08/21/13

Marian McPartland Dies at 95

Beloved pianist and broadcaster hosted jazz greats on NPR's "Piano Jazz"

Marian McPartland, a pianist of ineffable swing and powerful grace, a groundbreaking figure in the history of female jazz musicians, and a beloved broadcaster whose syndicated NPR program, Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz, was a cornerstone of jazz broadcasting since 1978, died Tuesday night at her home in Port Washington, N.Y., according to NPR. She was 95.

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Marian McPartland

A formidable composer and pianist in her own right, the British-born McPartland was an NEA Jazz Master and the recipient of numerous awards, among them a Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Award, a Grammy Trustees Award from NARAS and an ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award. She received honorary degrees from at least nine colleges and universities. McPartland was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2007 and was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2010.

Born Margaret Marian Turner on March 20, 1918, she began playing piano at 3 and studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, but in 1938 she left the school to join a four-piano touring act, using the stage name Marian Page. She met the Chicago-based cornetist Jimmy McPartland in 1944 while performing at a USO show in Belgium, and following their 1945 marriage the couple moved to the United States, settling first in Chicago and then, in 1949, in New York City. There, Marian formed a trio that held a regular engagement at the city’s Hickory House jazz club from 1952–1960. She later performed regularly at New York’s famed Carlyle Hotel. (Jimmy McPartland died in 1991.)

In 1958, Marian McPartland was among the 57 musicians photographed by Art Kane for the now-iconic portrait “A Great Day in Harlem.”

McPartland launched her recording career on the Savoy label in 1951 with Jazz at Storyville. She subsequently recorded more than 50 albums for Capitol, her own Halcyon label, Jazz Alliance, Concord Jazz and other companies. In a review of her 2008 Twilight World album, JazzTimes called McPartland “a phenomenon, a classic stylist whose undiminished invention, sure technique and sophistication are cornerstones of the postwar jazz universe,” and stated that she “demonstrates a level of elegance that may elude fashion at times, but never truly goes out of style.”

McPartland’s radio career began in 1964 with a weekly show on WBAI-FM on which she played recordings and interviewed guest jazz artists. She maintained that format when NPR premiered Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz in 1978. During the program’s run, which lasted until 2010, McPartland interviewed and/or accompanied hundreds of jazz artists, including singers, guitarists, other pianists and other musicians. Although she specialized in standards, McPartland proved over the years to be highly adaptive and a skilled improviser. Piano Jazz was NPR’s longest-running cultural program.

McPartland published a collection of essays, You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby, in 1975. In 2007, in South Carolina, she performed the premiere of her symphonic work, “A Portrait of Rachel Carson,” inspired by the author's 1962 environmental book Silent Spring. A documentary film, In Good Time, the Piano Jazz of Marian McPartland, premiered in 2011. It includes praise from Dr. Billy Taylor, Elvis Costello, Dave Brubeck, Diana Krall, Bill Frisell, Nnenna Freelon, Renee Rosnes, Dick Hyman and others.

6 Comments

  • Aug 21, 2013 at 01:57PM Scott Albin

    Regarding the famous"A Great Day in Harlem" photograph, can it be that with McPartland's passing only Sonny Rollins and Benny Golson remain alive from those assembled that day in 1958?

  • Aug 21, 2013 at 02:52PM Aaron G

    I'm so sad. Even before becoming a jazz fan, I listened to her show on Saturday nights. I've missed her since my local NPR affiliate cut its jazz programming a couple years ago.

  • Aug 21, 2013 at 02:52PM bopinca

    Add Horace Silver, thankfully.

  • Aug 21, 2013 at 03:27PM Wethersfieldred

    I am so deeply saddened by Marian's death. I "discovered" her when listening to the radio one night when I was in my 20s (I am now in my 80s) and heard her recording of "Strike Up the Band" on a Savoy 78rpm. I went out and bought every 78rpm I could find and started going to the Hickory House in NYC to see her. I would sit at the oval bar all evening listening. When she too a break and settled in a booth at the back I was too shy to speak to her. As time went on I did meet her and we became great friends. We exchanged letters and 'phone calls and I attended several Piano Jazz recording sessions. We remained close friends to her dieing day. I already miss her terribly.. Harry Lichtenbaum, Wethersfield, Ct.

  • Aug 21, 2013 at 04:34PM greta

    She was so fantastic- we interviewed her for a film on Maxine Sullivan (the only other woman in that iconic photo!) at her home in suburbia. She spoke in a true jazz idiom and was always so supportive of young people. I will miss her. You can check her out in the film at www.jezebel.org if you so desire. I feel happy to have met her, to have heard her live many times and on the radio too.
    Greta Schiller Southold, New York

  • Aug 21, 2013 at 04:43PM nellajl Allen

    Ms. McPartland's legacy is immeasurable! Not only a great Jazz musician in her own right, but a great educator and visionary. We were all blessed to have her for 95 years. RIP!

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