Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“I went into the
House in ,
and I was there most of the next eight years. The best trio I had was Hickory Bill
Crow on bass and Joe Morello on drums. Sal
introduced me to Joe one night. He was at the bar, a skinny bean pole in a
raincoat, and he looked like a studious young chemist. I asked him to sit in,
and I was flabbergasted. I'd never heard anyone play drums like that. When
Mousie Alexander, who was with me then, left, Joe joined us, and I was so
enamored of his playing that I let him play a lot of solos." Salvador
Marian McPartland looks up at the ceiling and laughs. "Whenever I think of Joe, I think of swinging. It was impossible not to swing with him.”
There are two things I like best regarding the following essay.
The first is that it is about Marian McPartland, one of my all-time favorite Jazz pianists.
The second is that it was penned by Whitney Balliett, one of my all-time favorite writers.
Whitney’s essay was originally published in the early 1970’s in The New Yorker Magazine, a learned publication for which he wrote on the subject of Jazz for many years.
The piece antedates Marian’s Piano Jazz, an NPR program that would bring her well-deserved acclaim and more than likely a lot of enjoyment as her program consisted of interviews with just about every exponent of Jazz piano on the planet.
A marvelously talent Jazz pianist and often overlooked, I will always be grateful to Marian for bringing drummer Joe Morello into my life by way of her Marian McPartland at the Hickory House, a 10” Capitol LP  which was recorded in Septembe5, 1954.
In his piece, Whitney talks about
and Jazz in New York as though they were the center of the
civilized world. Of course, each was at the time. New York
This is a lengthy piece that for all intents and purposes reflects on a world gone by.
It’s a fascinating story about a singularly talented woman who has contributed so much to Jazz over the years.
Amazingly, at it’s conclusion, Marian would add another forty years to its telling!
Although Marian is in retirement today [Whitney died in 2007], the editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought you might like to share in a revisit with Whitney and Marian, chatting away in her cozy flat – one day, when the world was young.
© -Whitney Balliett, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Four scenes from the life of Marian McPartland, the unique and graceful English-born jazz pianist. The first scene takes place early in the spring.
She is seated at a small upright piano in a corner of an elementary-school classroom on
Long Island. She has the polished, easy, expectant air
that she has when she is about to start a set in a nightclub. Her back is
ruler-straight, she is smiling, and her hands rest lightly on the keyboard.
And, as always, she is impeccably got up. Her blond hair, shaded by pale grays,
is carefully arranged, and she is wearing a faultlessly tailored pants suit.
Twenty or so six-year-olds, led into the classroom a few moments before by a
pair of teachers, are seated at her feet in a semicircle. She looks at a list
of kinds of weather the children have prepared. "All right, dears, what
have we here?" she says in a musical English alto. "Did all of you do
There is a gabble of "yes"es.
"Hail, snow, hurricane, cloudy day, rain, twister, fog, wind, the whole lot. Now, I'm going to pick one out and play something, and I want you to tell me what kind of weather I'm playing about." She bends over the keyboard and, dropping her left hand into her lap, constructs floating, gentle, Debussy chords with her right hand. A girl with a budlike face and orange hair shoots a hand directly at her and says, "Rain, gentle rain."
"That's very good. It is rain, and gentle rain, too. Now what's this?" She crooks her arms and pads lazily up and down the keyboard on her forearms. She stops and smiles and gazes around the faces. There is a puzzled silence. A boy with porcupine hair and huge eyes raises a hand, falters, and pulls it down with his other hand. "Fog," says the little girl.
Marian McPartland laughs. "That's very close, dear, but it's not exactly right." She pads around on the keyboard again. "What's like a blanket on the ground, a big blanket that goes as far as you can see?" The large-eyed boy shoots his hand all the way up. "Snow! Snow! Snow!"
"Right! But what have we now?" Dropping her left hand again, she plays a quick, light, intricate melody in the upper registers. "Twister!" a pie-faced boy shouts. "No, hurricane," a boy next to him says.
"Could you play it again?" one of the teachers asks.
"Well, I'll try." She plays the melody, but it is not the same. It is a delightful improvisation. There are more notes this time, and she plays with greater intensity. "I think it's wind'' the orange-haired girl says.
"It is wind, and wind is what we get when we have one of these." She launches into loud, stabbing chords that rush up and down the keyboard and are broken by descending glissan-dos. She ends on a crash. "Twister! Twister!" the pie-faced boy cries again.
