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Marian McPartland/Willie Pickens: Ain’t Misbehavin’: Live at the Jazz Showcase

Pianist Marian McPartland initially collaborated with Chicago-based pianist Willie Pickens in Pittsburgh at a 1997 taping for her NPR program, Piano Jazz. She’s worked with him from time to time since, but her connection goes deeper. McPartland lived in Chicago during the late 1940s and, with husband/cornetist Jimmy McPartland, helped shape the scene there. Her admiration for Chicago pianists likely fuels this dynamic Dec. 2000 collaboration captured at Chicago’s landmark club, Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase.

The pair works cozily together despite major differences in their styles-Pickens leans to the bluesy side with busier rhythms and a thundery attack, while classically trained McPartland’s sentimental approach leaves lots of space. Intricately piloting five melodious duets (and performing two solo piano pieces each), they offer occasional ornate innovations and stylishly swing on the dense, flowing version of Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing). ” Other highlights include their grandly sweeping up-tempo twosome on the warhorse “Night and Day”; the jaunty four-handed finale, “Just One of Those Things”; and Pickens’ powerful solo rendering of “(It’s Only a) Paper Moon. ”

McPartland has paired with many pianists on her NPR show, but this album with the underrecorded veteran Pickens may be one of her all-time best collaborations.

Originally Published