Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Marian McPartland, RIP

I haven't felt compelled to add to this blog for some time.  But Marian McPartland died yesterday, and I have to pay tribute.

We've lost a lot of jazz giants lately.  Another great pianist, Cedar Walton, died just a day before Ms. McPartland; he was 79.  But McPartland's contributions went much further than her piano playing; this is a loss which hits hard.

Many listeners knew McPartland best as the host of the NPR radio program Piano Jazz.  From 1978 to 2011, she traded licks with everyone from Eubie Blake to Frank Zappa on the show, and always sounded like she was having the time of her life doing so.

 Her range as a pianist was impressive; there are recordings of her playing dixieland standards with her husband Jimmy, playing bebop, and playing Ornette Coleman tunes.  For most of McParland's career, there was a lightness to her music; it seldom touched me deeply, although I always enjoyed it.  One exception to that caveat is her 2007 album Twilight World.  There are a few moments of rhythmic uncertainty, but there is an emotional depth to her playing that I seldom hear in her earlier work, fine as it is.

She was part of Alec Wilder's "inner circle" - her taste and respect for melody led Wilder to write pieces such as "Jazz Waltz for a Friend," "Homework," and, well, "Inner Circle" for her.  This Alec Wilder fan is grateful.

We've lost a great pianist, composer, writer, and spokesperson for jazz.  RIP, Marian.