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Obit: Marian McPartland, 'Piano Jazz' host-Age 95

Desert Dancer 21 Aug 13 - 01:17 PM
Desert Dancer 21 Aug 13 - 01:21 PM
GUEST,gillymor 21 Aug 13 - 01:31 PM
Dan Schatz 21 Aug 13 - 01:31 PM
Thomas Stern 21 Aug 13 - 08:38 PM
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Subject: Obit: Marian McPartland, 'Piano Jazz' host
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 21 Aug 13 - 01:17 PM

I'm no great jazz afficionado, but I always enjoyed Marian McPartland's NPR show, "Piano Jazz" It comes on early in the evening after the news, so I listened to it mostly by accident. I'm glad I did.

Marian McPartland, 'Piano Jazz' Host, Has Died

by Felix Contreras
August 21, 2013 7:02 AM

Marian McPartland, who gave the world an intimate, insider's perspective on one of the most elusive topics in music — jazz improvisation — died of natural causes Tuesday night at her home in Long Island, N.Y. She was 95.

For more than 40 years, she hosted Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz, an NPR program pairing conversation and duet performances that reached an audience of millions, connecting with jazz fans and the curious alike. She interviewed practically every major jazz musician of the post-WWII era.

McPartland's soft English accent wasn't the only thing that made her a good radio personality. She was an accomplished jazz pianist herself, which was readily evident on her program.

McPartland The Pianist

Marian McPartland, radio host, was at one time Margaret Marian Turner, piano student. She told NPR in 2005 that her interest in music started when she was a young girl, after she heard her mother play piano.

"From that moment on, I don't remember ever not playing piano, day and night, wherever I was," she said. "At my aunt's house, at kindergarten — wherever they had a piano, I played it. Of course, on the BBC they played all the hits from over here [in the U.S.]. They played them, I heard them and I learned them."

Young Marian Turner studied classical music, then went on to perform in vaudeville theaters across England. During WWII, she entertained troops, often jamming with American soldiers.

She married one of them: cornetist Jimmy McPartland. After the war, the couple made their way to the U.S. — first to Chicago, then to New York.

There, she tracked down one of her early idols, one of the few women in the bebop revolution, pianist Mary Lou Williams.

"A man might come into New York in 1951 and be kind of gunning for his competition," says Paul de Barros, McPartland's biographer. "Marian McPartland came to New York City and befriended Mary Lou Williams. She immediately tried to establish a kind of camaraderie with her, a kind of female strategy of 'we're in this together.' "

That "we're in this together" attitude was central to the success of her radio program and her career — not that she had an easy time of it at first. As McPartland struggled to make a name for herself in New York, one critic caustically suggested that she had three things going against her: She was British, she was white and she was a woman.

"I guess it wasn't that usual to see a woman musician playing in a group, although there were many, actually," McPartland told NPR. "But everybody seemed to think that this was pretty strange, maybe because I was British also. And someone would say, 'Oh, you play good for a girl,' or 'You sound just like a man.' At the time, I just took all those things as encouragement."

McPartland landed a gig in 1952 at The Hickory House, a noisy steakhouse on 52nd Street, the center of the city's jazz scene.

"Everybody came by," de Barros says. "I mean, she had the opportunity to meet everyone from Duke Ellington to Pee Wee Russell to Thelonious Monk. Jazz was really an underground community, and everybody hung out."

Conversations Like Jazz

McPartland continued to record and perform throughout the 1950s and into the '60s, but as rock 'n' roll took over, she began to lecture on college campuses. In the late '60s, she started spinning jazz records on a New York radio station where other pianists would drop by the studio unannounced, just to chat.

A casual hello became a regular program in April 1979, when McPartland and South Carolina ETV Radio launched Piano Jazz. Her first on-air guest was the late Billy Taylor, also a pianist and NPR jazz host.

"It seemed as if every opportunity that came her way in the past prepared her for being a radio host," de Barros says. "She had researched other people's styles, so she had questions that she wanted to ask. All of those skills were in place, and she was ready for the opportunity that came to her."

McPartland said the conversations themselves were very much like jazz, spontaneous and free-flowing.

