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Marian McPartland: Piano Jazz with Guest Charles Brown

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Marian McPartland’s “Piano Jazz” series, on radio and records, has quietly been one of the notable success stories in jazz of recent years. As a pianist, she has grown with the show, and it is hard now to think of anyone of comparable ability and knowledge who could handle the role with such equilibrium. It may be more than a coincidence that piano is the healthiest instrument in jazz today, even though that isn’t where the hype is.

She has recently introduced famous musicians like Jay McShann (12030) and two not so famous for piano playing-Lionel Hampton (12029) and Roy Eldridge (12025). Besides the happy music she and her guestsmake solo and in duets, it is a kind of privilege to overhear, as it were, their voices and friendly exchanges. This encounter with Charles Brown takes her further into the blues world than any of the others, and there are some real surprises.

Often vainly imitated, Brown remains a unique blues artist, as adept with blues ballads as with the regular 12-bar kind. Compared with the styles of bluesmen of rustic or rural origin, this is suave and sophisticated, but he conveys melancholy and bitterness convincingly when he wishes. For jazzbos, however, his piano may prove more fascinating than his singing. It is intelligent, extremely neat, and rhythmically strong in complementing his vocal phrases. Mrs. McPartland commends his “big, wonderful chords” and then observes that his long fingers must enable him to play elevenths. “Twelfths,” the college-educated Texan replies evenly, whereupon she explodes with mock vexation: “Oh, I hate you!”