She shakes her head. "Now, listen, listen more closely." Again she improvises on her invention, and before she is finished there are shouts of "Thunder!" "Lightning!" "Twister!"
"I don't think I'd even know what a twister sounds like," she says, laughing. "But the rest of you are very close. Which is it —thunder or lightning?" She plays two flashing glisses. "Lightning!" a tiny, almond-eyed girl yells.
"Very, very good. Now this one is hard, but it's what we have a lot of in the summer." She plays groups of crystalline chords in a medium tempo. It is sunlight. A cloudy day and a breeze and a hurricane follow, and when the children's attention begins to wane, she starts "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head." The children get up and stand around the piano and sing, Two of them lean against her. She finishes one chorus and starts another, and at her behest the children clap in time. She gradually speeds up the tempo until the clapping is continuous and the children, hopping around as if they were on pogo sticks, are roaring with laughter. She finishes with a loose, ringing tremolo. The teachers thank her and sweep the children out of the room. She takes a lipstick out of an enormous handbag and fixes her mouth. Then, in the empty room, she starts noodling a medium-tempo blues. But soon it is all
there: the long, tight, flowing single-note lines and the rich, sparring chords; the flawless time; the far-out, searching harmonies; the emotional content, passed so carefully from generation to generation of jazz musicians; and the balancing, smoothing taste. She plays three or four minutes, and then, as a group of ten-year-olds comes billowing through the classroom door, she switches to the Beatles' "Hey Jude."
Marian McPartland lives in an apartment on
East Eighty-sixth Street. It is on the seventeenth floor, and it
faces south. From the windows of her compact living room, the and the Empire State and Chrysler Building are knee-deep in an endless wash of
brownstones. There is a small terrace, with chairs and a couple of boxes of
geraniums. A grand piano, which faces away from the view, dominates the living
room. Paintings hang on two walls, and the third is covered with photographs, most
of which she is in. The business end of the piano is covered with sheet music
and musical manuscript, and there are careful stacks of records on the floor
below the photographs. She is wearing a flowered top and pants and a big
leather belt, and she looks mint-fresh. She makes tea and sits down facing the
panorama. She is extremely handsome. Her face, with its long, well-shaped nose,
high forehead, wide mouth, and full chin, is classically English. She smiles a
great deal and keeps her chin pointed several degrees above the horizon. She
has the figure of a well-proportioned twenty-year-old. New York Hospital
"I've been teaching four or five years," she says, crossing her legs and taking a sip of tea. "Clem De Rosa, a drummer and the musical director of the
, got me going. I teach about six weeks out
in that area every year. I started out doing assemblies with a quartet and then
with a trio, but I didn't think we were getting across to the kids. Last year,
I went into the classrooms with just a bass player, and this year I'm doing it
by myself. I love to work with the little ones — especially the slower ones. I
guess it has to do with listening. I'm trying to make them shed their fidgeting
and their fears and make them listen.
Very few of us ever learn how. I think I was first made conscious of it when I
was in kindergarten in Cold Spring Harbor High School and we had a teacher who used to take us
on long walks in the woods and fields and make us listen to the birds and the
wind and the water lapping in brooks. During the summer, I teach and play at
college clinics, and it's terrific fun. Musicians like Clark Terry and Billy
Taylor and Gary Burton do a lot of it, too, so there are always wonderful
people to play with, to say nothing of the kids themselves. I wish there had
been clinics and such when I was growing up. Becoming a jazz musician in those
days, with my background and my sex, was like pulling teeth. It just 'wasn't
done,' as my father used to say. I was born in England Slough, near . But we moved to Woolwich a few months
later, and then to Bromley, Kent, when I was about four. Bromley was much
nicer than Woolwich, which resembled Windsor .” Astoria, New York
“My family was upper-middle-class and conservative. All my mother's side lived around
Slough and Eton and . My great-uncle sang at Windsor Chapel at St. George's , and my grandmother lived in The
Cloisters, on the grounds. Queen Elizabeth knighted another great-uncle, and
now he's Sir Cyril. He and Aunt Sylvia came over when I was working in Windsor Castle at the original Hickory House in the
fifties, and they were shocked and mystified by the whole scene. Uncle Cyril
took me aside, between sets at the club, and said, 'Margaret' — I was born
Margaret Marian Turner — 'Margaret, does your father know what you're doing?' My father was a civil engineer who was
involved with machine tools. He was an avid gardener, and clever at everything
he did. When I was quite little, he made a goldfish pond with all sorts of
pretty rocks on the bottom. He let me help him, and it was a great source of
pride. I was Daddy's girl, in spite of the fact that I think he would have
liked me to be a boy. My mother always used to say to me when she was annoyed,