"It's so easy to make it a conversation, and you don't know where it's going to lead," McPartland said. "The whole thing is so improvised, you really don't know where it's going to go."

Along the way, McPartland also became a mentor to many young pianists. Geri Allen, one of those pianists, says she hears something familiar to musicians when she listens to Piano Jazz.

"It's a very personal exchange that only happens to musicians on the bandstand," Allen says. "But to have it opened up to the fans, I think it helps to create even more of an understanding [of] what that whole experience of improvising is about."

McPartland was once asked how she did this. Her answer was simple: "You have to love what you do," she said.

That was perhaps Marian McPartland's greatest talent: She made Piano Jazz not about her, but about the musicians, the fans and our collective exploration of jazz. For more than 40 years, she reminded listeners every week that we're all in it together.

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Subject: RE: Obit: Marian McPartland, 'Piano Jazz' host
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 21 Aug 13 - 01:21 PM

Marian McPartland, Jazz Pianist and NPR Radio Staple, Dies at 95

By Peter Keepnews
The New York Times
August 21, 2013

Marian McPartland, the genteel Englishwoman who became a fixture of the American jazz scene as a pianist and, later in life, hosted the internationally syndicated and immensely popular radio show "Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz," died on Tuesday at her home in Port Washington, N.Y. She was 95.

Her death was announced by NPR.

Ms. McPartland was a gifted musician but an unlikely candidate for jazz stardom. She recalled in a 1998 interview for National Public Radio that shortly after she arrived in the United States in 1946, the influential jazz critic Leonard Feather, who himself was born in England and who began his career as a pianist, said, "Oh, she'll never make it: she's English, white and a woman."

Mr. Feather, she added, "always used to tell me it was a joke, but I don't think he meant it as a joke."

The odds against any woman finding success as a jazz musician in the late 1940s and early '50s were formidable, but Ms. McPartland overcame them with grace. Listeners were charmed by her Old World stage presence and captivated by her elegant, harmonically lush improvisations, which reflected both her classical training and her fascination with modern jazz.

By 1958, she was well enough known to be included in Art Kane's famous Esquire magazine group photograph of jazz musicians, the subject of Jean Bach's acclaimed 1994 documentary, "A Great Day in Harlem." One of the few women in the picture, she stood next to her friend and fellow pianist Mary Lou Williams.

Ms. McPartland's contributions to jazz were not limited to her piano playing. An enthusiastic and articulate spokeswoman for the music, she lectured at schools and colleges and wrote for Down Beat, Melody Maker and other publications. (A collection of her essays, "All in Good Time," was published in 1987 and reissued in 2003.) Most notably, for more than 30 years her "Piano Jazz" was one of the most popular jazz shows ever heard on the radio.

The show made its debut on NPR in 1979, with Mary Lou Williams as the first guest. The format was simple: an informal interview interspersed with extemporaneous duets.

"I didn't have any idea I'd be good at something like this," Ms. McPartland told The Associated Press in 2000. "I certainly never thought people would know me because of my voice." But she proved a natural.

As its title suggests, "Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz" was originally a show about piano players. But the guest list came to include vocalists, among them Mel Tormé, Tony Bennett and even Willie Nelson, as well as trumpeters, saxophonists and other instrumentalists.

Jazz pianists remained the focus, however, and over the years Ms. McPartland played host to some of the most famous, from the ragtime pioneer Eubie Blake to the uncompromising avant-gardist Cecil Taylor. She gamely played duets with all of them, even Mr. Taylor, whose aggressively dissonant approach was far removed from Ms. McPartland's refined melodicism.

"I just did the kind of thing he does," she said. "Or else I went in the opposite direction, and that sounded fairly interesting too."

"Piano Jazz" was heard on more than 200 radio stations all over the world. It received a Peabody Award in 1983.

Ms. McPartland recorded her last show in September 2010, although she did not officially step down as host until November 2011; "Piano Jazz" has continued with reruns and guest hosts.

Marian McPartland was born Margaret Marian Turner in Windsor, England, on March 20, 1918. She began picking out melodies on the family piano when she was 3, and at 17 she entered the Guildhall School of Music in London.

