Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Jazz pianist and radio host Marian McPartland died last night

This week Marian McPartland died at the age of 95. Until two years ago she had hosted Piano Jazz, the longest running cultural show –more than thirty years—on National Public Radio, and had interviewed and performed with all the major jazz musicians of the time. Moving from her native Great Britain with her American soldier (and musician) husband to the United States, she eventually moved to NYC where she sought out her idol, bebop pianist Mary Lou Williams. Her biographer Paul de Barros wrote that McPartland, instead of competitiveness, had a ‘we’re in this together’ attitude, and she brought this camaraderie to her radio program. The improvised conversations with guests, she said, were like jazz itself, “spontaneous and free-flowing.”  She spoke of how concerts communicated this freedom (in part, I suppose, by modeling it, being with it) to audiences.

In addition to improvisation, McPartland’s Piano Jazz and contemporary psychoanalysis shared many things. For example, McPartland made her show about her guests, not just about herself. She was open hearted and inclusive, admiring and accepting.  Quoting from NPR, “[S]he reminded listeners every week that we’re all in this together.” I have to smile to myself when I remember McPartland’s throaty voice, but today I smile thinking of how jazz and improve itself (think Phil Ringstrom) can so inform an analytic attitude. I smile to myself when I imagine sharing with McPartland the camaraderie of how we both feel about our respective career paths.  She said, “You have to love what you do.” 

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