Marian McPartland, jazz pianist, radio host
Marian McPartland, 95, the British-born jazz pianist, writer, and teacher whose broadcasts on National Public Radio for more than three decades brought the music she loved to millions of listeners, died Tuesday at her home on Long Island of natural causes.
As host of Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz, she interviewed and performed with singers and musicians, including Oscar Peterson, Keith Jarrett, Benny Goodman, Norah Jones, and Elvis Costello. The show, which she began hosting in 1978, became the longest-running cultural program of its kind on NPR, and she was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2007. She stopped hosting the show in 2011 while continuing as artistic director.
Ms. McPartland's piano duets were "exercises in cooperative improvisation, in a manner exemplifying the jazz spirit," critic Nat Hentoff wrote in the Wall Street Journal in 2008, on her 90th birthday.
Margaret Marian Turner was born March 20, 1918, and grew up in Bromley, England, southeast of London. She was playing piano by ear at age 3. Following a teacher's advice, she studied at London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama in the 1930s. At 20, she left and joined a four-piano vaudeville act, to the horror of her middle-class parents.
A boyfriend introduced her to Duke Ellington's records, she wrote, "and from then on I was hooked."
She was playing jazz when World War II began, and she joined a troupe of performers entertaining soldiers in France. In 1944 she met the American jazz cornet player Jimmy McPartland, who was in a USO group after landing in Normandy with an Army combat unit.
They were married in 1945 in Aachen, Germany, and played at their wedding. After the war, she performed for a while with McPartland's Dixieland Quintet in Chicago. Their careers and lives diverged when she heeded bebop's siren call and headed to New York, and the couple divorced.
Her first review, from critic Leonard Feather, began by noting she had "three strikes against her: she's English, white, and a woman."
"Somehow this seemed like an accolade," she wrote later. "I liked it when someone would say, 'You play just like a man.' " She even liked it if they said, "You play good for a girl."
Ms. McPartland led a trio at New York's Hickory House, where she was hired for a two-week engagement and stayed eight years. Ellington and Peterson were among those who sat in on piano.
Early on, Ellington came up after a set and, with a smile, told her, "My dear, you play so many notes." It took a while, she said, to realize "he was telling me that I was playing too many notes that were getting in the way of what I was trying to say."
She began writing for Downbeat magazine in 1949 when she found herself a spectator at a Paris jazz festival.
Her 1987 autobiography, All in Good Time, included pieces on Goodman and saxophonist Paul Desmond as well as Bill Evans and Alec Wilder, two of many pianists she interviewed and played with on her radio program.
She was a champion of women in jazz - singers and instrumentalists as well as pianists - though quiet about her own playing. "I know I'm not bad," she said when pressed, "but I'm not going to rate myself - that would be terrible."
Still, she was proud that pianists whose arms she almost literally twisted to appear on her NPR show - Jarrett, Ray Charles, Dave Brubeck - finally agreed and enjoyed playing with her.