Remembering Marian McPartland
For more than 30 years, composer and pianist Marian McPartland brought jazz into the homes of public radio listeners through her interviews and duets with some of the greatest musicians in the world. She composed piano pieces that have entered the jazz repertoire and songs—with lyrics by such stars as Johnny Mercer, Sammy Cahn, and Peggy Lee—that are considered part of the Great American Songbook. The memorial program is hosted by McPartland's longtime friend, Murray Horowitz.
Jazz legend Marian McPartland, who hosted the eponymous Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz on NPR for three decades, died peacefully Tuesday night at her home on Long Island, N.Y. She was 95.
Shari Hutchinson, executive producer of Piano Jazz, said: “Marian was of course the brilliant artist and beloved icon of public radio. I was able to work closely with one of the strongest, most successful, vital, creative women of her time, someone who overcame every obstacle and who pushed through every glass ceiling. I am deeply saddened at her passing, and at the same time profoundly joyful she let me into her life.”
“Every week for 34 years, Marian seduced her guests and her audience with her tremendous wit, compassion and musicianship,” says Anya Grundmann, executive producer and editorial director of NPR Music. “Piano Jazz was a gateway to unforgettable intimate moments between musicians who were at the top of their field, cared deeply about their craft and embodied the history of this great American art form. Her legacy of programs is an American cultural treasure and a guiding light for public radio's continuing and expanding celebration of jazz and the artists who create it.”
Born Margaret Marian Turner in 1918 in Windsor, England, McPartland began to teach herself Chopin waltzes on the piano by ear when she was three years old. She later pursued classical training before joining a four-piano vaudeville act, traveling throughout Europe during World War II to entertain the Allied troops. It was on tour where she met and began to perform with her future husband, famed Chicago cornetist Jimmy McPartland.
In the U.S. after the war, McPartland formed her own trio and turned a two week stint at the renowned New York City nightclub Hickory House into an eight-year residency. The club became a gathering place for jazz colleagues such as Oscar Peterson, Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington. She later founded her own label, Halcyon Records; her compositions were recorded by the likes of Tony Bennett and Peggy Lee.
As the host of Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz, an NPR program pairing conversation and duet performances, she reached an audience of millions, connecting with jazz fans and the curious alike. She interviewed, laughed and played duets with practically every major jazz musician of the post-World War II era, from Dizzy Gillespie, Willie Nelson and Elvis Costello, to Tony Bennett, Dave Brubeck and Alicia Keys. McPartland hosted the program from its inception in 1979 until 2011.
In 2000, McPartland was named an NEA Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts; in 2004, she was awarded a Trustee’s Award Grammy for Lifetime Achievement; and in 2007, the Kennedy Center named McPartland a Living Jazz Legend. She has received honorary degrees from Hamilton, Union and Bates Colleges, Bowling Green University, and the University of South Carolina.