The Jazz.com Blog
March 12, 2008 · 2 comments
A few days ago, 86-year-old Humphrey Lyttelton announced that he will be ending his BBC show The Best of Jazz after forty years. On the same day the news services carried this story, Marian McPartland - who like Lyttelton was born in Berkshire county in the United Kingdom (their birthplaces are only a few miles apart) - released a new CD to celebrate her 90th birthday, which will take place next week. Not to be topped by Mr. Lyttelton, McPartland has been broadcasting on the radio for forty-four years, and continues as host of the popular NPR Piano Jazz program, which she developed back in 1978.
McPartland has spent so many years touting the work of others—which she does week after week with unassuming grace on Piano Jazz - that it is easy to lose track of her own considerable achievements. Her new CD will join a stack of sixty or so releases McPartland has recorded for the Concord label during the last quarter century. But before that McPartland was an entrepreneur, founding her own Halcyon label at a time when few jazz musicians dared to get into the production and distribution side of the music business. And don't forget what a fine jazz critic McPartland was, back when she wrote regularly for Down Beat and other periodicals. (Many of these pieces were collected in a little known book, All in Good Time, which is well worth reading.) Yet her greatest accomplishment may have been her ability to break the gender line in jazz, making her name as a pianist at a time when women were only accepted as "girl singers" in most jazz bands.
Back in 1951, critic Leonard Feather marveled at McPartland's successes despite "three hopeless strikes against her": namely that "She is English, white and a woman." Yet McPartland's achievements in 1951 pale in comparison with what she has done since. When she started her Piano Jazz, McPartland was sixty years old, and it must have seemed to many as a pleasant way to wind down a career. Little did we known that Marian was actually ramping up, that this would eventully become the longest running cultural program on National Public Radio. She now has a stack of awards as a broadcaster, including a place in the National Radio Hall of Fame, to go along with her honors as a performer. Pretty good for a second career, huh?
One can get vertigo looking at the full span of where McPartland has been and what she has accomplished. Earlier this week, jazz.com celebrated the 105th birthday of cornetist Bix Beiderbecke. Recall that Marian's husband Jimmy McPartland—to whom she dedicates her latest CD—replaced Bix in the Wolverine Orchestra back in 1924! And though she can play a mean "In a Mist," she has never been one to linger in the past.
To show us that she is still pushing ahead, McPartland records an Ornette Coleman song, "Lonely Woman," on her new CD, and even takes an outside-the-changes solo on the track.
What an inspiration this woman has been, and continues to be! Well, Marian, it's your 90th birthday, and you have good reason to make the most of it. But we're the ones who should be celebrating.
This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia