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Musician

Marian McPartland

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Marian McPartland has made jazz piano duets into something of an art form. Sure, it's been done before, but not very often. There are the Pete Johnson/Albert Ammons duet sessions that made both boogie pianists stars, but save for the occasional live performance where a couple of luminaries may have sat in together to present a finale to a concert, there aren't that many examples in the jazz canon. In the 20 or so years that she's hosted her program Piano Jazz on National Public Radio, Marian McPartland has done her level best to boost the profile of this neglected jazz instrumental format. "Somehow" McPartland tells me during a phone interview from San Francisco, where she's playing with her trio at Yoshi's, "I've always been associated with either two or four pianos. The first gig I ever had years ago was a four piano act in England, where we performed in vaudeville all over the country." McPartland was born in England on March 20, 1918, and was playing piano by ear from the time she was three years old. At the age of seventeen she was accepted by The Guildhall School of Music. There she studied composition and music theory in addition to her piano playing, obtaining a firm grounding in classical piano technique that shows in her playing to this day. But McPartland wanted to play jazz. She auditioned for a popular English pianist, Billy Mayerl, and was offered a job. Her parents were not happy with her decision to go on the road, but Marian could not be swayed, and finally they relented. "I do know a lot of young musicians" she says, "we talk occasionally and one of their big things seem to be that their parents want them to be in some other business, you know, and mine did too, but I didn't let that stop me. That's the main thing is be persistent. If you want to do it you've got to really get into it, you can't just halfway do it and have a day job and play a few gigs here and there, you've just got to really get into it." Marian really got into her musical career, even though she wasn't always playing jazz. Once Mayerl's four piano act broke up, she continued to work in vaudeville and accompanied singers until World War II, when she joined ENSA, the English equivalent of the USO. By 1944 she had joined up with the USO, traveling to France and Belgium, where she met cornetist Jimmy McPartland, her future husband. She has written that during her tours with McPartland's group playing for GI s on the front lines she learned a lot of the things she needed to know to be a professional jazz pianist, including how to accompany soloists and a great deal of the standard repertoire. She and Jimmy were married in Aachen, Germany, on February 4, 1946. Soon thereafter, they came back to the States and lived in Chicago, which McPartland refers to as her second home. Jimmy is, of course, known as one of the originators of the "Chicago jazz" style. The University of Chicago's Jazz Archive contains a large collection of photographs, correspondence, and recordings made available by the McPartlands that tell the story of an important time and place in the development of jazz. Marian appeared at the University's Mandel Hall on October 20, 2001 in a tribute concert for Jimmy, who passed away in 1991. The event will featured Marian and a group of musicians playing music associated with Jimmy, including some who played with him. "We've done this before a few years ago, playing all of Jimmy's recorded music and generally having a good time recalling jokes and funny things that we said to each other." The couple moved to New York in 1949, and there she continued to be exposed to all of the great jazz artists of the day. She played her first trio engagement at a club called The Embers, and in 1952 began what became an eight-year stint at the famed Hickory House. By then the trio included drummer Joe Morello, and bassist Bill Crow, who are widely known for their work with Dave Brubeck and Gerry Mulligan, respectively. The trio was named "Small Group of the Year" in 1955 by Metronome magazine. Marian became an established jazz and club pianist; since the Hickory House was located on 52nd Street musicians were always among those in attendance. These often included the likes of Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson, Billy Strayhorn, and Benny Goodman, as well as one of McPartland's influences, Mary Lou Williams. "Well, I always admired Mary Lou; she's really one of my role models. I always wanted to be able to swing as hard as she did. That was something she could do no matter what the rhythm section was like, and I loved her creativity, she always wanted to be on the edge. Every time I heard her she would be doing something different harmonically. All her compositions are really interesting things." McPartland and Williams stand side by side in Art Kane's famous 1958 Great Day in Harlem photograph. The trio recorded some classic sides for Capitol, which remain mysteriously unavailable at this time, though a Savoy reissue of some live dates entitled On 52nd Street is available on CD. The group reunited for some weekend gigs at Birdland in the Fall of 1998, and those performances can be heard on the Concord disc Reprise.

