Voices at Large

Living Jazz History


Congratulations to the first lady of jazz piano, Marian McPartland, who today won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Jazz Journalists Association. I've worked with the legendary artist for 20 years, so I'm fortunate to have a unique perspective on her and her career.

For nearly 30 years the indefatigable jazz pianist has been doing double duty as a Concord Jazz recording artist and beloved host of the NPR syndicated radio program Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz. Many of the Piano Jazz radio broadcasts are available on CD on The Jazz Alliance label, running the musical gamut from Dave Brubeck and Bill Evans to Elvis Costello and Steely Dan.

With an encyclopedic musical vocabulary shaped by a lifetime of experience, the depth and breadth of Marian's piano style is unmatched. Her latest Concord Jazz CD, Twilight World, is a compelling case in point. Who else could pull off performances of tunes by Burt Bacharach and Ornette Coleman on the same CD with such authenticity, individuality, harmonic sophistication, and conviction? (As I've joked with Marian before, she's the only nonagenarian, female, British jazz pianist I know who regularly covers Ornette Coleman tunes! Well, okay, she's the only nonagenarian, female, British jazz pianist I know period, but you get the point.)

At 90 years of age, she has nothing left to prove, yet she continues to refuse to rest on her laurels. Not more than a month after we had finished recording Twilight World (we hadn't even mixed it yet, let alone released it) Marian called me to ask "So, what are we going to do for my next recording?" That's Marian for you; always looking forward. But, then again, one doesn't become a Lifetime Achievement Award winner in jazz, or anything else for that matter, by sitting on their hands and looking back.

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