One usually hears Marian McPartland working in tandem with another pianist on her long running NPR show. But here she matches up with venerable Chicago piano stylist Willie Pickens during a week long run at Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase in the Windy City in December of 2000. What a happy Christmas present for Chicago jazz fans. This album compiles the highlight from that endeavor. There's no fooling with original or unfamiliar material on this gig. These two sublime pianists do their unique thing with a program of standards giving each one an animated work over. Of the nine items on the agenda, each takes two solos with the rest duets. They are in top form, as if they are ever any other way. The back and forth exchange during the middle of "Ain't Misbehavin" is a joy to hear. It's not a cutting contest at all, which would be out of McPartland's British character. Instead it's a mutually respectful building upon an idea the other has thrown out. The duet creme de la creme is an unusual approach to "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got that Swing)", where McPartland offers a slow opening before Pickens joins for a slower than usual rendition of Ellington's classic tune.
As for the solos, Pickens' dance over the keys on a highly syncopated "It's only a Paper Moon". While his left hand sets down the bass line, his right simply whizzes up and down the melody side of the keyboard. It's hard to accept that there is just one person at the keyboard. In contrast is McPartland's flowing rhapsodic treatment of "Autumn Nocturne" where she puts her well-honed sensitivity to this music on full display. One can only listen in awe as these two consummate masters offer a minute's shy of an hour's worth of highly polished, relaxed jazz piano. Run, don't walk., to the nearest record emporium, real or virtual, for this one.
Track Listing: Ain't Misbehavin'; Along Came Betty; Close Your Eyes; It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing); Spring Is Here; Night and Day; (It's only a ) Paper Moon; Autumn Nocturne; Just One of Those Things
Personnel: Marian McPartland/Willie Pickens - Piano
I grew up listening to my father's Jazz records and listening to radio. My dad was a musician for many years as a vocalist, bassist and drummer. His two uncles played in the Symphony of Reggio Calabria back in Italy
I grew up listening to my father's Jazz records and listening to radio. My dad was a musician for many years as a vocalist, bassist and drummer. His two uncles played in the Symphony of Reggio Calabria back in Italy. So music and jazz specifically have been a part of me since I was born. I love and perform in all styles of music from around the world. Improvisation in jazz is what drew me in, and still does as well as other genres that feature improvisation. A group of great musicians expressing themselves as one is the hallmark of great jazz and in fact all great music.