Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Marian Mcpartland March 20, 1918 -- Aug. 20, 2013 Jazz Pianist, Public Radio Staple

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Marian Mcpartland March 20, 1918 -- Aug. 20, 2013 Jazz Pianist, Public Radio Staple

Article excerpt

Marian McPartland, the genteel Englishwoman who became a fixture of the American jazz scene as a pianist and, later in life, as the host of the internationally syndicated and immensely popular radio show "Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz," died Tuesday at her home in Port Washington, N.Y. She was 95.

Her death was announced by National Public Radio, which carried her show.

Ms. McPartland was a gifted musician but an unlikely candidate for jazz stardom. She recalled in a 1998 interview for NPR that shortly after she arrived in the United States in 1946, the influential jazz critic Leonard Feather, who himself was born in England and who began his career as a pianist, said, "Oh, she'll never make it: She's English, white and a woman."

Feather, she added, "always used to tell me it was a joke, but I don't think he meant it as a joke."

The odds against any woman finding success as a jazz musician in the late 1940s and early '50s were formidable, but Ms. McPartland overcame them with grace. Listeners were charmed by her Old World stage presence and captivated by her elegant, harmonically lush improvisations, which reflected both her classical training and her fascination with modern jazz.

By 1958, she was well enough known to be included in Art Kane's famous Esquire magazine group photograph of jazz musicians, the subject of Jean Bach's acclaimed 1994 documentary, "A Great Day in Harlem." One of the few women in the picture, she stood next to one of the few others, her friend and fellow pianist Mary Lou Williams.

But Ms. McPartland's contributions to jazz were not limited to her piano playing. An enthusiastic and articulate spokeswoman for the music, she lectured at schools and colleges and wrote for Down Beat, Melody Maker and other publications. (A collection of her essays, "All in Good Time," was published in 1987 and reissued in 2003.)

Most notably, for more than 30 years her "Piano Jazz" was one of the most popular jazz shows ever heard on the radio.

The show, produced by South Carolina Public Radio (now ETV Radio), had a simple format: an informal interview interspersed with extemporaneous duets.

"I didn't have any idea I'd be good at something like this," she told The Associated Press in 2000. "I certainly never thought people would know me because of my voice."

But she proved a natural.

As its title suggests, "Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz" was originally a show about piano players. But the guest list eventually came to include vocalists, among them Mel Torme, Tony Bennett and even Willie Nelson and Elvis Costello, as well as trumpeters, saxophonists and other instrumentalists.

Jazz pianists remained the focus, however, and over the years Ms. McPartland played host to some of the most famous, from the ragtime pioneer Eubie Blake to the uncompromising avant-gardist Cecil Taylor. …

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