'You're just like your father, Margaret — pigheaded!' I think they did quite a
lot of bickering and carrying on. My mother was rather a critical person, but I
suppose it was her upbringing. It was forever 'Do this, do that, pick up behind
you, don't be late.' I was harassed by it, and it took me years to grow out of
it.” New York
“My schooling was of the times. I started in at a one-room school, where I drew pictures of little houses with snow falling. Then, for less than a year, I went to Avon Cliffe, a private school run by two well-meaning women. I was a frog in the school play, and I was not pleased by that. There was a nursing home, next to the school, where my grandmother spent her last days, and she'd wave to me out of the window every afternoon when I left. After that, I was sent to a convent school. My sister, Joyce — there were just the two of us — was always ailing with bronchitis, and I think my mother enjoyed hovering over her. But I was the strong, healthy ox. Even so, I was scared of some of the nuns. I was hopeless in some subjects, and they were always grabbing me by the neck and locking me in the laundry room. My mother said I'd have to go to boarding school if I didn't shape up. I didn't, so they put me in Stratford House, in a neighboring town. It was a nice school for nice girls from nice families. We had a matron with a starched headdress and we were told when it was our turn to take a bath and we were taught how to make a bed with hospital corners. I couldn't stand the school food or the smell of cooking, and I got sick headaches. But there were good things. I think I learned how to string letters and words and sentences together on paper. And I designed the school emblem — three sweet peas, entwined. It was quite beautiful. And I wrote the school song. "
“I had started playing the piano when I was three or four. It was at my great-uncle Harry's, and the keyboard was all yellow. And I remember playing, sitting up high on a stool, at kindergarten with children all gathered around. My mother would make me play for her friends, and while I played they all talked. When I finished, she'd say, 'Oh, that was very nice, dear.' I was angry, but I wouldn't have dared pop out with 'You weren't listening!' I didn't realize that the pattern of my life was already set. I still play while people talk and then applaud. When I was nine, I asked my mother if I could take piano lessons. She said, 'Margaret, you already play the piano very well. I think you should take up the violin.' We went up to
and bought a violin, and I took lessons, but I never enjoyed the
“I played in concerts and competitions, but then my teacher died, and that put an end to it. I was studying elocution with Miss Mackie, at Stratford House, around this time, and I had a crush on her. I used to ask my mother if she'd invite her over for tea or dinner. Mummy was a nervous hostess, but finally Miss Mackie came, and it was she who advised my parents to send me up to the Guildhall School of Music, in
. My parents were always saying, 'You better think of what you're
going to do after school; we aren't going to keep you forever,' which made me
feel like a bit of aging merchandise. I went up to London and played for Sir Landon Ronald, who was
the head of the Guildhall, and I got in. I commuted every day from Bromley, and
I really worked. I studied composition and theory and piano, and I won a
scholarship in composition. I took up violin again, because we students had to
have a second instrument, and I studied singing with Carrie Tubb, a retired
opera singer. The other day, I came across six pieces I wrote then. They have
titles like Tas Seul' and 'Reverie,' and actually they are pretty well put
together. But I'd never claim then that anything I'd done was good. The
reaction would have been immediate: 'How can you be so immodest, Margaret!'' London
The telephone rings, and Marian McPartland talks for a minute. "That was Sam Goody's. They want more of my records. Some women buy fur coats; I have my own record company. It's called Halcyon, and I've put out four albums to date — three with myself and rhythm, and some duets with Teddy Wilson, which turned out surprisingly well. Sherman Fairchild helped me get it going. He died two years ago, and he was a great jazz buff and a friend for twenty years. Bill Weilbacher, who has his own label, Master Jazz Recordings, gives me advice, and a small packaging firm handles the distribution and such. A printing of five thousand LPs costs around fifteen hundred dollars. Whatever I make I put right back into the next record. The big companies are impossible, and a lot of musicians have their own labels. Stan Kenton has his, George Shearing has his, Clark Terry has his, and Bobby Hackett has started one. I think this do-it-yourself movement is terribly important, particularly in the area of reissues. What with all the mergers among recording companies, I'm afraid of valuable records being lost. Not long ago, I wrote the company that recorded me at the Hickory House in the fifties and asked if they intended reissuing any of the albums. I think they'd have some value now. But I got the vaguest letter back. So they won't reissue the records, nor will they let me. It's not right. I think that musicians should get together catalogues of everything they've recorded and perhaps form some sort of cooperative for reissuing valuable stuff. Anyway . . ."
