• WBGO Says Farewell to Marian McPartland

    August 21, 2013. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    Add new comment | Filed under: RIP

    Marian McPartland passed away last night at her home in Long Island. She was beloved to all of us, especially to fans of her Piano Jazz show, which aired on WBGO and other NPR stations for more than three decades.

    A master musician in her own right, Marian invited generations of listeners to sit with her at the piano  and share the fun of what happens on the bandstand.

    At WBGO, she was first and foremost a friend, and a mentor. We'd like to offer our thanks and share some memories with you, so read on.

    We will also honor her this evening at 6:30 with a broadcast of her trio, with Gary Mazzaroppi on bass and Glenn Davis on drums, at the Kennedy Center in 2005, followed by a NPR tribute to her at 7:30.

    Farewell, dear Marian!

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    JazzSet senior producer Becca Pulliam writes:

    I met Marian in Milwaukee in the latest 1970s or early 80s: she was playing outdoors, opening for Sarah Vaughan.


    I had a series called Woman-Made Music on Wisconsin Public Radio, and that evening I interviewed Marian. She had her own label then - Halcyon Records. I remember looking "halcyon" up in the dictionary.

    Skip ahead to my arrival in New York: I was invited to a party, and Marian was there. She remembered me; she offered friendship.

    I was editing a piano magazine then, and transcribed a piece of Marian's with an interview. This provided more chances to enjoy her company. Marian was good company. And her insights on music came freely. She shared; she did not hoard.

    In January of 1992, WBGO launched a new series, "JazzSet with Branford Marsalis," There wasn't any time to pilot the new show, so we went straight to air.

    After a few shows, Marian called me at home. "What is this new show?" she asked. She was well into hosting "Piano Jazz" at the time. And she didn't think the music in the first month of JazzSet was up to her standards. I remember specifically what she complained about -- an artist who played standards incorrectly!

    Marian knew more than a thousand songs - I think that's what she told me. In any case, she knew lots of songs,  and she knew them RIGHT. She took liberties with her wonderful fresh harmonies and personal melodic improvisations, but Marian knew her repertoire.

    When I visited her at home, I loved her rooms full of books, books, books, mementos, photos and drawings on the walls and shelves. She told me she'd run her record company from her garage.

    In her sunny kitchen, she had an impromptu office. The phone rang and rang, and an answering machine took  messages. Her calendar was full of gigs (Marian was 87 at the time). In her sunken living room, the grand piano.

    This memory stays with me. As I wrote later in a script, "Truth is, wherever Marian sits down at a piano, the space around her becomes her living room."

    It's the friendship I will probably most treasure.

    Portraits in Blue host and record producer Bob Porter writes:

    When I was doing Savoy reissues in the 1970s, I called her when we got to her material. She not only assisted with the compilation, but had a new cover photo taken! I ‘m certain this was not vanity, but a desire to have the best looking product on the market. And she bought copies of the album to sell on her gigs, a rarity at the time.

    She would call on occasion at WBGO when I was doing mid-days, usually to ask about someone new she heard. I remember an occasion where she felt she was running out of talent to present on Piano Jazz. I suggested she try Sam Price and some of the older blues specialists, and I think she did a show with Sam. Later, she flipped when she heard the young Ragtime composer Reginald Robinson.

    I think the Piano Jazz show she did with Oscar Peterson should be required listening for musicians and fans alike.

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