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The radio magic of Marian McPartland

Marian McPartland

Marian McPartland []

Marian McPartland died at 95 this week. She was a terrific piano player until the end; more importantly she pioneered and miraculously maintained – for four decades! – a special, wonderful radio program – “Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz”. The format was simple yet unique: she brought another musician into the studio, and had combined duets/interviews/conversations with them, gracefully moving back and forth between talking about music and life and playing tunes and improvising. Listening to it you realized that this is what you always wanted from radio – to hear musicians play and talk about playing, illustrate points, themes and techniques for you, while palpably appreciating each other.

That all these people – more than a thousand of them – could be seduced by McPartland into playful conversational and musical improvisation is a wonder. Has anyone else done this? Will anyone do it now?

For me the most gratifying thing was how these shows allowed personal approaches to musicians who were otherwise intimidating icons. One example: Bill Evans was someone who I think of as a brilliant musician, but unapproachable and even withdrawn as a person. With McPartland he instantly loosened up and became warm and welcoming, opening up how his mind worked as he created some of the absolute best (‘Kind of Blue’) jazz ever. McPartland had this effect on people, disarming them with her charm.

At times she could be a little too chummy, at least for my taste; there could be something too predictable about her constant cheer. But listen here – who produces forty years of weekly shows without cultivating a few well worn stylistic habits? If all there is to criticize  about McPartland was that she was too happy and too loving, well, we should all be so lucky.

Thank you, Marian McPartland for your generosity, which brought so many of us these marvelous enchantments and joy.

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2 Responses to The radio magic of Marian McPartland

  1. Sherry Gendelman August 23, 2013 at 7:04 am #

    Thank you for the memory of Marian Mcpartland. I loved her show for all the reasons you mentioned. She was elegant, talented, charming and entertaining. A real professional.

  2. Shoshana August 24, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

    Thank you for putting words to what I always felt and appreciated listening to Marian McPartland’s broadcasts.

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