Written by Grant Jackson from NPR
Piano Jazz continues with part two of a monumental session (here’s part one), as host Marian McPartland sits down as a guest on the program with guest host Elvis Costello. In this all-new interview, McPartland and Costello celebrate more moments from 30-plus years of Piano Jazz.
Beginnings In England
Part two begins with Costello singing “P.S. I Love You,” with Pete Malinverni on the piano.
“That song describes the way your listeners must feel about this show you’ve hosted for over 30 years,” Costello says. “There is so much to talk about, but let’s begin at the beginning, with the first piano that you remember hearing.”
McPartland recalls her mother playing Chopin waltzes on the family piano in their home in Bromley, England. However, the young McPartland was encouraged in a different musical direction.
“They didn’t care for my piano playing and didn’t rush to get me a piano teacher,” McPartland says. “My mother said, ‘You have violin fingers, dear.’ ”
McPartland reluctantly took violin lessons — her only academic musical training — and picked up an ear for jazz and American music by way of listening to the radio and local dance bands in England.
The Land Of Musical Dreams
The session continues with a clip of McPartland and her late husband Jimmy McPartland playing “Summertime.” She says she remembers meeting her future husband during World War II in Belgium. Marian had worked her way into sitting in with Jimmy’s band.
“He was a G.I. then,” McPartland says, “and much later, he told me he thought, ‘Oh, a woman wants to play piano. I know she’ll be lousy — and you were!’ ”
But her playing must have agreed with Jimmy after all — she came to the U.S. with him at the close of the war.
“We came to Chicago first for about three years, then to New York,” McPartland says. “I had played in Chicago, but it wasn’t long before I got the gig at The Embers.”
In New York, McPartland was able to track down several of her favorite musicians, some of whom appeared as her honored guests on Piano Jazz years later. Oscar Peterson was one of them, and he joined her for a spirited duet in Duke Ellington‘s “Cottontail” — one of the highlights featured in this session.
Marian And Elvis
In addition to this special Piano Jazz session, Elvis Costello has sat in the guest-host chair for McPartland before, most recently with Allen Toussaint in 2009. And Costello and McPartland have also worked together on an original musical collaboration, “Threnody,” with music by McPartland and lyrics by Costello. Their duet, which premiered at the 2006 Tanglewood Jazz Festival, is featured here.
Costello follows “Threnody” with a truly wonderful gift to the program — the world premiere of a freshly penned tune, the hauntingly lyrical “You Hung the Moon.”
“Although new, it’s styled after an early 20th-century ballad,” Costello says. “It’s about people waiting for their loved ones to come back from the First World War.” Costello accompanies this melancholic lyric on guitar. Afterward, McPartland says, “Poignant is definitely the word for that tune.”
Accompanists And Friends
Several of McPartland’s Piano Jazz guests have also been her close friends, including Tommy Flanagan, who appeared on the program during its first season in 1979. Flanagan was the longtime accompanist for Ella Fitzgerald, and on the program he gave his No. 1 bit of advice for working with singers: Never play the melody. In this retrospective, Flanagan gives a demonstration of his accompanying technique in “I’ve Got a Crush on You.”
McPartland and Dizzy Gillespie close this special session on a joyful note with a duet of “In a Mellow Tone” by Duke Ellington. When Piano Jazz first aired, the program was intended to feature pianists exclusively. However, in bringing guests like Gillespie — who was not known primarily as a pianist — to the program, Piano Jazz has grown to cover the whole of the jazz world. Costello, a singer-songwriter with a healthy respect for jazz, sums it up nicely.
“Marian, you were married to the man who replaced Bix Beiderbecke in The Wolverines. And when I hosted the program with Allen Toussaint, he played ‘Singing The Blues.’ It’s an extraordinary leap of musical continuity that you have been able to make throughout the history of Piano Jazz. We are forever in your debt.”
Originally broadcast Jan. 12, 2010. Marian McPartland passed away in 2013.