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Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Roger Crane By

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Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Chick Corea, Carmen McRae

Marian McPartland’s Peabody Award-winning Piano Jazz radio series profiling various musicians has been popular for 25 years and has featured over 300 musical guests. These four segments – two previously issued on CD and two new ones – make a valuable addition to this ongoing NPR series. For example, both Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson are very articulate men as well as superb pianists, and prove to be excellent interviewees. Each of these great jazz pianists eagerly and candidly discusses their musical approaches and philosophy. The Evans disc, which was first released in 1978 (the fourth in the Piano Jazz shows) just two years before Evans untimely death is certainly one of the finest entries in McPartland’s CD series. He talks about his career and performs four solos, including an exceptionally beautiful version of Ellington’s “Reflections in D.” Evans and McPartland duet on five numbers, including Gordon Jenkins' "This is All I Ask.” Not only is this a very entertaining musical program, but it is also one of McPartland's most engaging interviews.

The segment with Oscar Peterson, originally recorded in February of 1980 is equally enjoyable. He not only displays his formidable technique on favorites like Mandel’s "Emily" and the classic "Body and Soul" but also proves himself to be a compatible piano duet partner with McPartland. They complement one another's playing particularly well on an up-tempo "Cotton Tail" and on Jimmy Van Heusen’s "Like Someone in Love." Peterson is a charming and witty man and shares amusing anecdotes about the consequences of skipping piano practice while growing up and some of the whimsical pranks he pulled on his fellow musicians.

A new session with Bostonian keyboard giant, Chick Corea, although not quite as entertaining as the above two, is, nonetheless, filled with amiable chatter and superb music. “Brasilia” is typical of Corea’s compositional talent and is “classical” in every respect. A relaxed “Monk’s Mood,” the second solo piece by Corea, gives us an insight into his understanding of Thelonious Monk’s music. McPartland joins him on the Fats Waller standard “Jitterbug Waltz” and Kern’s fine (but over-performed) “Yesterdays.”

Vocalist Carmen McRae’s 1985 appearance on McPartland’s Piano Jazz has some excellent music and plenty of lively conversation and mutual good feeling. Besides being one of the superior jazz singers, McRae was also an accomplished jazz pianist. She joined McPartland on some songs, such as “Sweet Lorraine” and soloed on five numbers including a lovely lesser-known Ellington song deserving more attention, titled “I Never Felt This Way Before” and she is superb on the Harold Arlen “As Long As I Live.”

Each entry in this ongoing and entertaining series is good fun and good listening. McPartland is a national treasure, as a pianist, educator, mentor and as an articulate jazz spokesperson and NPR hostess. Many congratulations to The Jazz Alliance for releasing these CDs.


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