10 year run at the Hickory House Restaurant in New York City, thanks to agent Joe Glaser. Her trio eventually would be broadcast three times a week, and other musicians frequented the venue while in town, including Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond (who would eventually lure away her drummer, Joe Morello), and Duke Ellington, who would sit in from time to time.

McPartland's trio set later that evening was even more of a treat. Joined by bassist Don Thompson and drummer Barry Elmes, she ran past her scheduled time with a diverse set including some of her favorite standards, as well as pieces I haven't heard her play during the many opportunities I've had to see her in concert (or on her Piano Jazz series). While "Like Someone in Love," "Willow Weep for Me," and "All the Things You Are" (with a "fake" fugue arrangement she stole from Johnny Guarnieri) are all expected, she also included Ivan Lins' "Velas," Billy Strayhorn's "Raincheck," Bill Evans' "Turn Out the Stars" (though her interpretation was far less melancholy than the composer's many versions), and even Ornette Coleman's "Ramblin'," during which she seemed to interpolate "Just You, Just Me." Rather than leave the stage for good, she played her poignant ballad "In the Days of Our Love," following it with a rapid fire take of Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee," finally ending her show with one of her favorite Alec Wilder compositions, "I'll be Around." Thompson had several excellent solos and both he and Elmes provided flawless support for the pianist. McPartland could have easily held her Bassett Theatre audience in place for another hour; it was well worth my leaving the Jazz Journalist reception early!

The final day had two sets I decided that I couldn't possibly miss. I had enjoyed singer Giacomo Gates three years earlier at IAJE in New Orleans, so I knew I couldn't possibly be disappointed with him. Unfortunately, I missed the start of his set as I dawdled in the room at the end of Bunky Green's set, of which I only caught one complete song. Gates' rich, slightly smoky baritone made the most of ballads like "No, Not Much" and "You Go to My Head." Gates excels in the art of vocalese (setting lyrics to famous solos), especially recreating Paul Desmond's solo in "Take Five" (though a pompous attorney blocked release of his recording after explaining to Helen Keane that two vocal versions, by Al Jarreau and Carmen McRae, were enough; Keane's indignant response to this idiot was "What in the hell do you know about music?"), as well as recreating a Dexter Gordon solo to "Lullaby of Birdland." Yvonne Kauffman joined him on stage for a playful "All of Me."

Earlier in the afternoon I had my first opportunity to hear Denny Zeitlin perform, so I made sure I was there an hour early to get a front and center seat. With superb accompaniment by bassist Buster Williams and drummer Matt Wilson, the pianist's approximately 55 minute set consisted of just four songs. John Coltrane's "Cousin Mary" was the up-tempo opener, followed by the venerable standard "Body and Soul," complete with Zeitlin's Impressionistic solo and some choice arco bass by Williams. But it was "Slick Rock" (an extended work by Zeitlin which wrapped the set) that captivated the audience. The avant-garde introduction with the leader plucking the piano strings and later banging out chords inside the piano, Williams initially bowing below the bridge of his bass, and Wilson fueling both of them, bringing the house down some twenty minutes later. Zeitlin told me following the concert that he has recorded a version of "Slick Rock" as a part of a CD which is now in search of a label. One can only hope that such a decision-maker attended this exciting set.

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