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Marian McPartland and Guests
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Marian McPartland and Ray Charles
Marian McPartland and Eubie Blake
Marian McPartland and Dizzy Gillespie
Marian McPartland and Bill Evans
Marian McPartland (synopsis)
August 21, 2013
Marian McPartland, the host of NPR’s longest-running music program Piano Jazz, has died. She was 95.
ETV Radio's Director Shari Hutchinson, who also serves as the producer of Piano Jazz, said: “Words cannot adequately express what Marian McPartland meant to ETV Radio, NPR, and especially for me. Marian was of course the brilliant artist and beloved icon of Public Radio. I was able to work closely with one of the strongest, most successful, vital, creative women of her time, someone who overcame every obstacle and who pushed through every glass ceiling. I am deeply saddened at her passing, and at the same time profoundly joyful she let me into her life."
McPartland, a British citizen, met famed American jazz trumpeter Jimmy McPartland when both entertained the troops during World War II. After their marriage, they relocated to New York City, where she became house pianist for the famed Hickory House on 52nd Street. Known as a gathering place for performers following television broadcasts and Broadway performances, McPartland’s nightly audience often included notables such as Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Steve Allen, Oscar Peterson, and Artie Shaw. Her encyclopedic musical memory, gift for improvisation, and witty banter made her irresistible to performers. She caught the ear of South Carolina ETV Radio, which offered her a program about jazz composed of interview and improvisational performance. Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz went on to become NPR Music’s longest-running music program and spanned over three decades. It moved through generations of performers, from jazz greats Dave Brubeck and Tony Bennett to the unusual (Clint Eastwood) to Willie Nelson and Elvis Costello. Her interviews were not held at a table, but with guest and host side by side at twin grand pianos. Piano Jazz is still heard today, its recent seasons curated by McPartland from her astonishing archive of original performances.
Piano Jazz won the prestigious Peabody Award in 1984. In 2004, McPartland was awarded a Trustee's Award Grammy for Lifetime Achievement; in 2007, the Kennedy Center named McPartland a Living Jazz Legend. She was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2010.
McPartland is survived by Donna Gourdol (granddaughter) Doug Kassel (grandson), Mark (nephew) and Anna Armitage, Sheila Prophet (niece), and Mr. and Mrs. Chris Armitage (nephew).
Piano Jazz will offer a tribute program in her honor, and select public television stations may also offer the documentary Marian McPartland: First Lady of Jazz.
Marian McPartland (full biography)
Jazz legend Marian McPartland began life as Margaret Marian Turner in Slough, Buckinghamshire, on March 20, 1918. She began playing the piano at 3 years of age. She was drawn to jazz as a teenager, but began classical studies at the famous London Guildhall School of Music. McPartland left the Guildhall School and joined the well-known Music Hall entertainer Billy Mayerl, whose vaudeville-style—the Claviers—featured a four-piano stage show. With the outbreak of the war, she joined the Entertainment National Service Association—the British version of the USO—playing on the front lines. She met some American musicians playing with the USO, including a famous Chicago trumpet player named Jimmy McPartland, whom she married at a military base in Germany.
When the war was over, the McPartlands came to Chicago, where they worked until they moved to Manhattan in 1949. Louis Armstrong greeted them on their first day in the city, and they were soon ensconced in the middle of the bustling jazz universe. Jimmy convinced Marian to start her own trio in the early 1950s, and in 1952, Marian landed a gig at the Hickory House—a 52nd Street restaurant known for its hickory-grilled steaks—where stayed on as the house pianist for eight years. On any given night, Marian’s Hickory House audience might include Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Steve Allen, Oscar Peterson, Artie Shaw, and all kinds of celebrities from Broadway and Hollywood, along with other musicians such as Bucky Pizzarelli and Paul Bley, hoping to sit in with the band. In her trio, a number of different bassists and drummers backed McPartland through her lengthy stint, but the 1954-1956 edition of the band, with Bill Crow and Joe Morello, is best remembered today.
McPartland used the Hickory House as a base for a wide learning experience, studying Duke, Count Basie, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, and Dave Brubeck, among others. Able to summon a prodigious number of songs from memory, and adaptive to any subgenre of jazz she encountered, McPartland became heralded as a superb interpreter and forceful improviser. At the famous "Great Day in Harlem" photo shoot for Esquire in 1958, she was among the dozens of jazz greats assembled, standing next to one of her idols, Mary Lou Williams.
