The Artistry of… Marian McPartland

Marian McPartland was a consummate storyteller who engaged listeners as a radio program host and jazz pianist by introducing them to what always felt like an insider’s view of the creative artistry of the many jazz artists she interviewed. Her conversations were focused on them and not her. What made the moments even more special was that McPartland was an accomplished musician, but she never intruded on the story of the guest.

In her early days, she faced the challenges of being a woman in jazz. She even received criticism about her accent and being a white woman in jazz, receiving comments like, “Oh, you play good for a girl,” and, “You sound just like a man.” Even with this obtuse adversity, when she did play in clubs she found pleasure and solace in the spontaneity of conversation between musicians, free of sexist attitudes on the bandstands. This made a deep impression, and she brought that essence to her radio show, Piano Jazz, which ran for more than 40 years (and was also, at one time, presented on JAZZ.FM91).

In a commemorative NPR article shortly after her death, McPartland’s artistic selflessness was described this way: “She made Piano Jazz not about her, but about the musicians, the fans and our collective exploration of jazz.” She invited us in, entertained her guests and engaged her listeners in every precious musical moment.