Marian McPartland's Storied Life, Told 'In Good Time' The jazz pianist and longtime host of NPR's Piano Jazz tells her story in a new documentary full of archival footage, family photos and interviews.

Marian McPartland's Storied Life, Told 'In Good Time'

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More than half a century ago this week, August 12, 1958, some of the greatest jazz musicians of the day assembled in Harlem at what for them was pretty ungodly hour - 10 A.M. Fifty-seven jazz-makers came to East 126th Street to have their picture taken for Esquire magazine. Art Kane, the photographer, bunched them together in front of the steps of two brownstones. Some neighborhood kids plunked down down the curb and so did the pianist-bandleader Count Basie. And A Great Day in Harlem was captured in a black and white image. NPR's special correspondent Susan Stamberg says there were just three women in the photo, and now one of them is the subject of a documentary film.


SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: It's Marian McPartland, beloved by fans of NPR's long-running Piano Jazz program. In the 1958 Esquire photo, she's wearing a halter dress like the one Marilyn Monroe wore when she stood over that up-windy subway grate. McPartland's dress sits flat and proper. The 94-year-old jazz pianist remembers the day that legendary photograph was taken.

MARIAN MCPARTLAND: I was working at the Hickory House and Nat Hentoff came rushing in and said you've got this date to have a picture taken 10 o'clock. And I didn't particularly want to get up that early but I did. And as you know, it turned out to be a fabulous photograph.

STAMBERG: So fabulous that in 1994 a documentary film was made about it.


STAMBERG: The picture shows Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonius Monk and Charles Mingus, Gene Krupa and Maxine Sullivan and Mary Lou Williams and Gerry Mulligan and Lester Young and Sonny Rollins - all the '50s gods of jazz.


STAMBERG: And Marian McPartland.

MCPARTLAND: I never get tired of looking at that picture, one of the world's greatest photos.

STAMBERG: Well, I'm just looking at you there and you stand out, as you must have, when you first went to New York. Because you had three things that could have gone so against you; you were a woman, you were white, and you were foreign. It occurs to me you had three things that were so in your favor. One was your enormous talent and, two, your great charm, and, three, you were some beautiful young woman - and still are, of course.

MCPARTLAND: Well, trying to be in my old age. It seems like everybody encouraged me and let me be myself. Nobody bothered whether I was black or white. I just wanted to play better and listen to a lot of people, people I really loved - Bill Evans and horn players like Sonny Rollins. And, oh, I just wanted to hear everybody.

STAMBERG: Now, there's a documentary film about Marian McPartland. "In Good Time: The Piano Jazz of Marian McPartland" is full of archival footage, family photos, interviews. A fellow named Huey - one name only - spent five years making the movie.

HUEY: I was very lucky. There's, oh, so many wonderful moments that I found. And one of the precious ones is the show where Jimmy McPartland, Marian's husband, and Marian are on together and talk about how they first met, which was a real gem to find.


STAMBERG: Jimmy McPartland was a famous jazz cornet player.



MCPARTLAND: It's just a very open kind of club. People just walked in. A lot of times, they would just jump on the bandstand and sit in with me. It was a ball.

STAMBERG: And I know that Duke Ellington came every night - he was a fan of yours - but I'm not sure he was coming every night just to hear you play.

MCPARTLAND: Well, I don't know. He probably came because the food was good. And his press agent was also the press agent for the Hickory House.

STAMBERG: Will you tell what it was that Duke Ellington said about your piano playing?

MCPARTLAND: Oh, I remember he made a sort of a subtle criticism. He said, oh, you play so many notes. I thought he's obviously telling me I'm playing too many notes. So, from that I kind of eased off a little bit in that I was probably showing off.




MCPARTLAND: Hi I'm Marian McPartland. My guest today on Piano Jazz...

STAMBERG: All those notes found a home for 30 years on public radio. Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz began in 1979. The first program was recorded in the Baldwin Piano showroom on 59th Street in New York. There was Marian, surrounded by pianos for sale, just playing away. Some 700-plus programs later - her last show was recorded in 2010 - the series keeps running and running and running - archival tapes, plus new ones, with new hosts. Marian remains the show's artistic director. Her radio guests over the years have included all the jazz greats: Billy Taylor, Bill Evans, Sarah Vaughan, Norah Jones, Oscar Peterson, George Shearing, Herbie Hancock, Ray Charles, Tony Bennett.


STAMBERG: There is moment in the film which brought me to tears, and it was you and Dave Brubeck.


STAMBERG: When he's playing a song he wrote for you based on rhythms of your name.

DAVE BRUBECK: Ma-ree-an Mc-part-land.

AUDIENCE: Ma-ree-an Mc-part-land.


MCPARTLAND: We managed to get three or four choruses out of it. We had fun. I know we were laughing with one another.


STAMBERG: I'd love to talk about your relationship with Diana Krall, because that's been a wonderful relationship over the years, hasn't it?

MCPARTLAND: Yes, it has. When I first met her, she was a very young girl. And she called me on the phone and left a message.

DIANA KRALL: I came home one day and my dad said Marian McPartland phoned. What are you doing calling Marian McPartland? I said, well, I needed, I wanted to ask her for advice on what she did, how did she do what she did. I just wanted to talk to her, 'cause she's the only woman jazz pianist I know of.

MCPARTLAND: I called her back and she seemed sort of surprised. We got along famously, it seems, right away. And I follow her and all her doings.


STAMBERG: A duet between friends - Diana Krall, accompanied by Marion McPartland - on "Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz." Krall, Brubeck, so many others appear in the new documentary film, "In Good Time: The Piano Jazz of Marian McPartland". It will be screened in the fall at jazz festivals in Savannah and Seattle. You can see the trailer for it at Ms. McPartland spoke to us from her home in Port Washington, New York. Thank you, Marion McPartland so much.

MCPARTLAND: Oh, it's a pleasure, Susan.

STAMBERG: Pleasure to talk to you. I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.


SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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