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Jazz Profiles from NPR
Marian McPartland
Produced by Rolando Arrieta

Marian McPartland  

A treasured jazz pianist, radio host and educator, Marian McPartland has helped spread the gospel of jazz to the world for well over half a century. Born in England an astounding jazz lifetime ago, she charged across the Atlantic after World War II and made the birthplace of the music she loved home.

The place Margaret Marian Turner first called home was Slough, a town on the Eastern outskirts of London. Brought up in a rather strict family with a strong classical music background, she started playing the piano at the age of 3. At the request of her mother Marian gave the violin a try, but quickly switched back to the piano.

In the 1930s, a young McPartland began to hear a new American music, but it wasn't until she was a teenager and her older sister's boyfriend began bringing jazz records to the house that she became hooked. She fell hard for Duke Ellington and never looked back.

Listen to Marian recall her introduction to jazz

Listening to those records and attending performances, McPartland built a solid repertoire of jazz and blues numbers. She eventually got to play with musicians like Roy Eldridge and Coleman Hawkins. "You just kind of learn by doing," states McPartland. "There certainly is an art to it -- to the feeling and the choice of notes, and to the tempo."

Jimmy McPartland  

By the outbreak of war in England, McPartland was a draw. She traveled to Europe and played for the troops and in France, she met and began to work with her future husband, famed Chicago cornetist Jimmy McPartland (left). The two fell in love, married and moved to Chicago to begin a life together as professional musicians after the war.

In 1953, a few years after playing with various Chicago bands, McPartland headed to New York with her trio for a two week gig at the famous Hickory House. Ten years later, the Hickory House gig finally did come to a close, after a decade of hosting Marian's show.

Listen to Marian remember how she and her trio got booked at The Hickory House

The steady work in Manhattan was a factor in her divorce from Jimmy, who remained in Chicago. Still, the two remained close over the years, occasionally performing together. Two weeks before Jimmy's death in 1991, they were remarried.

Listen to Marian describe her "failed" divorce

During the 1960s, Marian worked relentlessly, recording touring with many great jazz artists, including Benny Goodman and Sarah Vaughan. She also wrote tunes recorded by such singers as Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee and Cleo Lane.

She started her own label, Halcyon Records, where she recorded with musicians like Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson and Dave McKenna.

Since 1978, she has hosted the NPR program Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz, a relaxed, one-on-one hour of music and conversation. The ever charming and knowledgeable host, she has showcased the talents of over 500 musicians from virtually all styles of jazz.

Listen to Piano Jazz executive producer Shari Hutchinson talk about the program

Today, Marian remains very active recording and touring and is still a dedicated educator, willing to share her talent and knowledge to students and fans all over the country.


View the Marian McPartland show playlist


Browse the Piano Jazz Web site