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Marian McPartland/Mary Lou Williams: Piano Jazz

One of the most refreshing and most durable aspects of National Public Radio is its weekly broadcast of Piano Jazz, hosted by the equally durable Marian McPartland. The British Energizer Bunny has been interviewing other pianists, as well as other instrumentalists and vocalists, for over a quarter of a century, drawing them out, inspiring them to reveal personal anecdotes. If the Beverly Hills-based Jazz Alliance has recordings of every program, it is in possession of a treasure trove that would make the Smithsonian drool.

Typical of McPartland’s style, and the program’s quality, is this inaugural broadcast, from Oct. 8, 1978, in which McPartland set the pattern for the next 26 years: With guest Mary Lou Williams at one piano, and McPartland at the other, they simply chatted away and played excerpts or complete tunes. But McPartland was smart. She let the guest dominate conversationally and musically, and fortunately Williams brought bassist Ronnie Boykins with her. Williams was made to feel so comfortable, she even sang an old tune that she and Larry Gales had dashed off years earlier. That’s how effective McPartland could host. More musical highlights: a heavily reharmonized “I Can’t Get Started” and “Exit Playing,” a closing duet written by Williams.

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