Marian McPartland: Marian McPartlands Piano Jazz: Brad Mehldau

McPartland and Mehldau offer up an easy, painless introduction into the world of piano jazz.

Brad Mehldau

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Subtitle: Radio Broadcast
Label: Jazz Alliance
US Release Date: 2007-03-06
UK Release Date: 2007-04-16

In jazz years, Marian McPartland is roughly 250 years old. Born in 1918, McPartland has witnessed the Hot Five, the birth of the cool, Weather Report, and Kenny G. You know that famous old photo with all those jazz greats in front of a house in Harlem? Dizzy Gillespie is in that photo. So are Lester Young, Count Basie, and Thelonius Monk. Marian McPartland is, too -- one of three women and sure as hell the only white woman in it. Her radio show, Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz, is NPR’s longest running program, and an appearance there is the only thing that Henry Mancini, Elvis Costello, and Alicia Keys have in common. McPartland has done much over her long career to introduce jazz to the layperson, breaking down the walls of the boys’ club and presenting mainstream artists in a familiar, unthreatening environment.

Nearly forty years her junior, Brad Mehldau has made a name for himself by taking popular songs and refitting them to suit his tastes. Covering Radiohead and Nick Drake long before Christopher O’Riley’s Starbucks-ready albums appeared on the market, Mehldau's affinity for turning pop songs into intimate jazz masterworks has made him one of the most well-known jazz artists working today. Like McPartland, Mehldau also has the ability to hold the interest of non-jazz fans that don’t know the difference between bebop and hard bop (what easier way to delve into jazz than through Elliott Smith covers, or a searing take on “Nice Dream”?). Taken from a 1996 recording session, Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz is of interest as a musical history piece that documents the meeting of two great jazz minds who have, each in their own way, brought jazz out of the orchestra wings and put it back on stage.

The music is, like all of McPartland’s shows, smooth and eminently listenable. Mehldau stays away from his pop covers here, instead presenting a mix of original tunes and old jazz favorites. “From This Moment On” leads off with Mehldau’s signature time changes, along with a driving left hand that keeps the song grounded while the melody floats along on top. His original “Ron’s Place” features the same contrapuntal lines, with a more meandering feel; it’s hard to tell when the melody stops and the solo begins. McPartland talks repeatedly of her love for ballads, and plays a beautiful version of “I Get Along Without You Very Well”. She opens the song by repeating the main line several times, going up the keyboard higher and higher, adding pauses and breaks to let the phrase breathe and give it time to sink in, all of which makes this oldest and most clichéd of songs seem new. She follows the same pattern during the outro, bringing her audience back down to earth with a gentle touch without the self-conscious musical posturing or vanity that another player might have employed.

Music aside, the real draw of this CD is the conversation between two artists creating a common ground in their experiences and musical careers. Mehldau tells the story of his parents’ first date in 1958, at a Marian McPartland show at the Hickory House in Greenwich Village, and McPartland happily informs us that “All my Hickory House couples stay married…musical matchmaker, that’s me!” But the conversation isn’t limited to talking here: on a duet of “Our Love Is Here to Stay”, their styles match up perfectly, as though they’d been on the road together for years. Mehldau says afterwards that the tune “lends itself to a whimsical, bluesy kind of feeling” and McPartland agrees, exclaiming, “That’s what we did! Whimsical and bluesy!” The two also re-work “Stella by Starlight” from a sappy ballad into a snappy, swinging jaunt of a song.

Though the music is always tuneful, sometimes the conversation does get awkward. For someone who takes such a literate, intelligent approach to all aspects of his music, Mehldau’s repeated, half-hearted “Yeah” to many of McPartland’s questions seems out of place. And when McPartland earnestly tells her guest, “I feel like I know you, from hearing all your music”, Mehldau’s unenthusiastic “Oh, great” response comes across as almost rude. Perhaps all this is to be expected from a young player in the presence of a bona fide grande dame of American jazz, but a little laughter and joking would be welcome additions to all the cooing and gushing. That being said, if you are looking for a completely painless, easy-on-the-ears entry into jazz, you can’t go wrong with spending some quality time with Marian and Brad.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.