• 30th anniv of Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

    April 16, 2009. Posted by Becca Pulliam.

    Tuesday night, Dizzy's at Jazz @ Lincoln Center was packed, and pianists spottable in all directions. With one long break, the celebration ran past midnight. Marian listened from her dressing room as Bill Charlap opened with “While We’re Young,” a tip of the hat to her long friendship with composer Alec Wilder, who hosted the forerunner of Marian’s celebrated series, Piano Jazz. Bill made that melody sing. He’s with the Blue Note 7 at Birdland for the rest of the week. Be there.

    Renee Rosnes joined Bill – they were married at Dizzy’s – for the first two-piano presentation of the night. Fun! Then Renee continued with “Chelsea Bridge” (Strayhorn) – love the harmony. Grady Tate sang two with pianist John Di Martino. JoAnne Brackeen stepped up to play her own composition, then Taylor Eigsti put her feet to the fire on a two-piano “Giant Steps.” I really enjoyed that duo, am sure it was their first time together. Marian played “Easy to Remember (and so hard to forget),” and she seemed in synch with every note. Karrin Allyson sang “Twilight Time” with Marian, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, just right.

    The Kenny Barron and Mulgrew Miller two-piano closer was the apotheosis of the evening. It was the return of the Bradley’s aesthetic (long-running New York piano bar) but with the gloss and glass window-wall of Dizzy’s to class and clatter it up. Who’s playing what? I couldn’t separate the two. I came to New York in 1984 to hear jazz piano, and this in-command style is the top of the heap. Pure joy.

    The era of the dominance of the Detroit pianists (Hank Jones, Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan, Sir Roland Hanna) is over, but Kenny and Mulgrew are related to that style. I once asked Bill Charlap, what is it that the Detroit pianists were doing? I loved them as pianists and as people, but didn’t have the analysis. Bill’s answer was something like “extending Bud Powell,” and there is a lot to think about in that answer.

    Set two featured Dena DeRose, who scatted and played “East of the Sun.” The woman next to me said “her scat matches her hair” (spiky), a good observation. Darryl Sherman played one for Dave McKenna and one for Blossom Dearie, two of Marian’s most “quirky” (as Darryl put it) guests. Cedar Walton played two Strayhorn pieces – so incisive. Cyrus Chestnut softened the tone (Cyrus later told me Betty Carter had taught him the value of contrast) with a quiet “Blame It on My Youth.”  Arturo O’Farrill played a composition for his wife, a pianist (“isn’t everyone?”), and then a ringing “Siboney” by Ernest Lecuona. The Cuban connection.

    John Bunch started the day before 10am playing Benny Goodman small group music in the WBGO performance studio, and he was closing down Dizzy’s last night. John’s only a few years younger than Marian, so their choice of “Don’t Get Around Much Any More” was funny. Geri Allen played an extravagant and abstract beauty that contained kernels of “Just One of Those Things.” Randy Weston played a request from Marian – his waltz, “Little Niles.” He took it apart thoughtfully. By now it felt as though the pianists were playing straight from the heart. Instead of music, I was hearing souls. As MC Todd Barkan said, Marian is one of the best souls in jazz. Producer Shari Hutchinson and her assistant David Lyon booked a fantastic show, and Duke Markos recorded it for later editions of Piano Jazz, so stay with WBGO and you’ll hear it in the season to come. Thank you, Ms. McPartland. Congratulations.

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