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Bill Evans: Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz Radio Broadcast

Since Marian McPartland taped her first Peabody Award-winning Piano Jazz radio program nearly 25 years ago, she’s hosted just about every important pianist in the business, as well as some, like the late singer Carmen McRae, for whom the piano was a secondary medium. Ideal for the role, McPartland is able to elicit insights into her guests’ personalities and their music that cannot be found elsewhere. These four segments-two previously issued on CD and two new releases-make a valuable contribution to our understanding of the work of four extraordinary musicians.

Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson prove to be excellent interviewees, eager to discuss their influences, technical and theoretical aspects of their playing and the development of their styles, as well as just to chat about events in their lives. Chick Corea is cordial and forthcoming on his third visit to the program. And the often irascible McRae appears to be having great fun talking, singing and dueting with her host.

Both Evans and Peterson speak of studying classical piano as youngsters before getting into jazz and being affected by the star pianists and horn players of their youth, but, interestingly, they also cite the big-band arrangers as important influences on their development. Corea acknowledges the continuing influence of classical piano on his music. After performing his “Brasilia,” he responds to McPartland’s comment that “it sounds like a classical piece” with the revelation that he has been playing Mozart piano concertos recently and that the composer serves as one of his inspirations, along with “Bud and Monk.” Monk’s name also comes up when McRae says that listeners often detect his influence in her own piano touch. She goes on to say, however, that even though she started out as a pianist and still sometimes accompanies herself, she prefers not to do so because of the difficulty in coordinating all the parts.

Bill Evans demonstration on “All of You” of how he consciously works on developing a technique of rhythmic displacement in his improvisations is especially informative. He follows it a bit later with an illustration on “The Touch of Your Lips” of how he structures a solo from the basic harmonies up.

Only in the relaxed informality of this setting would such a fine performer as Marian McPartland be likely to acknowledge not being able “to find the chords” at one spot in her backing of McRae’s vocal on “Sweet Lorraine.” Instead of editing out the goof, the two of them joke about it and admit that such occasional lapses are a normal professional hazard. In another instance of easy humor, Peterson laughingly tells of fooling friend George Shearing with an arrangement of “Satin Doll” that involved a conducted tempo change. The blind pianist, not being able to see Peterson conduct the passage by moving his head, complained that for the life of him he couldn’t figure out the meter. Peterson never told him why.

To complement the wealth of information, half or more of each recording contains some fine music. Although unrehearsed and impromptu-often an added attraction in itself-it all bears the stamp of the superb McPartland, who plays a solo on each occasion, and of her outstanding guests, who sometimes play alone and sometimes in duet with their host.

Originally Published