Marian McPartland laughs, and says she is going to make lunch.
She sets a small table and puts out pumpernickel and a fresh fruit salad. "I was listening to everything indiscriminately at the Guildhall, and I was beginning to learn all sorts of tunes. I have fantastic recall, but I don't know where half the music that is stored in my head has come from. I also started listening to jazz — the Hot Club of France, Duke Ellington's 'Blue Goose,' Sidney Bechet, Teddy Wilson, Bob Zurke, Art Tatum, and the wonderful Alec Wilder octets. I was playing a sort of cocktail piano outside of the classroom, and once, when my piano professor at the Guildhall, a solemn little white-haired man named Orlando Morgan, heard me, he said, 'Don't let me catch you playing that rubbish again.' Well, he never got the chance. One day I sneaked over to the
West End, where Billy Mayerl had a studio. He
played a lot on the BBC, and he was like Frankie Carle or Eddy Duchin. I played 'Where Are
You?' for him, and a little later he asked me to join a piano quartet he was
putting together — Billy Mayerl and His Claviers. I was twenty, and I was
tremendously excited. The family were horrified, but I said I'd go back to the
Guildhall when the tour was over. My father charged up to to see 'this Billy Mayerl/ He didn't want
any daughter of his being preyed on, and he wanted to know what I'd be paid —
ten pounds a week, it turned out. So my parents agreed. The quartet included
Billy and George Myddelton and Dorothy Carless and myself. She and I were
outfitted in glamorous gowns, and we played music-hall stuff. We played variety
theaters — a week in each town. We lived in rented digs in somebody's house. If
it was 'all in,' it included food. Some of the places were great, and they'd
even bring you up a cup of tea in the morning. Meanwhile, my family had moved
to London Eastbourne.”
“The tour with Billy lasted almost a year, and then I joined Carroll Levis's Discoveries, a vaudeville show, and I was with them until the early years of the war. By this time, my family had given up on me. But my father would catch me on his business trips, and he'd come backstage and wow all the girls in the cast. I was going around with the manager of the show. He was a comedian, and he was also Jewish. My father would take us out to dinner and he would manfully try not to be patronizing. But it was beyond him. He would have liked me to work in a bank or be a teacher, and here I was playing popular music and going around with someone who was not 'top drawer.' I don't think it was real anti-Semitism; you just didn't go around with Jews and tradespeople. When I was five or six, and my mother found out that one of my friends was the daughter of a liquor-store owner, I wasn't allowed to see her anymore."
The phone rings again, and Marian McPartland talks with animation. "That was my dear friend Alec Wilder. He wanted to know if I'd done any writing today. He's incessant, but he's right. For a long time I procrastinated and procrastinated. I'd start things and let them sit around forever before finishing them. Alec gave me a set of notebooks, and I jot ideas down in them in cabs and at the hairdresser. Tony Bennett recorded my 'Twilight World,' which Johnny Mercer wrote the lyrics for, and it's just come out on Tony's new LP. Johnny is another great friend. One evening, he and Ginger, his wife, and his mother came up here, and Johnny sat right over there by the piano and sang about fifteen songs. It was a marvelous experience." Marian McPartland clears the table, and sits down in the living room with a fresh cup of tea.
