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Marian McPartland

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.

ARTICLE: UNDER THE RADAR

Women in Jazz, Pt. 3: The International Women in Jazz Organization

Read "Women in Jazz, Pt. 3: The International Women in Jazz Organization" reviewed by Karl Ackermann

In part 1 and part 2 of the Women in Jazz series, we looked at the historical marginalization of women in jazz from Lil Hardin Armstrong and Blanch Calloway in the 1920s to Tia Fuller in 2019. Part 2 focused on several prominent pioneering artists including the all-female International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Marian McPartland, and Melba ...

ARTICLE: PROFILE

20 Seattle Jazz Musicians You Should Know: Chuck Deardorf

Read "20 Seattle Jazz Musicians You Should Know: Chuck Deardorf" reviewed by Paul Rauch

The city of Seattle has a jazz history that dates back to the very beginnings of the form. It was home to the first integrated club scene in America on Jackson St in the 1920's and '30s. It saw a young Ray Charles arrive as a teenager to escape the nightmare of Jim Crow in the ...

ARTICLE: ALBUM REVIEW

Ted Moore Trio: The Natural Order of Things

Read "The Natural Order of Things" reviewed by Jack Bowers

A piano trio led by a drummer? While that may not always be The Natural Order of Things, it is here. The drummer is the veteran Ted Moore, his teammates the talented pianist Phil Markowitz and rock-solid bassist Kai Eckhardt. Moore composed and arranged (almost) all of the music, which enlivens themes from Brazil and Spain, ...

ARTICLE: RADIO

Celebrating Carmen McRae's Centennial

Read "Celebrating Carmen McRae's Centennial" reviewed by Mary Foster Conklin

The broadcast includes new releases from Duchess, Kandace Springs, Nina Simone and Carla Hassett with birthday shoutouts to Carmen McRae on her centennial, Alberta Hunter, (who was not only a superb performer but also a professional health care worker for more than 20 years), Billie Holiday, guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe and pianist Marian McPartland.

ARTICLE: RADIO

Eldar, Bill Frisell, Gerry Mulligan and More

Read "Eldar, Bill Frisell, Gerry Mulligan and More" reviewed by Joe Dimino

Another stellar album is out there from Pianist Eldar Djangirov and we play music off of it. Also, we honor the great Mike Longo and Harold Mabern. Enjoy the jazz. Playlist Eldar Djangirov “Devotion" Once Upon a Time (Twelve Tone Resonance, LLC) 00:00 Host talks 5:50 Marian McPartland “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" Reader's ...

ARTICLE: RADIO

Just You, the Secret Service and Me - Celebrating Johnny Mercer

Read "Just You, the Secret Service and Me - Celebrating Johnny Mercer" reviewed by Mary Foster Conklin

Besides a celebration of songs by Johnny Mercer, the broadcast includes new releases from pianist Andrea Petrity, The DIVA Jazz Orchestra, vocalists Margaret Whiting, Karrin Allyson, Sonia Johnson, and the latest project from drummer Terri Lyne Carrington+Social Science plus more birthday shout outs to bassist Jen Hodge, vocalists Janet Lawson, Holli Ross, LaVern Baker, Ernestine Anderson, ...

ARTICLE: UNDER THE RADAR

Invisible Man: Willis Conover and The Jazz Hour

Read "Invisible Man: Willis Conover and The Jazz Hour" reviewed by Karl Ackermann

Willis Conover stood with a cordoned off pool of reporters and photographers, being kept at arms-length from celebrities and dignitaries on the White House lawn. There was no table assigned to him at Bill Clinton's 1993 celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the Newport Jazz Festival though Conover had been involved with George Wein's project from ...

ARTICLE: RADIO

Twilight World - Celebrating Marian McPartland, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Joni 75

Read "Twilight World - Celebrating Marian McPartland, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Joni 75" reviewed by Mary Foster Conklin

The penultimate week of Women's History Month broadcast includes new releases from guitarist Mimi Fox, trombonists Naomi Moon Siegel and Natalie Cressman, pianist Lara Downes, the group Five Play led by drummer Sherrie Maricle and vocalists Sivan Arbel and Patrice Jegou, as well as a first listen to the live recording of Joni Mitchell''s 75th year ...

ARTICLE: UNDER THE RADAR

Women in Jazz, Pt. 2: The Girls From Piney Woods

Read "Women in Jazz, Pt. 2: The Girls From Piney Woods" reviewed by Karl Ackermann

In Part 1 of Women in Jazz we looked at the historical position of women in early jazz. Despite their influence in shaping the art, their talent as composers, arrangers, instrumentalists, and band leaders, women have often been token additions; marginalized window dressing in a male-dominated world. One hundred years after Lil Hardin held ...


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