An Appreciation of Marian McPartland

by Nicholas Niles

Key to the very beginning of Chiaroscuro was Marian McPartland.  As we all know, Marian is a major figure in jazz. Not only has her playing over the years been an important addition to the annals of jazz, but her wonderful NPR program “Piano Jazz” is a major contribution to the world of jazz as well as bringing great pleasure to so many of us. She has had some of the great players of our time on that show.

I first met Marian when I was 14 years old, and I remember it vividly. She was playing at the Hickory House. I went there with my parents and a couple of their friends who were friends of Marian’s.  At the first break she came over to the table and joined us. It was a great thrill to talk with her. I remember she talked about her playing and what fun she had had with her ex husband Jimmy and his playing.  She even asked me what I would like to hear, and I asked her to play “Honeysuckle Rose.” It was just blissful when she began her next set with that song.

It was years later when I saw her again. It was in the 1980s and I was chairing The International Art of Jazz, a nonprofit organization that specialized in bringing jazz programs to schools. Marian was a believer in exposing jazz to kids and she was a real contributor to our effort. (Can you imagine how neat it was to have Marian going into schools and telling the kids what jazz was all about !) I enjoyed seeing Marion a number of times over the years because of that organization. And one time we had George Shearing join her….but that is another story.

Along with Marian we had some other first rate players with the International Art of Jazz project.  I was able to get a wonderful board together that included some of the really fine musicians around. I got my friend Ed Polcer to be the President. Some of the other Board Members were Danny Barrett, Ken Pepowsky, and Milt Hinton.  All of whom, by the way, have done some great recording on the Chiaroscuro Label over the years.

One fund raiser for the International Art of Jazz that I particularly remember was hosted by Bobby Rosengarden at his house in New Canaan. We had a great band and the music was terrific. However, the most unusual thing about the evening for me was not musical.  At a break, Bobby went to the bar to get someone a drink. On the way he tripped over a light cord and a lamp fell off the table and smashed on the floor. Bobby and his wife, Sharon, acted as though nothing special has happened, but I could sense that there was sometime wrong, something special about the lamp. The evening continued with some lively music and we all stayed way too long, but everyone was having great time. Driving home that night, my wife, Maggie, said did you know that that lamp was a real Tiffany! While we had a great evening for the IAJ, I then realized that we did not come close to raising the kind of money that lamp must have been worth.

But a musically memorable night…a great band – if I remember – Bobby Rosengarden, Ed Polcer, Milt Hinton, Ken Peploski, Tom Artin, and Johnny Varro—how can you beat that for really fine music! And all these musicians including Marian, who recorded with Chiaroscuro over the years, did a lot to promote jazz in many ways. Their work for IAJ was just one example.