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A Tribute to Marian McPartland & “Piano Jazz”

Tomorrow marks eight years since the passing of jazz pianist, composer, and radio host Marian McPartland, OBE. Marian McPartland was born in Slough, England, in 1918 and was proficient in music at an early age. She began playing at the piano at three, studied violin at the age of nine, and later also studied voice. However, it was not until she was 16 that her parents would allow her to begin formal piano lessons.

At 18, she went on to study piano at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. Since she had not begun piano lessons until her late teens, Marian had developed a strong aptitude for learning by ear and improvisation (she would later realize she also had perfect pitch). Although studying classical piano, Marian gravitated towards American jazz music and musicians, including Duke Ellington, Mary Lou Williams, and others.

In 1938, Marian left Guildhall to study and play with Billy Mayerl, a well-known London-based pianist who was famous for his career composing for music hall and musical theater. She went on to volunteer with the Entertainment National Service association, and later the United Service Organizations (USO) during World War II. While in the USO, Marian met her husband, cornetist Jimmy McPartland, who was also working as entertainment for the troops. The two married in February of 1945, and moved to the United States in the spring of 1946.

Soon after, Marian began playing in Jimmy’s group and they performed frequently in Chicago clubs. In 1949, the pair moved to Manhattan and Marian started her own trio, and subsequently, became entrenched in the New York jazz scene throughout the 1950s. Interestingly, Marian is present in Art Kane’s 1958 photograph “A Great Day in Harlem,” which portrays a number of New York jazz musicians from that era.

In the 60s and 70s, McPartland did not perform as much, but was still a staple in the jazz world, and recorded consistently with a variety of other prominent jazz musicians. She began reviewing albums for Down Beat magazine, and also became very involved in furthering jazz education in high school and college-age musicians. She also began her own record label, Halcyon Records, while also advocating for women participating in jazz. Between 1951 and her death, McPartland was featured on over 50 albums.

In 1978, McPartland started the NPR series Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz, which has the honor of being the longest running cultural program on National Public Radio (NPR). Over the show’s 33-year run, McPartland interviewed numerous musicians in the jazz and pop crossover scene. McPartland stepped down from hosting duties at the age of 93.

A black and white photographic print of Marian McPartland, facing the camera and looking up.

Marian McPartland. Photographic print by Boris Bakchy, 1966. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c30048

NLS is fortunate to have a large collection of episodes from Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz in our collection—here is a brief snapshot of what is available:

Cecil Taylor (DBM01241)
A jazz artist with a classical background, Cecil Taylor has garnered such honors as a Guggenheim Fellowship and an honorary doctorate from the New England Conservatory of Music. Here he offers his tribute to Jimmy Lyons and joins Marian McPartland in a duet of “Get Out of Town.”

Chick Corea (DBM01250)
The multi-talented musician plays selections from a variety of musical genres—from big band to jazz-rock fusion. In “Piano Jazz,” recorded at Corea’s own California studio, the prolific composer joins Marian McPartland for a dazzling mix of talk, improvisations, and musical portraits.

Diane Shuur (DBM01236)
This vocalist and pianist first performed at age nine to begin a career that has taken her to the White House and the Monterey Jazz Festival. Diane Shuur reflects on her life and does a solo of “I Can’t Believe You Are in Love with Me.”

Ellis Marsalis (DBM01234)
He is the father of two popular American jazz artists: Wynton and Branford Marsalis. This teacher, performer, and recording artist, credited with instilling a love for music in all his children, talks about and plays his own compositions and combines talent with Marian McPartland for their version of “Blue in Boogie.”

George Shearing (DBM01242)
This legendary blind jazz figure describes his early start in music as a teenager and plays some of his favorite pieces.

Gerry Mulligan (DBM01248)
Best known as a baritone saxophonist and big-band performer, Gerry Mulligan has begun to write and perform symphonic music. During this interview, he turns to the piano to play “Ontet” and a duet of “Blue Angst.”

Herbie Hancock (DBM01229)
His mastery of both acoustic piano jazz and electronic jazz-rock-funk has propelled him to stardom. Herbie Hancock discusses his role in the film Round Midnight, plays “Chan’s Song,” written especially for the film, and joins Marian McPartland for their own version of “That Old Black Magic.”

Mulgrew Miller (DBM01243)
In an interview with Marian McPartland, Miller and McPartland take turns on Art Tatum tunes, and the two combine forces on Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love?”

Oliver Jones (DBM01247)
His renditions of “Street of Dreams” and “Straight, No Chaser” have earned this Montreal native international recognition. The endearing Oliver Jones talks about his career and tells stories of his childhood friend Oscar Peterson.

Ram Ramirez (DBM01253)
He wrote Billie Holiday’s hit song “Lover Man” and enjoys continued popularity on the New York jazz scene. Roger “Ram” Ramirez converses with Marian McPartland and teams up with her for a duet of “Undecided.”

Roy Eldridge (DBM01238)
In this demonstration the great jazz trumpet stylist displays his piano abilities by playing several of his own works and a composition penned by both Marian McPartland and Eldridge, the “M & R Blues.”

And, if you’re interested in learning more about Art Kane’s iconic photograph “A Great Day in Harlem,” you may want to check out DBM04244, “Art Kane: A Great Day in Harlem,” which features Library of Congress jazz specialist Larry Appelbaum, Art Kane’s son Jonathan Kane, and saxophonist Benny Golson discussing the photo.

You can download the above items from BARD or ask for hard-copy scores and audio-cartridges from the NLS Music Section. Contact us to find out about more music materials you may like to borrow by calling 800-424-8567, extension 2, or e-mail us at [email protected]

One Comment

  1. papertinsel
    August 19, 2021 at 1:22 pm

    Great article, here you can find many recordings of Marian McPartland’s program Piano Jazz on the NPR https://www.npr.org/series/15773266/marian-mcpartland-s-piano-jazz

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