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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: Radio & Podcasts

Milestones: Miles Davis Pre 1960 And His Collaborators

Read "Milestones: Miles Davis Pre 1960 And His Collaborators" reviewed by David Brown


This week, a mix to mirror book one of the 1983 Miles Davis biography by Jack Chambers that I'm reading. Two full hours, celebrating the music of Miles and his collaborators pre-1960. Playlist Thelonious Monk “Esistrophy (Theme)" from Live at the It Club-Complete (Columbia) 01:30 Miles Davis Quintet “Milestones" from single (Columbia) 02:20 Lee ...

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Article: Live Review

Helen Sung Quartet + 1 at SFJAZZ Center

Read "Helen Sung Quartet + 1 at SFJAZZ Center" reviewed by Harry S. Pariser


Helen Sung Quartet+1 Joe Henderson lab at SFJAZZ Center San Francisco, CA March 18, 2022 Raised by immigrants from Taiwan in Houston, Texas, Helen Sung does not fit the traditional stereotype of a jazz musician. Sung was set to be a classical pianist, earning her bachelor's and master's degrees in classical ...

News: Birthday

Jazz Musician of the Day: Marian McPartland

Jazz Musician of the Day: Marian McPartland

All About Jazz is celebrating Marian McPartland's birthday today! 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 ...

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Article: Album Review

Pete Malinverni: On the Town: Pete Malinverni Plays Leonard Bernstein

Read "On the Town: Pete Malinverni Plays Leonard Bernstein" reviewed by Pierre Giroux


The presumptive title of this release is On The Town, but in reality it covers more than just the music from that titled 1944 Leonard Bernstein Broadway musical. The ever thoughtful and vivid pianist Pete Malinverni along with his savvy and accomplished companions bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Jeff Hamilton have made this release an oeuvre ...

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Article: Book Review

The Lady Swings: Memoirs of a Jazz Drummer

Read "The Lady Swings: Memoirs of a Jazz Drummer" reviewed by David A. Orthmann


The Lady Swings: Memoirs of a Jazz Drummer Dottie Dodgion and Wayne Enstice 264 Pages ISBN: #9780252085512 University of Illinois Press2021 Dottie Dodgion isn't reluctant to share the trials and tribulations endured throughout a long life. Dodgion was raped by her stepfather at age ten, afflicted with early ...

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Article: Year in Review

2021: The Year in Jazz

Read "2021: The Year in Jazz" reviewed by Ken Franckling


The jazz world continued grappling and adjusting in year two of the COVID-19 pandemic. International Jazz Day again went virtual for the most part. Singer Tony Bennett put the final stamp on his touring—and likely recording—career after his Alzheimer's disclosure. Trumpeter Irvin Mayfield was headed to federal prison. The National Endowment for the Arts welcomed four ...

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Article: Profile

Gaga, Bennett, The Count, Presidents: Harold Jones Drums Across History

Read "Gaga, Bennett, The Count, Presidents: Harold Jones Drums Across History" reviewed by Arthur R George


When Tony Bennett stepped past the twilight of Alzheimer's onto the stage of Radio City Music Hall in jny: New York City in August 2021, drummer Harold Jones was there ready for him, as he had been for Bennett over the past seventeen years, in a friendship going back to 1968. Lady Gaga, the popstar recreated ...

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Article: Radio & Podcasts

New All Star Compilation To Benefit The Musician's Emergency Fund, Live Oscar Peterson and Remembering Margo Guryan

Read "New All Star Compilation To Benefit The Musician's Emergency Fund, Live Oscar Peterson  and Remembering Margo Guryan" reviewed by Mary Foster Conklin


This broadcast presents a 1987 Oscar Peterson concert recording, a benefit for the Jazz Foundation's Musician's Emergency Fund, new releases from Alex Hamburger, Kristen R. Bromley plus a single from Janis Ian, with birthday shoutouts to Nioka Workman, Holli Ross, Johnny Mercer, Diana Krall, Sheila Jordan and more. In the first hour, a remembrance for singer/songwriter ...

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Article: Radio & Podcasts

The Costello Jazz Show, Part 2

Read "The Costello Jazz Show, Part 2" reviewed by Ludovico Granvassu


Certain musicians like to stick to a formula. Others, like Elvis Costello (featured today), continually reinvent themselves. Looking back at Costello's career, it seems like his sense of adventurous restlessness has been both the cause and the effect of his many high-profile collaborations, including those in the jazz world—from Michael Leonhart to Roy Nathanson, from the ...


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