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Marian McPartland

Marian McPartland is a true jazz legend. Since emigrating from England in 1946 with her American husband, the late cornetist Jimmy McPartland, Marian has accomplished more than we have space to even touch on. The nimble 82 year old pianist is not one to rest on past achievements, however, and has just released Live at Shanghai Jazz, on Concord Records, as well as four CDs taken from her popular National Public Radio series, Piano Jazz.

Live at Shanghai Jazz is a trio date recorded in 2001 at the New Jersey nightspot rounded out by bassist, Rufus Reid, and drummer Joe Morrello. The Piano Jazz releases span the entire twenty-five year run of the program, from a 1978 episode featuring Bill Evans, to a late 2001 exchange with Chick Corea. Featured shows include Carmen McRae, and Oscar Peterson bridging the gap. I spoke with Marian via phone at her home in Long Island.

JazzReview: I’ve really been enjoying the new CDs.

Marian McPartland: They are good, I think.

JazzReview: Definitely. The group on Live at Shanghai Jazz is really outstanding.

Marian McPartland: I’ve known both players for a number of years. I’ve known Rufus for thirty years or so, Joe I’ve known for forty, almost fifty years. I’ve worked with them on an off all during that time. Joe Morrello and I actually worked together before he was with Dave Brubeck. He’s been teaching these days, but still occasionally plays. I’ve kept in touch with him and was able to get him for the album-CD. I guess I should call it.

JazzReview: So this isn’t a regular group for you?

Marian McPartland: No. I put them together for this recording. I make a record every year, and I thought I’d play with Rufus and Joe this time. My regular group is made up of Gary Mazzaroppi on bass and Glenn Davis on drums. Mazzaroppi, I’ll have to spell that for you I told him his name sounds like either some kind of cheese, or a sports car. Actually, we just did a gig in Connecticut, which went very well.

JazzReview: You open the new album with "Scratchin’ in the Gravel," a Mary Lou Williams composition.

Marian McPartland: Well, that’s a part of my repertoire. I did a recording of all Mary Lou Williams music a few years ago (1994’s Marian McPartland Plays the Music of Mary Lou Williams) and that was on it. Mary Lou was somebody I really admired, and I felt that she transcended any label of being a good "woman musician," she was just a good musician, period. She was a tremendous influence and a good friend.

JazzReview: If you go back, say, fifty years ago and look at female musicians in jazz, it seems like there was really you and Mary Lou .

Marian McPartland: Actually, there were a lot of women out there, but people don’t know them, you know. I think there were more than people realize. For example, there was Hazel Scott, there was Lil Armstrong, Louis Armstrong’s wife. A lot more than people realize.

JazzReview: Well, true enough. But it certainly seems that there are many more prominent female instrumentalists in jazz today.

Marian McPartland: Oh, there’s no question about that. There’s much less prejudice against women today. There are more musicians...there are women who are conductors and managers now. There are women on the scene in all aspects of music. But, you know, all those years I never knew anything about consciousness raising. I was too busy getting gigs and playing music.

I really have Jimmy to thank for that. I never would have done anything like what I have if it wasn’t for him taking me out to hear everyone and to meet them. He was a big part of my life, especially in the regard of wanting to know everything that was going on. When I came out with Jimmy in 1946, I worked with his band for two or three years. When we went to New York City he told me I ought to have my own group and really helped me getting started on my own. He introduced me the manager of the Embers Club on 52nd Street, where I had my first gig with my own trio. He always told me, "Be yourself." He was really great at that, but it really took me a long time to be at ease with myself.

JazzReview: Getting back to the new album, I think the two extemporaneous compositions are very interesting.

Marian McPartland: There’s the one with Joe, ("A Snare and a Delusion," a duet between McPartland and Morello) which was a lot of fun to do. He told me he had not ever done that (played a completely free improvisation) before. I told him to just play anything, whatever he felt like the playing. The other piece you’re referring to is the blues. ("Shanghai Blues") It seemed like a good idea to have that kind of tune on the record, and the club owners loved it. The other tunes were ones that I chose; Joe loves ballads, so we did some nice, simple ballads. Rufus asked to record his waltz, ("I Can’t Explain") which came off well.

JazzReview: Let’s talk about Piano Jazz for a while. You’ve been doing that show for about twenty-five years now and, as I understand it, it’s not the first program you’ve had.

Marian McPartland: Well, I’d been on radio and TV before, but I never had a program like Piano Jazz before. I used to be on WBAI (in New York), and during my ten years at the Hickory House during the fifties, the National Broadcasting Company used to do a remote from the club. I’ve done lots of things, but none of them are comparable to Piano Jazz.

JazzReview: The four episodes from Piano Jazz that you just released feature some legendary players. I was wondering if you would give us a few words about them.

Marian McPartland: Well, Bill Evans, as you should know, was somebody that I really idolized. To have him on Piano Jazz was wonderful. And this particular episode seems to be the most popular one of the series. When I go to Europe, to different countries, everybody seems to have it. Bill is just revered by everyone.

Oscar (Peterson) is such a wonderful individual player, with a great swinging feeling and he’s very funny and easygoing. Carmen McRae, we did that show quite a long time ago in California, and when we got to the studio, there were supposed to be two pianos, but her piano wasn’t there. I got a little nervous that she might flip out, because she had a reputation for being kind of a hothead sometimes, but she was very nice and friendly, and waited patiently for the piano to arrive.

Chick Correa-there’s a fabulous player and writer. I was really happy that I got him to do "Spain" as a duet. I love that tune, though I don’t know if I could have done it by myself.

JazzReview: The episode with Carmen McRae is a particularly interesting one because you always think of her as a singer and not really as a pianist.

Marian McPartland: I used to see Carmen many times, and she would also come to hear me play. Whenever she did, I would always have her play a couple numbers on the piano.

JazzReview: That’s interesting, because on the show she talks about how nervous she is about playing the piano.

Marian McPartland: She wasn’t, really. Well, she may have been a little nervous, but not enough to cause her to make any mistakes or anything like that!

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Marian McPartland
  • Subtitle: Lady Legend
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