Marian McPartland, a beloved figure in the jazz world locally, nationally and internationally, died Tuesday, August 20, at the age of 95. She died of natural causes at her Long Island home. McPartland was best known as the host of the National Public Radio show "Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz," which ran for more than 30 years. But long before she started the radio show, she was a fixture on the New York jazz scene with her trio and in other settings at a time when women were rare in jazz. Since her first album in 1951, McPartland released more than 100 albums.
McPartland had a long association with Rochester, playing often at the Eastman School of Music. She was also a featured performer at the Rochester International Jazz Festival. Her extensive archives, consisting of memorabilia, photographs, recordings, etc., will go to the Eastman School's Sibley Library according to her executor, Rochester jazz radio host and attorney Tom Hampson.
"We're going to have the damnedest memorial concert in New York City that you've ever seen," said Hampson, who served as McPartland's lawyer for three decades. "As an artist she was remarkable for her open mind and her willingness to grow and play new things. She evolved, as did jazz. On a personal level she was interesting and fun, and much more complicated than you might think. We all know the very proper English lady, which she certainly was. But she could also mix it up and swear. She was very human."
McPartland loved the Eastman School and set up a scholarship for piano players there. She also played a concert to endow the Rayburn Wright Fund at Eastman.
"She was a very generous person," says Eastman professor Harold Danko. "I met her at the Manhattan School of Music when I was hired to teach there in the mid-1980's. She was also on the piano faculty and had a big name. But when she was asked to play a concert she said, 'Why don't I do a concert with Harold?' She extended that kind of generosity. She would give you her blessing."
Danko also recalled McPartland's adventurousness. "Nobody could believe that she could play free jazz or Irish tunes; her range was remarkable. Her playing was not cliché in any way. When I did 'Piano Jazz' I thought there would be rehearsals, but it was totally spontaneous. I'd name a standard and she'd say, 'What key do you want to do that in?'"
Danko confirmed that McPartland had what he called her "jazz mouth." "To hear her curse in that proper accent was one of the finest things in life."