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Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz with "Stephane Grappelly"

Ken Dryden By

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From the time I first heard Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz on National Public Radio in 1979, I was hooked, although my work schedule (and later, my city of residence) didn't always permit me to enjoy the program. On October 5, 1989, Marian welcomed the extraordinary swing violinist Stephane Grappelly ( see note at the bottom about the spelling) as her guest. She told me during an interview that Grappelly was enjoying himself and playing numerous songs, so I suspect some of them that were edited out to keep the show to less than 59 minutes may still be on tape reels in the holdings of SCETV in Columbia, South Carolina (the producer of the program).

There aren't any real surprises among the songs selected, but Grappelly's violin and McPartland's piano are a heavenly match, as it is obvious to any listener that they are enjoying themselves throughout the show. The duets are fairly brief, but the improvising by each of them is inspired.

Grappelly enjoyed playing piano, so anyone who saw him in concert during the 1980s (though this was hardly the only time) probably remembers him switching to solo piano for a song or two. Following his delicately swinging solo piano interpretation of "Looking at You" (which may sound similar to Teddy Wilson's style), he also plays two piano duets with his hostess: "Anything Goes" and "Shine," with appropriately swinging results.

McPartland also offers a touching improvised portrait of her guest, prompting Grappelly to ask for a tape of the performance as a souvenir. After a long discussion of Grappelly's partnership with Django Reinhardt, Marian plays a stunning solo rendition of the late guitarist's best known composition, which was an expected part of any Grappelly concert, though he graciously allows McPartland to play the timeless ballad unaccompanied.

Although the choice of a final tune must have been difficult, due to the large repertoire of each of the two musicians, they conclude the program with a rousing take of "Oh, Lady Be Good!" One of hundreds of Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz programs recorded for broadcast by NPR stations since 1979, this edition clearly deserves to be commercially released.

Playlist

  1. Introduction
  2. Pennies From Heaven (Arthur Johnston/Johnny Burke)
  3. Conversation
  4. Willow Weep For Me (Ann Ronell)
  5. Conversation
  6. I Got Rhythm (George Gershwin/Ira Gershwin)
  7. Conversation
  8. I Can't Believe That You're in Love With Me (Clarence Gaskill/ Jimmy McHugh)
  9. Conversation
  10. Someone to Watch Over Me (George Gershwin/Ira Gershwin)
  11. Conversation
  12. Looking at You (Cole Porter)
  13. Conversation
  14. Anything Goes (Cole Porter)
  15. Conversation/Portrait of Stephane Grappelly (Marian McPartland)
  16. Conversation
  17. Shine (Cecil Mack/Lew Brown/Ford Dabney)
  18. Conversation
  19. Nuages (Django Reinhardt)
  20. Conversation
  21. Oh, Lady Be Good! (George Gershwin/Ira Gershwin)


Players

Stephane Grappelly/violin (2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 21) & piano (12, 14, 17)
Marian McPartland/piano (2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 14, 15, 17, 19, 21)

Satellite feed date: April 7, 1990, with a repeat feed on April 18, 1998. The actual recording date was Oct. 5, 1989.

Note on the spelling of the violinist's name
I called Marian McPartland a few days prior to the session and asked if she had ever considered having Stephane Grappelli as a guest on her show. Her reply was "Funny you should mention him; we're taping later this week." I told her about an old piano trio record of his that I owned and she asked me to Fed Ex it to her. I asked her to get him to autograph it, which she did in the hotel lobby prior to the recording session. The record jacket is dated Oct. 5, 1989 and signed "Stephane Grappelly," the original spelling of his name.


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