Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz with Nellie Lutcher

Ken Dryden By

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I had never heard of Nellie Lutcher when she appeared on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz during the mid-1980s, but I was taken with her right away. With her playful vocals and swinging piano, Lutcher was famous for a time during the 1940s, but her record sales declined during the following decade and after being dropped by Capitol and recording for a few independent labels, she only played on a part-time basis and worked for the musician's union.

Just as she coaxed Cleo Brown out of retirement to appear on her show, McPartland successfully lured Lutcher into the studio for a Piano Jazz taping during a trip to the west coast. The two musicians happily reminisce together about long vanished nightclubs in Chicago from the 1940s and 1950s where they crossed paths. Around 76 years old at the time and admitting to just getting over a cold, Lutcher sounds even better than her famous recordings from decades earlier. The host comments on her guest's powerful tenths following her romps through originals like the flirtatious "Hurry on Down and "He's a Real Gone Guy (she states that she misses having her rhythm section prior to beginning the latter piece, but they prove to be unnecessary), which were also her two best known songs. Lutcher adds a bit of playful scat to "Keepin' Out of Mischief Now and shows off her strong left hand in her ballad tribute to her son, "My Little Boy.

Marian's solo features include "The Birth of the Blues, a golden oldie that she likely played on many occasions with her late husband Jimmy, along with "Love is the Sweetest Thing, a lovely but rarely heard Ray Noble ballad. The two pianists join forces for "Tea For Two, "Sophisticated Lady and "The Song is Ended (But the Melody Lingers On), though at times it seems obvious that Lutcher is not used to playing duo piano on a regular basis.

When this Piano Jazz program was rebroadcast during the last week of December 2005, McPartland referred to Nellie Lutcher in the past tense. Evidently, Lutcher was no longer actively playing at that time, though I confirmed that she was still alive at the time when a reader contacted me. It is too bad that Lutcher wasn't recorded more frequently during her golden years, as she obviously still had plenty of chops and an engaging personality as well.

Update: Nellie Lutcher died on Friday, June 7, 2007 in Los Angeles. She was 94.

Playlist: Introduction; Hurry on Down; talk; Keepin' Out of Mischief Now; talk; Tea For Two; talk; The Birth of the Blues; talk; My Little Boy; Sophisticated Lady; talk; He's a Real Gone Guy; talk; I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues; talk; Love is the Sweetest Thing; talk; The Song is Ended

Personnel: Nellie Lutcher: piano, vocals; Marian McPartland: piano

Postscript: I was informed by a sharp-eyed Not For Sale reader in December 2006 who contacted Nellie Lutcher's nephew. He responded that Nellie is not only still very much with us, but actually she was born in 1912, not 1915, as regularly posted in reference books, so she celebrated her 94th birthday in 2006. Thanks, Nellie, for a wonderful performance on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz!

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