Marian McPartland | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Marian McPartland 

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Every jazz aficionado knows about Marian McPartland, and thanks to her radio show, Piano Jazz--which has aired for 22 years on NPR--plenty of laypeople do too. She's lived more than half her 83 years in the States, but her piano work retains remnants of her native British reserve, both in the velvety finish she drapes over her steel-frame solos and in the unflappable sense of direction she brings to even the most adventurous, wide-roaming improvisations. McPartland's nuanced modernism contrasts sharply with the tradition she'll celebrate at this concert--the "Chicago school" of jazz that flowered after Louis Armstrong's success here in the 1920s. The link, of course, is in her name--or rather in her husband's name. Margaret Marian Turner began picking out Chopin waltzes by ear at age three, and as a young woman pursued classical training. But her first professional gig (with Billy Mayerl & His Claviers, a music-hall band featuring four golden pianos) scandalized her parents, and in 1946 she moved to the States with her new husband, American army cornetist Jimmy McPartland--who years before had served as a kind of ringleader for the white teenagers spearheading the aforementioned Chicago school. The young pianist met and worked with her husband's old crowd, as well as with such iconic trad-jazz figures as Baby Dodds and Pops Foster. Eventually she and Jimmy parted ways musically, and in the mid-70s they divorced--but they remained close friends, confidantes, and occasional collaborators until his death in 1991. At the time Marian played a memorial concert for Jimmy at the University of Chicago, and this week's tribute has been scheduled to mark the tenth anniversary of his passing. McPartland will play the first half with her regular Chicago sidemen, bassist Jim Cox and drummer Charles Braugham; for part two she'll augment that trio with trumpeter Bobby Lewis, trombonist Russ Phillips, and indefatigable saxophonist Franz Jackson, who'll turn 89 in November. Saturday, October 20, 8 PM, Mandel Hall, University of Chicago, 1131 E. 57th; 773-834-7966.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.

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