"In , I volunteered for ENSA, which was the English equivalent of the USO. I traveled all over
with the same sort of groups I'd been
with, and then I switched to the USO, which paid better and which meant working
with the Americans! Boy, the Americans! The fall of , we were sent to England . We were given fatigues and helmets and
mess kits, and we lived in tents and ate in orchards and jumped into hedgerows
when the Germans came over. At first I played accordion because there weren't
any pianos around. I met Fred Astaire and France and Edward G. Robinson, and I worked with
Astaire in a show that we gave for Eisenhower. We moved up through Dinah Shore , which was all rubble, and into Caen , where I met Jimmy McPartland. A jam
session was going on in a big tent, and I was playing, and in walked Jimmy and
saw me — a female white English musician — and the my-God, what-could-be-worse
expression on his face was clear right across the room. But it was a case of
propinquity, and in the weeks to come it was Jimmy on cornet and me and a bass
player and whatever drummer we could find. We'd go up near the front and play
in tents or outside, and it was cold. He annoyed me at first because he almost
always had this silly grin on his face, but I found out that it was because he
was drinking a great deal. Somewhere along the line he said, 'Let's get
married.' I didn't believe him, so one morning I went over to his place very
early, when I knew he'd be hung over and close to reality, and asked him if he
really meant it, and he said sure and took a drink of armagnac. I guess I was
madly in love with him. We were married in February, in Belgium , and we played at our own wedding. Aachen
"When we got to
early in , we went straight to Eddie Condon's, in the Village. I was so excited
I couldn't stand it. Jimmy sat in and so did I, even though my left wrist,
which I'd broken in a jeep in New
York , was still in a cast. We stayed for a
while with Gene Krupa, then we went to Germany to stay with Jimmy's family. A colonel
with our outfit had given the news of my marriage to my parents when he was on
leave in Chicago . My father was stiff-upper-lip, but Mummy
told me she cried a whole day. I guess my not telling them first was a rotten
thing to do, but we were so isolated. You couldn't just pick up a phone at the
front and tell them you were going to get married. But when Jimmy finally met
them, he charmed them completely. My mother was really crippled with arthritis
by then, and he made her laugh, and Jimmy took my father to the movies. They
told me, 'He's not like an American. He's so polite/ In Chicago, I became
greatest of friends with Jimmy's daughter, Dorothy, who was very beautiful and
just fifteen. Jimmy had been married before, and Dorothy had been their only
child. Jimmy had sent a lot of money back from England Europe, and the first six months in were spent hanging out and treating
people. All anybody seemed to do was drink, including Jimmy, and eventually it
got to be one crisis after another. I left him a couple of times, and once I
even booked passage on the Queen Elizabeth. But it was all done without much
thought; I seemed such a brainless person then. And I think I must have been
quite awful to Jimmy. One of Mummy's dire predictions was If you become a
musician, Margaret, you'll marry a musician and live in an attic.' And that's
exactly what happened; our first place in Chicago was a furnished room in an attic. But
there were a lot of nice times, too. Jimmy and I started working together, and
Jimmy was always marvelous in that he was proud of me, he wanted to show me
off. We worked with Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan and Anita O'Day, and I met
Duke Ellington and Count Basie. And we'd go fishing up in Chicago and sit there by some lake and cook fish
and eat them and watch the sun rise. I had learned all the good old Dixieland
tunes from Jimmy, but I was also listening to the new sounds — Charlie Ventura
and Lennie Tristano and Charlie Parker. Wisconsin
"Jimmy and I had split up, musically, by the early fifties, and my first gig all by myself in
was at the St. Charles Hotel, in America , and not long after that I left for St. Charles, Illinois . I played solo piano at Condon's and then
I went into the Embers, with Eddie Safranski on bass and Don Lamond on drums.
Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge were brought in as guest stars, and we backed
them. I was so nervous I had to write down what I was supposed to say at the
close of each set. I played Storyville, in New York , and then I went into the Hickory House in
, and I was there most of the next eight years. The best trio I had
was Boston Bill Crow on bass and Joe Morello on drums. Sal introduced me to Joe one night. He was at
the bar, a skinny bean pole in a raincoat, and he looked like a studious young
chemist. I asked him to sit in, and I was flabbergasted. I'd never heard anyone
play drums like that. When Mousie Alexander, who was with me then, left, Joe
joined us, and I was so enamored of his playing that I let him play a lot of
Marian McPartland looks up at the ceiling and laughs. "Whenever I think of Joe, I think of swinging. It was impossible not to swing with him. And whenever I think of swinging, I think metaphorically. Swinging is like being on a tightrope or a roller coaster. It's like walking in space. It's like a souffle: it rises and rises and rises. The fingers and the mind are welded together. But it's dangerous. You have to leave spaces in your playing. You can't go on like a typewriter. Sometimes I do, though, and I leave no note unplayed. It's hard to say what goes on in your head when you're swinging, when you're really improvising. I do know I see the different keys in colors — the key of D is daffodil yellow, B major is maroon, and B flat is blue. Different musicians spark you into different ideas, which is why I like to play with new people all the time. Especially the younger musicians. They're fearless. Joe used to play enormously complicated rhythmic patterns once in a while and confuse me, and I'd get mad. Now I'd just laugh. Playing with lots and lots of different people is like feeding the computer: what they teach you may not come out right away, but it will eventually. Unless you have a row with someone just before you play, your state of mind doesn't affect you. You can feel gloomy, and it will turn out a marvelous night. Or you can feel beautiful, and it will be a terrible night. When I started out, I had the wish, the need, to compete with men. If somebody said I sounded like a man, I was pleased. But I don't feel that way anymore. I take pride in being a woman. Of course, I have been a leader most of my career, and that helps. I don't feel I've ever been discriminated against job-wise. I have always been paid what I was worth as a musician. So I feel I've been practicing women's lib for years.”