Through the 1960s McPartland worked for Benny Goodman, and was influenced by the lyrical romanticism of Bill Evans, which was reflected not only in her playing but in her songwriting, as evidenced in her original compositions, "With You in Mind", "In the Days of Our Love" and "Ambience." Unsigned to any label, McPartland started her own, Halcyon, self-producing a number of albums of her work, as well as recordings of some of her favorite otherwise unsigned artists.
She hosted a radio show on the Pacifica Radio Network station, WBAI-FM in New York City, and also helped to develop and participate in a jazz education program for Washington, D.C. schoolchildren that became a national model. She also wrote witty and prescient appreciations and remembrance-filled essays for a variety of magazines, which were collected in a volume titled All in Good Time in 1987. (The book was reissued by the University of Illinois Press in February 2003 as Marian McPartland's Jazz World with new postscripts from the author.)
The best-known forum for her advocacy of the improviser's art has been and continues to be Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz, a radio program heard weekly on National Public Radio for the past 34 years, making the series NPR's longest-running music program and its most-listened-to jazz program. Developed and produced by South Carolina ETV Radio, Piano Jazz began as a follow up to the NPR Peabody Award-winning program American Popular Song, co-hosted by McPartland's good friend, songwriter Alec Wilder, and composer/pianist Loonis McGlohon. Wilder and McGlohon brought singers into the studio to perform tunes and discuss their music. When Wilder became ill and could not carry on the show, he suggested a great pianist with a wonderful wit and natural radio presence who might be interested in a new, but similar, show. She brought an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz repertoire, first-person accounts of friendships, a quick wit, and a classy sense of style to the program.
Piano Jazz remains one of the most popular programs on NPR, reaching listeners throughout the U.S. and around the world, through NPR's Satellite Service and on-line streaming audio. Her guests have included nearly all the important jazz artists of the age, lesser-known masters, and emerging artists. Featured stars include Tony Bennett, Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, and Pat Metheny, as well as Willie Nelson, Elvis Costello, Alicia Keys and the members of Steely Dan. Winner of the prestigious Peabody Award in 1984 and the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award in 1991, Piano Jazz has also received honors from the New York Festivals, the Communicator Awards, and the Foundation of American Women in Radio and Television. In 2000, McPartland was named an American Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts. In addition, in 2004, McPartland was awarded a Trustee's Award Grammy for Lifetime Achievement; and in 2007, the Kennedy Center named McPartland a Living Jazz Legend.
McPartland has released over 60 albums on Concord Records, and her recording legacy includes choice Piano Jazz broadcasts originally released on Concord's Jazz Alliance subsidiary label and reissues of her Halcyon albums. Particularly esteemed are her "songbook" albums that pay homage to composers such as Benny Carter, Ellington and Strayhorn, her old friend Alec Wilder and Mary Lou Williams.
Her 2002 recording, Live at Shanghai Jazz, reunited her in a trio with her Hickory House drummer Joe Morello and bassist Rufus Reid. The following year saw the reissue of a 2-CD archival set titled Windows, culled from previously released quartet material. National Public Radio and Concord Records also documented McPartland's historic 85th birthday party at Birdland with a star-studded radio broadcast, followed by a 2-CD set entitled Marian McPartland & Friends: 85 Candles--Live From New York featuring performances by Tony Bennett, Norah Jones, Clark Terry, Phil Woods, Karrin Alyson, and Bill Charlap.
An outspoken environmentalist, McPartland composed an orchestral work at the age of 87 inspired by environmentalist Rachel Carson's groundbreaking book, "Silent Spring." The work, "A Portrait of Rachel Carson," drew on McPartland's impressionistic style and her penchant for painting musical portraits of people.
A longtime resident of Port Washington N.Y., McPartland remained a British subject. McPartland is survived by Donna Gourdol (granddaughter) Doug Kassel (grandson), Mark (nephew) and Anna Armitage, Sheila Prophet (niece), and Mr. and Mrs. Chris Armitage (nephew).