Marian McPartland, Piano Jazz host, dies at 95

By Andrew Lapin

McPartland (Photo: ETV Radio)

McPartland (Photo: ETV Radio)

Jazz pianist Marian McPartland, the longtime host of NPR’s Piano Jazz, died Aug. 20 at her home in Long Island, N.Y., of natural causes. She was 95.

McPartland hosted Piano Jazz from New York for 32 years, interviewing and playing with many renowned pianists representing a range of genres. Among her many guests were Dave Brubeck, Alicia Keys and Steely Dan. Interviewees relished the chance to accompany a fellow musician of McPartland’s stature in jazz.

“She’s a woman who can really do anything you come at her with, which is great,” said Jason Moran, quoted in a 2003 Current profile of McPartland. “That’s the kind of musician you want to play with.”

The show, produced by South Carolina’s ETV Radio, was the longest continually running performance show on NPR and the country’s longest-running network jazz show. McPartland began hosting in 1979 and stepped down in 2011 at the age of 93.

“Marian was, of course, the brilliant artist and beloved icon of public radio,” said Shari Hutchinson, Piano Jazz executive producer, in a press release. “I was able to work closely with one of the strongest, most successful, vital, creative women of her time, someone who overcame every obstacle and who pushed through every glass ceiling.”

Pianist Jon Weber replaced McPartland on a revamped version of the program, Piano Jazz Rising Stars, focusing on modern musicians in the field. Reruns of the McPartland-hosted program continue to air.

Related stories and links

On NPR.org: about McPartland’s series and recorded programs.

Grammy academy salutes McPartland for the ‘timeless legacy’ of her music.

Dame at jazz crossroads: At 85, McPartland keeps Piano Jazz engaging.

McPartland still going full tilt at time of Current profile by David Stewart, 1999.

McPartland was one of 57 jazz figures pictured in a famous 1958 photo shot in Harlem by Art Kane. [Portion showing her in front row.]

Clare Hansson gives extended overview of McPartland’s career.

Born in Windsor, England, McPartland played piano for Allied troops during World War II. That engagement introduced her to her husband, famed cornetist Jimmy McPartland. She grew in stature as a jazz pianist after arriving in the U.S. in 1946 and appeared in Art Kane’s famous 1958 Esquire magazine portrait of notable jazz musicians in Harlem.

McPartland hosted a local radio show in New York prior to her national program. She got the Piano Jazz hosting job after appearing on ETV Radio’s performance show American Popular Song. Host Alec Wilder then recommended her for her own program.

In 1970 McPartland co-founded Chiaroscuro Records, a jazz label that now has a catalog of more than 200 recordings. She received many accolades throughout her career, including the National Endowment for the Arts’s Jazz Master designation, a Lifetime Achievement Grammy and the Living Jazz Legend honor from the Kennedy Center.

Please send obituary notices to lapin@current.org

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