"The Hickory House was a good period for Jimmy and me. He was on the wagon and we were both working, and we lived on the
West Side. For the first time in my life, I began spending all my waking
hours doing things that had to do with just me, and one of them was a big
romance that went on, or off and on, for years. But I wanted to keep things
together with Jimmy, and we bought a little house out in Merrick, Long Island, and Jimmy's daughter came and lived with us. Joe Morello left in to join Dave Brubeck, and it was terrible, but he had
to move on. In nineteen sixty-three, after the Hickory House gig was over and
I'd worked at the Strollers Club, in the old East Side music hall called The Establishment,
I went with Benny Goodman. I thought I'd be perfect for Benny, because I had
worked so long as a sideman with Jimmy, and of course Jimmy and Benny played
together in as kids. But I had the feeling I wasn't fitting in. Bobby Hackett
was in the band, and he'd tell me, 'Marian, don't play such far-out chords
behind Benny,' and I'd say, 'Well, why doesn't Benny say something to me?' One
night, Benny and I had a couple of drinks, and I told him I knew he wasn't
happy with me and to get someone else. All he said was 'Oh really, you don't
mind?' and he got John Bunch. So all of a sudden, nothing seemed right — my
work, my marriage, my romance. When I got back to Chicago , I started going to a psychiatrist, and I
stayed with him six years. He was tough but very good. He indirectly
precipitated a lot of things. The romance finally broke up, and I cried for a
week. Jimmy and I got divorced. I didn't really want to do it, and neither did
he, but it turned out we were right. Jimmy hasn't had a drink in five years,
and I'm twice as productive. We've never lost touch with each other. We still
talk on the phone almost every day, and he stops by all the time. In fact, he
said he'd come by today." New York
The doorbell rings, and Marian McPartland jumps up. "Speaking of the devil! That'll be the old man now." Jimmy McPartland comes into the living room at ninety miles an hour, gives her a peck on the cheek, plumps a big attaché case down on the coffee table, takes off his blazer, and sits down. McPartland is sixty-five, but he doesn't look over fifty. His handsome Irish face glows, and he is salty and dapper. He is wearing a striped button-down shirt and a foulard tie and blue checked pants.
He carries his considerable girth the way Sydney Greenstreet did — as a badge rather than a burden. His credentials are all in order — the founder, along with Bud Freeman and
Dave Tough and Eddie Condon, of the school of jazz; the first and foremost of
Bix Beiderbecke's admirers ("I like you, kid," Beiderbecke told him.
"You sound like me, but you don't copy me"); and a still lyrical and
inventive cornetist — and he wears them well. He opens the attaché case. It has
a cornet in it, and several hundred photographs. He puts the cornet beside him
on the sofa and dumps the pictures on the coffee table. "My God, will you
look at these, Marian," he says, in a booming voice. "I found them
the other day out at the house, and some of them go back thirty or forty years.
There's your father, and there we are, with Sarah Vaughan and Charlie Shavers
and Louis Bellson. And here we are on the ship coming over. Look at you in the
GI togs and look at me. Thinsville." Chicago
She leans over his shoulder and giggles.
"Here we are playing in that pub in
Eastbourne when we went to visit your family.
And here you are holding a fish we caught in
"They should be put in a book, Jimmy. They'll just get lost." McPartland pulls a tape out of the attaché case.
