Thursday, August 22, 2013

RIP Marian McPartland

Wow, we certainly have lost a lot of great pianists in the last month or so. It seems as though the ink was barely dry on my Cedar Walton post when I heard about the death of Marian McPartland. A marvelous player for decades and still quite active well into her twilight years, McPartland is probably best known for her long running NPR series "Piano Jazz." In a sense, she was doing something that I aspire to do; she gave a us a way to get to know the great pianists by making them at ease. She interviewed them as a peer rather than as a journalist. And of course, it was just an informal hang that happened to be edited and broadcast on the radio! McPartland and her guests taught a lot of otherwise indifferent folks about jazz piano in a comfortably, engaging, classy way.

I considered it a high honor to be a guest on "Piano Jazz" about 10 years ago. It was so funny to here her unmistakeable voice over the phone after hearing it on the broadcast for so many years. She was super friendly and easy to work with, although don't let her slightly upper class British accent fool you: she could swear on a level that even Brooklyn natives might be impressed with. I was relieved to find that the show is actually heavily edited and pretty well thought out beforehand; you might think from listening that it's all completely spontaneous. McPartland was definitely old school in terms of her musical background; at one point, she called a whole bunch of tunes that for all I know could have been from the 1860's. And yet, she was really interested in free playing, and we even did a free duet, which may have been the highlight of the session. In fact , the playing we did together was really fun and I was impressed with her musical generosity and professionalism.

Some of the "Piano Jazz" episodes have been released on disc; in fact, many of the episodes with the more famous pianists are available on itunes. I'm downloading her "Live At Maybeck" CD and hope she's in a better place.

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