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Marian McPartland: 1918-2013

The long and important life of Marian McPartland ended last week on Long Island, where the British native had lived for many years. McPartland was an important pianist and long-time host of a radio jazz show on National Public Radio.

The first paragraph of the obit at The Globe and Mail summed up McPartland’s amazing feat of rising to the top of the jazz world in which she was unique because of her nationality, sex and race:

Marian McPartland was a gifted musician but an unlikely candidate for jazz stardom. She recalled in a 1998 interview for National Public Radio that shortly after she arrived in the United States from England in 1946, the influential jazz critic Leonard Feather, who himself was born in England and who began his career as a pianist, said, “Oh, she’ll never make it: She’s English, white and a woman.”

Here is an edition of her radio showMarian McPartland’s Piano Jazz — featuring Steely Dan, which is less of a surprise the more you think about it. The first tune, Duke Ellington’s Limbo Jazz, is fabulous. The show apparently is available as an album.

Above is a trailer for The First Lady of Jazz, which nicely summarizes her special status. Below is Bix Beiderbecke’s In a Mist. McPartland’s late husband, Jimmy, played with the legendary cornetist.

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Reading Music

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Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.


What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.


The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.