Thursday, August 22, 2013

Celebrating Marian McPartland, the "delightful, delicious, de-lovely" host of Piano Jazz

An enduring wonder of the jazz world, Marian McPartland was so personable and self-effacing that on first acquaintance one might not grok her vast knowledge of jazz improvisation and of the greats who practiced it. Scores of them appeared on her 30-year NPR show Piano Jazz, telling priceless anecdotes of days gone by and grooving in duets with their host, who was always genuinely enthusiastic and seemed forever young, even as the decades rolled by. Hip, cool, and copacetic, well into her '90s (she gigged the night before the big nine-oh), McPartland constantly sought out new talent—such as Norah Jones and Diana Krall—to bring to the forefront.
McPartland, with Marylou Williams and Thelonius Monk (a detail of the famous photograph of jazz musicians "A Great Day in Harlem")
NPR has put up a sampling of their 30 favorites from among Piano Jazz's 700 episodes. (Her pairing with the legendary Bill Evans was so good it was released commercially.) In addition to keyboard giants like Dave Brubeck, Ray Charles, and Oscar Peterson, McPartland's guests on Piano Jazz included vocalists (e.g., Mel Tormé, Tony Bennett, Willie Nelson, and Elvis Costello) as well as all-star trumpeters, saxophonists, guitarists, and other instrumentalists. She was an outstanding composer, and in terms of her recordings, The Single Petal of a Rose: The Essence of Duke Ellington is an album we go back to again and again. You can hear her perform Ellington's Take the 'A' Train on a lovely compilation we're carrying called Concord's Women in Jazz: The New Century. And here's a "fine and mellow" video of her performing "In a Mist" by Bix Biederbecke.

More great jazz piano: The Definitive Bill Evans on Riverside and Fantasy.  And Evans' advanced harmonies are a perfect match for Chet Baker's lyrical trumpet on The Very Best of Chet Baker
On a more boisterous note: on today’s date in 1929, Walt Disney released “The Skeleton Dance,” his first “Silly Symphonies” cartoon. Enduringly popular, it was voted #18 in a 1994 poll of “The 50 Greatest Cartoons of All Time” by professional animators. 

More and more classic cartoons are being rounded up in special sets with historical background and bonuses. Right now we have ones devoted to Felix the Cat (yay!), Popeye, Betty Boop, and a cadre of Saturday Morning Favorites, like The Jetsons, Huckleberry Hound, The Flintstones, and Quick Draw McGraw.


  1. To grok is:

    a-) To drink to excess, like party-hardy undergrads.
    b-) To express appreciation for a good meal by expelling air loudly.
    c-) To understand deeply, intuitively.
    d-) To draw or paint with crude instruments, as with the Lascaux cave paintings.

    What are the odds I would know the right answer, without the Glean?

  2. Wow, I didn't know a, b, or c. I especially like c!