She may have been an elegant-sounding product of England, but over her six-decade career as a pianist, Marian McPartland more than made her mark on the American scene. Her death this week at age 95 is a loss not just for jazz aficionados, but also for fans of quality radio programming.
Though justly acclaimed for her long tenure as the host of NPR’s Piano Jazz program -- on which she interviewed and played with a stunning variety of jazz and pop musicians -- McPartland was also worth catching in solo settings (as albums like Live at Yoshi’s Nitespot and Live at Maybeck Recital Hall Vol. 9 ably attest). Also be sure to check out her versions of “Summertime” (with Jason Moran) and “Lullaby of the Leaves” (with Geri Allen). McPartland was a memorable interpreter of, among others, Duke Ellington, excelling in everything from his staples (“Cotton Tail”) to rarities (“Clothed Woman”!). As a composer, she left us some indelible contributions (perhaps most familiar to audiences is her “Theme from Piano Jazz”).
The appended playlist opens with a selection of her non-radio recordings and then moves on to excerpts from Piano Jazz broadcasts with the likes of the following artists (can you believe this lineup?): Brad Mehldau, Oscar Peterson, Lionel Hampton (on vibes, piano, and vocals!), Elvis Costello, Chick Corea, Bill Evans, Dave Brubeck, John Medeski and, finally, Steely Dan. The “free pieces” that she plays with some of these heavyweights are great documents, and all of them double as testaments to McPartland’s cheerfully adventurous spirit. (She even had Cecil Taylor on her program once, though that broadcast is not currently in print.)
Each of those programs is worth checking out in fuller versions, but we’ve humbly selected our favorite sections (both tunes and conversational clips alike) for this tribute. Enjoy! (And don’t miss the additional clutch of selections from other McPartland albums at the end, either.)