marian mcpartland

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wandering a little in music-land…

on tuesday 20 august, at the age of 95, the jazz world lost one of its brightest: the composer and pianist marian mcpartland. truly I don’t give a figgy about the jazz world, as in general I don’t like jazz.

marian had a public radio show for over thirty years, only stopping, I believe, in 2009, when she was 91. it was called, simply, piano jazz. I listened to it for one of those thirty years, from 2004 to 2005, back in my own life. before the personal holocaust and psychotic women banding together to ruin me and my animals, and all that other sick jazz. I didn’t really want to listen to it at first, but it was sandwiched in on sunday evenings (on WAMC in albany) between two shows I did want to hear, and I am usually too lazy to turn off the radio for one lousy hour. so I listened. now that it’s gone for good, I wish I’d hung in with it longer. I stopped listening because most of the guests were so full of themselves (as are a great many musicians, actors and writers). if the show had been marian all alone playing her compositions and her arrangements of other people’s material, I would have stayed with her until my life was destroyed.

I would have stayed for several years more because she herself, marian, fascinated me. I always perceived an enormous gentleness from this woman, and gentleness is another one of those things I’ve always craved in my life. one of the things I always get from animals, but almost never from humans. and as a student of language, her idiolect engaged me. I could pick out england in her speech, but also the bronx or brooklyn. it’s a very unusual combination that I’ve never heard in the speech of anyone else, ever, and it mesmerized me. eventually she did say on the show that she was born in england and only came to america as an adult, after marrying jimmy. and they settled in new york. she verified for me the dialects I was hearing in her speech. her speech which has never ceased to intrigue me.

I would have stayed… though I don’t like jazz. only marian’s jazz. she would no doubt  be horrified to read these words, but to me, her jazz didn’t  sound like jazz. it sounded much more like what they call new-age, and ambient, and things of that nature. I loved it whenever she played one of her own compositions, which wasn’t nearly often enough to suit me. and even when she does some typical jazz chord progressions that I normally cannot abide, I can get through them with only a minimum of irritation when marian is playing them. there is a magic for me when she touches the keys. the same gentleness I felt over the radio from her as a person, I felt, and feel, when I hear her play. there is no bombast there, no showmanship, just a completely loving relationship with the instrument and the sounds it produces, or so it comes across to my ears and to my soul. her touch and relationship with the piano are to me so deeply reverent and charming that I could listen to her for hours, even if she were playing things like chopsticks and three blind mice. if I had ever been really good at the piano (and there were years of lessons), I would like to have played it just the way marian did, minus the jazz.

public radio aired an excellent tribute to her last week, which sadly was much too short. I heard that great idiolect a couple of times, way too briefly. I heard a couple of solos, marian and the piano all by themselves, the way I like her best. and the very first piece they played was a solo she composed called threnody. this took me aback. partly because I almost never hear anyone use that word, and partly because, three years ago, I myself wrote a short piece of music on my lap-harp which I called threnody.  and I have a poem on my poetry blog with the same title, written at the same time as the music was, though the two don’t go together. synchronicities are always uncanny, but some are unusually so, and I was rather shocked when the first piece in the tribute show turned out to have that name.

marian and I will never know each other, and would never have met even if she’d lived yet another 95 years. but it pleases me at the level of heart and soul to know that if we had nothing else at all in common (and perhaps we didn’t), we each, unbeknownst to the other, wrote a piece of music called threnody.

they played another version of it at the end of the show, rightly pointing out that now there are threnodies for marian herself. all over the jazz world, these threnodies, and here in turners trolls in the heart of one anne nakis, who doesn’t like jazz, but who loved marian and her piano-art from afar; loved them to no small degree.

this page, from me, a small threnody for a genuine artist I could meet only over the radio.

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read…   scealta liatha (poetry)…     shadowpoems

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all photos, graphics, poems and text copyright 2009-2013 by anne nakis, unless otherwise stated. all rights reserved.

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5 Comments

  1. braon said,

    August 29, 2013 at 9:11 pm

    To Steven Fox: I read your gravatar profile and was interested, but there was no link to a blog that I could click.

  2. Janice Mitt said,

    August 29, 2013 at 10:05 pm

    Woweee!!!! I just looked Marian up on YouTube and heard her play “In a Mist” I’m really not smart enough to understand all the subtleties of Jazz but I know a yummy piece of music when I hear it. Thanks for turning us on to her.

  3. braon said,

    August 29, 2013 at 10:25 pm

    BBB… I truly thought you and j. would have heard of her long before I ever did. glad you like her playing. doesn’t she have a deep relationship with her instrument?… and in addition… I think you are EASILY smart enough to understand the subtleties of any genre of music

  4. paulettepostmiller said,

    September 27, 2013 at 11:05 am

    I wish i’d met or heard her since reading your wonderful tribute to her! Hugs.

    • braon said,

      September 27, 2013 at 12:31 pm

      Paulette… you can hear her on several websites online, including youtube. Janice (above) hadn’t heard of her either, but went online and heard her music.


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