"A guy gave me this on my South African trip, a couple of weeks ago. I'd never heard it before. We made it in
in . You were on piano and you wrote the
arrangements. It'll surprise you." England
She puts the tape on a machine, and Bix Beiderbecke's "In a Mist" starts. A complex ensemble passage introduces a Jimmy McPartland solo. "Listen to that intro," she says. "How awful."
"It's not, it's not. The clarinet player is out of tune. You know, I don't sound bad. Not bad at all." The tape finishes, and McPartland opens his mouth and points at one of his upper front teeth. "Look at thiff," he says to her through his finger. "The damn toof if moving back. Walking right back into my mouf."
She stares at the tooth, frowns, and straightens up. "You should go to Dr. Whitehorn, Jimmy."
"I don't know. I think I'll have to move my embouchure. I've already started, and it's a bitch of a job — changing an embouchure youVe had almost fifty years." He walks over to the window and puts his cornet to his mouth. He makes a little sound halfway between a puff and a grunt, takes the mouthpiece away, makes the sound again, takes the mouthpiece away again, and so on for two or three minutes. The room is silent except for the mysterious little sounds, but suddenly three or four full notes come out. "There. That's better. But it's going to take a hell of a lot more work."
"Jimmy, are we still going out to dinner?"
"Sure, babe. That Brazilian place around the corner you like so much."
"I'll go get dressed."
McPartland goes through his embouchure priming process once more. Then he shuffles through the photographs. "Marian is amazing. There's no one I'd rather be with as a person, as an all-around human being. I have terrific respect for her as a musician and as a person. She's talent personified. Musically, she has that basic classical training, and she's meshed that and her jazz talent. She's just begun to do it really successfully in the past two or three years. And she's a great accompanist. She flows with horns and singers like a conversation. Marian didn't have good time when I first heard her. Her enthusiasm was overwhelming, and she'd rush the beat. I'd tell her to go along with the rhythm, to take it easy. She sounded like Fats Waller, and, in fact, the first tune I ever heard her play was his 'Honeysuckle Rose.' It was in this tent in
go in and there's a girl playing piano and she looks English. I thought, God, this is awful. I wouldn't play with her until I'd had a
couple of drinks. I proposed after six or
seven weeks. Real offhand. If it doesn't work out,' I'd say, 'you can just go
back to Belgium .'
She tried to act real GI, but I could see she was a fine, well-bred
person and not a England juvenile delinquent like me.”
“My father was a boxer and a musician and a professional baseball player with Anson's Colts, which were the forerunners of the Chicago Cubs. He didn't take a drink until he was twenty-one, and then he never stopped. My brother Dick and I built a reputation as tough little punks, and we were almost sent to reform school, but my mother saved us. She was a schoolteacher from
, and she knew German and worked as a
translator in court for all the Jewish people.
We were hauled up before the judge, but he knew my mother and told her
he'd let us off if she moved us to another neighborhood, and she did. She was a wonderful woman, and she always
treated me like King James himself. She had seven sisters, and her name was
Jeanne Munn. I'd go to her father's
house every Sunday — his name was Dugald Munn, and he was an inventor — and I'd
get fifteen cents for listening to him read from the Bible. He had a wee bit of a brogue, and I couldn't
understand a word he said. So visiting Marian's parents was like being in an
English movie to me. They were mid-Victorian in style. Her mother was in a
wheelchair and very well-dressed and very particular. Everything at a certain
time, everything regulated. Tea at four, dinner at eight. If I was late coming
back from fishing or golf, Marian's mother would say, 'James, you're late.
We've started our tea/ Her father, who was a great engineer, used to knock his
brains out in his garden, and I'd help him until the pull of golf or fishing
got too strong. He was a nice, conservative gent." Glasgow
Marian McPartland has been standing for some moments in front of the sofa. She is in a Pucci-type dress and white boots, and she has a fur coat over one arm. "Daddy once slapped my hand for saying 'Blast it!''
McPartland digs a frayed envelope out from under the photographs and pours out a lot of German currency. "We used to go into people's houses over there and rifle them. That's where all this came from. Some of it is inflation money from after the First War. It was a terrible thing to steal like that, but everybody did it."
"You used to appear with bagfuls of old cobwebby wine bottles."
"I was just well-organized. Once, you needed a piano for a special show, and the colonel gave me the name of this collaborator in the town. I got eight guys together and a truck, and we went to his house and there was a beautiful piano. Brand-new. I told him he'd get paid for it, and we brought it back to the theater."
