The Passing of a “Genteel Englishwoman”

We mourn the recent passing of Marian McPartland, jazz legend and host of the popular radio show on NPR, “Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz.”  Born in Windsor, England, March 20, 1918, McPartland moved to Chicago in 1946 with her American husband, Jimmy.  She became a fixture of the American jazz scene, first as a pianist in the 1950s, and then in 1978 as the host of her radio show.  McPartland was one of only three women featured in the iconographic 1958 photo A Great Day in Harlem, a b&w group portrait of 57 notable jazz musicians photographed in front of a brownstone in Harlem, New York City by freelance photographer Art Kane, for Esquire Magazine (McPartland is on the front row, standing next to KC native and jazz pianist great, Mary Lou Williams.)

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(Photo c. by Art Kane, reproduction courtesy of Twisted Sifter WWW site)

The Marr Sound Archives on the ground floor of Miller Nichols Library houses many recordings of McPartland.  Check out our library catalog!

One favorite LP located in Marr is the 1977 recording on the Improv label: Marian and Jimmy McPartland and the All Star Jazz Assassins.  Our copy features McPartland’s signature with additional narrative: “Spelled my name wrong as well as putting this lousy cover on the front!”  You judge the cover for yourself!

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Always experimental, when McPartland turned 80, she said “I’ve become a bit more — reckless, maybe. I’m getting to the point where I can smash down a chord and not know what it’s going to be, and make it work. And though I’ll never swing like Mary Lou Williams, I’m better at it than I used to be”–Terry Teachout, The New York Times, March 15, 1998.

McPartland passed away at the age of 95 on Aug. 20, 2013 at her home in Port Washington, N.Y.

~ Wendy Sistrunk, Head, Special Formats Metadata & Cataloging Dept., UMKC

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