A life in music, and oh, such a notable and well lived life. If you love jazz, you had to love Mary McPartland. Even if you weren’t a huge fan of Jazz, you could still love Mary McPartland. I adored both her and her music. She made jazz accessible, improvisation and the technical aspects understandable. She and her NPR guests gave you insight into their creative process. When she played alone or with others, I felt her music deep down. I knew of her even before Piano Jazz began on NPR some 30 years ago. I had many musicians in my family, classical and jazz (and I inherited only a love of music, not the talent) and was exposed to the standards and jazz from an early age. My Aunt Lois, who taught voice at the Eastman School once took me to a concert that was being given for music students at the Eastman, and it was Mary McPartland who gave that concert, and its impact was permanent. Often these kinds of things are forgettable when you grow up , but she wasn’t….not just because of the music she played, but also because she was so entertaining, and I thought her name to be unusual enough that when she was mentioned in the conversations of my mother and her music friends and acquaintances, it kind of stuck in my memory.
When she began her show on NPR, Piano Jazz, I listened faithfully. It was a Sunday night ritual. When my husband died, it was one of those things that helped me survive, because the routine I had known for more than 25 years was shattered, so feeding and caring for the Newfoundland dogs I had, and listening to Marion almost every Sunday night for decades was something that didn’t change and oh, I so needed that. She introduced me to, among many others, Mary Lou Williams, another giant of jazz, and I became such a fan.
When the NPR station here in Charlottesville canceled her show a couple of years ago I was crushed, and none too happy…..they said it was too expensive. I felt like I had already lost her until KBJ would find one of her programs on the computer and I could listen to it. I learned a tremendous amount about music in general from her. Her way of hosting the show made you feel like you were a guest in her home. She played in schools, parks, everywhere and anywhere, sharing her unique gift and introducing new generations to music and jazz. She was engaging, funny, and a amazingly gifted musician who made it in a man’s world even though she wasn’t supposed to. Her personality, knowledge, humor and ability on the piano carried her through with brilliance and grace. Mary McPartland died Tuesday, August 20th. She was 95. OMG, I will miss her. Nobody communicated about music like she did. A life well lived. Peace to your spirit Marion.
Here is a link to a trailer to the documentary In Good Times:The Piano Jazz of Mary McPartland. I hope you will take four minutes to watch this short video. In just a few minutes it captures why she was so admired and beloved by listeners and other musicians alike, even outside the jazz genre. Elvis Costello is at the end of the trailer, and it so illustrates what she did to bring out the best in other musicians. Who knows, perhaps in her honor, after watching, you might become a fan.
Thanks for stopping by. Laters, charisse