Marian McPartland is, of course, a prodigy, with a series on National Public Radio (USA) easily accessible online as well on CDs. She has conducted that for over 25 years, playing piano and talking and duetting with several generations of jazz performers. Ask Scott Hamilton about her, or Dave McKenna among exponents of longer-established jazz styles. Ask any musician mentioned below.
You can also listen to her playing. I seem to remember there was an earlier birthday CD of duets with various other major performers—and more recently her set of Ellington compositions, The Single Petal of a Rose, seemed a standout item even in her vast discography.
She was born in England in 1918, and has been in America since the 1940s, married for some time to the Chicagoan cornet player the late Jimmy McPartland. The subsequent divorce, she has said, didn’t work out—so they remarried some years later. He has been gone some time now.
Eighty-five is a fair age, and here there are two CDs from a party-cum-concert at Birdland just over two years ago. Each disc opens with a nine-minute-plus sextet performance, with Dave Douglas very welcome on trumpet in a straight-up role. Phil Woods is the veteran and very great altoist, Ravi Coltrane the rising tenorman. The late James Williams plays piano on “All Blues”, and Bill Charlap takes the stool on Cole Porter’s “I Love You” (Charlap’s later solo performance of a medley or mini-suite composed by Dick Hyman also demands mention).
The current bassist in the McPartland trio, Gary Mazzaroppi, is on both those sextet titles, as is Glenn Davis, the hardest worked performer all night as sole drummer on the job. Bass duties are taken over now and then by an earlier McPartland sideman, the seasoned Bill Crow—in a trio performance of “Yesterdays” and in trio accompaniments to single appearances by Chris Potter on tenor, and Karrin Allyson singing McPartland’s “Twilight World”. Other singers are Norah Jones and Curtis Stigers with the regular McPartland trio. There’s simply the birthday belle’s piano with Nnenna Freelon, and with—best of them all—the veteran Jackie Cain on “When We’re Young”.
The regular bassist turns up again on quartet numbers with Jackie King’s very nice guitar and with Phil Woods on alto (though Charlap takes the piano chair on that); and on a couple of titles with Barbara Carroll, singing “Old Friend” very well to her own piano, but finding new stops to pull out on an instrumental trio “Have You Met Miss Jones”. Spontaneous!
There are fun and serious and very accomplished piano duets featuring Ms. McPartland with, respectively, George Wein (“Take the ‘A’ Train”), the much younger Jason Moran (“Summertime”), as well as with the genuinely venerable Dr. Billy Taylor on his “Capricious”. The radio show recordings perhaps guarantee the lady title of most taped jazz piano duettist. Amazing things happen with Moran! What else have they been recorded transfiguring?
More outrageous things happen in duo with Jim Hall’s guitar, in a spontaneous improvisation subsequently titled “Free Piece”. Very resourceful Ms. McPartland! Hall is with another resourceful lady, the violinist Regina Carter in hard swinging mode, on what might be the only quintet performance here. Tricky to keep track, but I’ve not mentioned Ms. McPartland’s duet with Roy Hargrove’s fluegelhorn (“My Foolish Heart”, genuinely beautiful) and Dr. Taylor’s with the trumpet of Jon Faddis. Taylor and Faddis are the members of the sextet who get the last word on the set. Their performance of “Lester Leaps In” has the seriously undersung tenor saxophone of Loren Schoenberg and the extraordinary Clark Terry’s fluegelhorn. Not to mention Gary Mazzaroppi on bass and the presumably by then somewhat tired Glenn Davis, whom I wish many happy returns to such challenges in such company.
This is a splendid and well-planned pair of CDs with a lot of music well worth hearing and more than a few surprises. A terrific concert!