"I was really impressed," she says. "You said you were going out to find me a new piano and you did. It was one of your finest moments. Let's go and eat, Jimmy."
It is Marian McPartland's opening night at the Cafe Carlyle. It is her fourth long nightclub gig of the past year, the three others having been at the Cookery, in the Village, and at the Rowntowner Motel, in
. It is in some ways an odd engagement, and
it suggests the country mouse's visit to the town mouse. The Cafe houses, for
eight months of the year, the elegant and fashionable supper-club singer and
pianist Bobby Short, and it is not the sort of room one associates with jazz;
indeed, no out-and-out jazz group has ever played there. By nine-forty-five
this evening, when the first set is scheduled to begin, the room is filled,
largely with friends and well-wishers. There is a table of business
acquaintances, most of whom are amateur musicians. Barney Josephson, the owner
of the Cookery, is at ringside with his wife. At the back of the room are Alec
Wilder and Jim Maher, the writer. Jimmy McPartland and Clark Terry are at
another table, and nearby are Clem De Rosa and pastor John Gensel, of the Rochester . Marian McPartland sits down at the piano,
and she is a winsome sight. The room, with its fey, old-fashioned murals and
rather dowdy trappings, is out of the late thirties, and she brings it brightly
and instantly up to date. In the light, her hair is golden and bouffant, and
she is wearing an ensemble that has clearly been thought out to the last fold:
a close-fitting cranberry turtleneck, a gold belt, brocaded cranberry and gold
palazzo pants, and a gold pocketbook, which she plunks down on the piano. She
looks calm and collected, and, smiling slightly to herself, she goes
immediately into a pleasant, warming-up version of "It's a Wonderful
World." (Her accompanists are Rusty Gilder on bass and Joe Corsello on
drums.) Despite her outward cool, she sounds jumpy. Her chords blare a little,
an arpeggio stumbles, her time is a second or two off. In the next number, a
long, medium-tempo "Gypsy in My Soul," which she introduces as a
carry-over from the days at the Hickory House, she begins to relax, and the
glories of her style come into full view. Marian McPartland came of age when
pianistic giants roamed the earth — Earl Hines, Fats Waller, Art Tatum, Bud
Powell — and their footsteps still echo dimly in her work. Lutheran Church
But in the past five years she has moved beyond adroit adulation into her own, special realm. It is, in the way of Johnny Hodges and Sidney Bechet and Tatum, an emotional, romantic, and highly inventive one. (Her sheer inventiveness is frightening; her ceaseless ideas sometimes trample one another.) Her slow ballads suggest rain forests. The chords are massed and dark and overhanging, the harmonies thick and new and almost impenetrable. And her slow blues are much the same: the tremolos are mountainous, the arpeggios cascades, the blue notes heavy and keening. But her slow blues also have a singular Celtic bagpipe quality. Her foliage is thinner at faster tempos. There are pauses between the stunning, whipping single-note melodic lines, and her chords, often played off beat, are used as recharging way stations. Her notes have room to breathe, and her chordal passages are copses rather than jungles. "Gypsy in My Soul" is sumptuous and crowded, and so is the theme from "Summer of '42." But then she moves lightly and swiftly through medium-fast renditions of "All the Things You Are," part of which is translated into contrapuntal, Bach-like lines, and "Stompin' at the
," which is full of laughing, winding
arpeggios. The room is swaying and rocking, and before it can subside she drops
abruptly into a delicate, veiled ad-lib reading of "Little Girl
Blue." It is a hymn, a lullaby, a crooning. Savoy
A bushy, luxuriant slow blues goes by, and then she pays Alec Wilder tribute with a gentle blending of his three best-known tunes — "I'll Be Around," "While We're Young," and "It's So Peaceful in the Country." They are fresh, mindful versions, and Wilder, listening intently, looks pleased. She closes the set with a rambunctious, homestretch "Royal Garden Blues," and after the applause, which is long and cheerful, she stops briefly at Wilder's table. He asks her how she feels. "I was flipping at first," she replies. "But then the marvelous vibes from all these dear people got to me, and it began to feel very good. Very, very good, in fact. I think it's going to be a nice date."
The closing video montage features Marian,
Bill Crow on bass and Joe Morello on drums performing a 1954 version of
“Tickle Toe,” Lester Young’s famous hit with the Count Basie Band.