In Praise of Piano Jazz

I just happened on this sweet little video about Marian McPartland, and it reminded me that I’ve been meaning to say something to mark the end of her thirty-some year tenure as the host of NPR’s “Piano Jazz.”

I’ve been listening to her radio show off and on for the last fifteen years, and it has always put a broad humanizing smile on my face because of Marian’s panache. From the first minute I heard how she spoke and played with her guests, I regarded her as a model. Like all my favorite good-old-goody jazz musicians, she has about her that sense of democratic nobility, of having class without a hint of classism, of being wide-open to everyone and yet solicitous of beauty and the higher things. Plus, she’d amaze me on every show with her ability to say something to the effect of, “Oh, yes, I know that tune – of course. In fact, I had dinner with Jerome Kern shortly after he wrote that song. Beautiful, beautiful melody. But of course knowing you, you probably like to play with its harmonies. Would you mind if did a duet on it? In what key? F# minor . . . sure,” and then launch in to an intelligent pianistic conversation with her guest.

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