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Piano Jazz: Marian McPartland Dies at 95

What happens when you take a California mountain girl, drop her in Chicago, and introduce her to jazz bars?

Marian McPartland.

When I moved to Chicago, I was just 20 and my father wanted to take me to jazz bars. So he told me ‘If anyone asks when you graduated school, it’s 1994.’ If I was carded, I was to look blankly at the person and be confused as to the drinking age. “Oh, wow, it’s 18 in Canada. Sorry, I forgot.” It’s not that I ordered drinks, it’s that under 21s weren’t permitted in certain bars. That said, no one ever asked, as my father would say “This is my daughter” and no one thought a man would be so gauche as to bring an under-ager in.

They did not know us very well, clearly.

Still, one of my father’s favorite places to go was the piano lounge at the Four Seasons, where a gentleman played piano. He was young, and a little ‘off’ in that way many great musicians are, and would sprinkle jokes into his songs. It was a great way to spend a few hours, reading, writing, and drinking.

One day he came over on a break to meet me, and we started talking about music. What did I listen to? Whatever someone handed me. I’m still pretty open about music. If you hand me an album, I’ll listen to it. That’s just how I roll, and why I have such a weird collection. I like it this way. He asked if I’d listened to Piano Jazz on NPR. I looked at my father, who said that was the show he listened to on Sunday mornings while cleaning. Turns out this fellow was going to be on the show, so this time I paid attention.

From then on, until WBEZ decided less music was better (booo), I listened to Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz.

The New York Times Obit doesn’t quite do her justice. I mean, she played with everyone (see Frank Zappa over there on the left?) and never stopped changing, just like a great jazz artist should. She was silly, funky, talented, and to the very end, humble and gifted. Her music wasn’t limited in any way, and that’s how it should be.

In 1985, Marian had Blossom Dearie on her show, which I missed but I caught the re-air in 2009 when Dearie passed away. My favorite episode by far is Blossom Dearie on Piano Jazz but you can listen to just about anything from her shows at NPR: http://www.npr.org/series/15773266/marian-mcpartland-s-piano-jazz/

Spend a couple hours listening. You won’t regret it.