Saturday, August 24, 2013

Oh Lady Was Good: 6 Favorite Marian McPartland Piano Interviews

Marian McPartland, the first English lady of jazz piano from Windsor, died earlier this week at 95.

In the 1970s she hosted a show for NPR called Piano Jazz for which she interviewed and played along many musicians (mostly pianists, but not always' dominantly jazz, but also some notable pop instrumentalists). The format of the programme was an hour-long chat and piano playing, whether as solo or duet, and reminiscing about the musical life of each interviewee. Needless to say, thanks to a Marian's long and fruitful career in the States, many of the subjects had prior professional encounters with her. So she knew what she was talking about.

Here is my six favorite moments from those shows.

R.I.P. MARIAN McPARTLAND (1918-2013)


Marian invited Hootie to the studio in 1979 and the Kansan pianist reminisced how he took the Bird under his wings, sang the blues and was influenced by masters of stride and boogie-woogie. In this bit, he plays Deed I Do.

on Amazon


In terms of interviewing, this anticipated meeting didn't work as much as it planned to be. Mary Lou talks over almost every time Marian wants to direct the conversation, and Marian herself sound nervous and unsure. Nevertheless, all the nervousness and confusion can hardly be called a surprise, because this October 1978 episode was actually the first in the Piano Jazz series which lasted for another four decades.

The music played by Mary Lou is modern, warm and always surprising, and the difference between this early effort with other episodes is the use of a bassist, Ronnie Boykins. The eminent ladies join together for the last piece on the show:

on Amazon


Marian first saw Ahmad Jamal with his classic trio (Israel Crosby and Vernel Fournier) at the London House, Chicago, and she always wanted to interview him for her NPR show. Finally in 1985 the two sat together in the studio and chat and recorded one of the best episodes.

In this audio clip, they remember their separate encounters with Billie Holiday in Chicago, and then gracefully go into Polka Dots And Moon Beans.


Unlike Ahmad Jamal who seems reluctant to talk about himself, Bill Evans loves to explain his musical ideas and reminds the listener - in this case Marian, - of his ars-gratia-artis approach to piano in an articulated way.

Here, in November 6, 1978, they play Dave Brubeck's In Your Own Sweet Way and then Bill explains and demonstrates his unique way of structuring a piece.

on Amazon


Marian asks Teddy to give her a cue, four or five notes on which Marian can build a piece. Teddy provides her with a sequence of five beautiful notes and Marian make something extraordinary out of them. This episode is one of the most relaxed sit ins in Piano Jazz series. Whatever involving Wilson brings nothing but equanimity. The gentleman of keyboard reminds Marian that never be "too relaxed" because you might fall off the piano chair! A good dose of "tension" is what a piece of jazz needs, says Wilson.

on Amazon


From a 1983 show, McCoy sounds glorious and breathtaking in every note he hits. He generously decorates Marian by calling her a part of American Jazz Scene and someone in that Tradition started with high caliber masters such as Earl Hines, Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson.

I finish my list with McCoy/Marian's rendition of Take the "A" Train.

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