In 1938, over her parents' strong objections, she left school to go on tour with a four-piano vaudeville act. "My mother said, 'Oh, you'll come to no good, you'll marry a musician and live in an attic,' " she recalled in 1998. "Of course, that did happen."

While on a U.S.O. tour in 1944 she met the American jazz cornetist Jimmy McPartland in Belgium; they married in early 1946, and she moved with him to Chicago later that year.

Ms. McPartland worked for a while in her husband's group, but he was a tradition-loving Dixieland musician and she was more interested in the harmonically sophisticated new sounds coming from New York City, where the McPartlands moved in 1949.

Encouraged by her husband, she formed a trio and found work at the Embers, an East Side nightclub, in 1950. Two years later she began what was supposed to be a brief engagement at the Hickory House, one of the last surviving jazz rooms on the city's once-thriving 52nd Street nightclub row. That booking turned into an eight-year residency.

The McPartlands' marriage ended after two decades, but they remained close friends and continued to work together occasionally. The divorce, she was fond of saying, did not take. She helped take care of him when he was found to have lung cancer, and they remarried shortly before he died in 1991.

Her survivors include two grandchildren.

Ms. McPartland recorded for Savoy, Capitol and other labels in the 1950s and '60s, but in 1969, disenchanted with the business, she formed her own record company, Halcyon. "It was quite a job," she told one interviewer. "I used to actually go to a record store like Sam Goody and tell them, 'I need that money you owe me.' "

Halcyon released 18 albums in 10 years and had a roster that included her fellow pianists Teddy Wilson and Earl Hines as well as Ms. McPartland herself, but her career as an executive ended when she signed with Concord Jazz in 1979. She remained a Concord artist until she stopped recording, just a few years before her death.

The bare-bones accompaniment of bass and drums was always Ms. McPartland's preferred format, but she also appeared in concert with symphony orchestras, and in 1996 she recorded an album of her own compositions, "Silent Pool," on which she was accompanied by a string orchestra.

That album provided a rare showcase for an underappreciated aspect of her talent: although she told The New York Times in 1998 that she "never had all that much faith in myself as a composer," she was a prolific songwriter whose work was recorded by Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan and others.

In her last years, Ms. McPartland received several honors. She was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2000, given a lifetime achievement Grammy Award in 2004, inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2007 and named a member of the Order of the British Empire in 2010.

And she continued playing almost to the end. Reviewing her appearance at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola in Manhattan the night before her 90th birthday in 2008, Nate Chinen wrote in The Times, "Ms. McPartland still has her pellucid touch and her careful yet comfortable style."

Unlike some jazz musicians of her generation, Ms. McPartland never became set in her ways; her playing grew denser and more complex with time, and even late in life she was experimenting with new harmonic ideas. "I've become a bit more — reckless, maybe," she said in 1998. "I'm getting to the point where I can smash down a chord and not know what it's going to be, and make it work."

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Subject: RE: Obit: Marian McPartland, 'Piano Jazz' host
From: GUEST,gillymor
Date: 21 Aug 13 - 01:31 PM

Thanks for posting these obit/tributes. I loved Piano Jazz and to me, she was one the greatest improvisors in the history of jazz.

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Subject: RE: Obit: Marian McPartland, 'Piano Jazz' host
From: Dan Schatz
Date: 21 Aug 13 - 01:31 PM

I used to love listening to her show. There was something so wonderfully incongruous about her voice and background, connecting the way she did with guests who she had obviously known and jammed with for decades. "I remember in 1949, you were with Dizzy," a guest might tell her.

Her life was a testament to the power of music to transcend barriers that so often divide.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Marian McPartland, 'Piano Jazz' host
From: Thomas Stern
Date: 21 Aug 13 - 08:38 PM

JAZZ ALLIANCE (Concord) has issued perhaps 50 of the broadcasts on CD.

The program was a delight to hear, insightful, intelligent,
witty. The guests represented a wide range of musical styles.
A great gift to her audience.

Marian McPartland rest in peace.

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