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Article: Album Review

Roberto Magris: Love Is Passing Thru

Read "Love Is Passing Thru" reviewed by Edward Blanco


Long recognized as one of the finest jazz pianists around, Roberto Magris has an extensive discography documenting his talents as a composer and his skills as a virtuoso pianist. In 2005, Magris and his all-Italian quartet of saxophonist Ettore Martin, bassist Danilo Gallo and drummer and percussionist Enzo Carpentieri toured the Far East and upon their ...

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Article: Radio & Podcasts

Sarah Vaughan Centennial, New Releases By Monty Alexander, Martin Budde, Danae Olano, Kelly Green & More

Read "Sarah Vaughan Centennial, New Releases By Monty Alexander, Martin Budde, Danae Olano, Kelly Green & More" reviewed by Mary Foster Conklin


Women's History Month continues with new releases from Monty Alexander, Martin Budde, Danae Olano, Allison Adams Tucker and Kelly Green, with birthday shoutouts to Deanna Witkowski, Eliane Elias, Marian McPartland, Sarah Vaughan (100!), Meredith d'Ambrosio, Miki Yamanaka, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Virginia Schenck, among others. Thanks for listening and please support the artists you hear by ...

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Article: Album Review

Roberto Magris: Love Is Passing Thru

Read "Love Is Passing Thru" reviewed by Jack Bowers


Love Is Passing Thru, by Italian pianist Roberto Magris and his quartet, was actually recorded almost two decades ago, in January and February 2005, shortly after a concert tour in the Far East, and was to be released on the Black Saint/Soul Note label before it was sold and went under. Fast forward to 2024, and ...

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Article: Opinion

Can You Judge an Album By Its Label?

Read "Can You Judge an Album By Its Label?" reviewed by Dave Hughes


This article was first published at All About Jazz in March 1999. For almost as long as there have been record labels, many labels have sought to build a reputation or a brand identity for themselves in terms of the genre of music presented on their labels or the technical quality of their product. ...

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Article: Live Review

Jeremy Pelt Quintet at Jazz Alley

Read "Jeremy Pelt Quintet at Jazz Alley" reviewed by Paul Rauch


Jeremy Pelt Quintet Jazz Alley Seattle, WA November 7, 2023 At forty seven years of age, trumpeter/composer Jeremy Pelt came of age as a musician in the mid-1990's as a young member of the Mingus Big Band. He benefited greatly during that time and in the years that followed, from the ...

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Article: Profile

Dena DeRose: No More Detours Ahead

Read "Dena DeRose: No More Detours Ahead" reviewed by Mathew Bahl


A pianist by instinct, a jazz musician by choice and a singer by accident, Dena DeRose has emerged as one of the most captivating and distinctive new voices in mainstream jazz. Anyone who has not heard her music should not be misled by her status as a singer/pianist specializing in the Great American Songbook. DeRose is ...

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Article: Take Five With...

Take Five with Jon De Lucia

Read "Take Five with Jon De Lucia" reviewed by AAJ Staff


Meet Jon De Lucia Jon De Lucia is a Brooklyn-based saxophonist, clarinetist and composer. Originally from Quincy, MA, he moved to New York City in 2005.Since then he has performed in the US and internationally at the Burlington Discover Jazz Fest, the Tanglewood Jazz Festival, and the Tamana-shi Jazz Festival in Japan. In New York he ...

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Article: Album Review

Tim Ray Trio: Fire & Rain

Read "Fire & Rain" reviewed by Jack Bowers


Boston-based pianist Tim Ray and his rhythm mates, bassist John Lockwood and drummer Mark Walker, have been performing together since 2013, and Fire & Rain is their second recording as a trio. Their years working arm-in-arm and side-by-side have spawned a symbiotic relationship, and it shows. Even when the trio tests the free-jazz ...

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Article: Radio & Podcasts

A Fanfare of Trumpets from Yazz Ahmed to Bubber Miley + Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Band

Read "A Fanfare of Trumpets from Yazz Ahmed to Bubber Miley + Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Band" reviewed by David Brown


This week on the Jazz Continuum we get ready for Philly Shows with Helen Sung, Fieldwork and Craig Taborn. Live from Haverford College with Marian McPartland and Sun Ra. A fanfare of trumpets gather with Ruby Braff, Bubber Miley, Freddie Hubbard, Roy Eldridge, Yazz Ahmed and International Sweetheart of Rhythm Clora Bryant. We dig into a ...


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