Marian McPartland’s In My Life, recorded in 1993, has an eclectic quality that’s fairly typical for the English-born pianist. But how many other jazz artists are able to maintain their identity through a program ranging from Bix Beiderbecke to Alec Wilder and the Beatles to Ornette Coleman? McPartland’s openness to music beyond narrow stylistic boundaries qualified her as a player “beyond category,” as her friend Duke Ellington was fond of saying, and made her a decidedly unpretentious ambassador for jazz.
In My Life, the album feature in tonight’s Jazz a la Mode, is one of the most accomplished recordings of McPartland’s career. The Penguin Guide, which numbers it among its exclusive Core Collection, hails it for being “as catholic…as one can find among modern releases.” It helped introduce Chris Potter to both listeners and to Concord Jazz, the label he began recording for the following year. McPartland was first impressed by the saxophonist when she heard him as a 15-year-old in Columbia, South Carolina, and urged his parents to support his musical ambitions. Penguin finds Potter’s “unfussy virtuosity…a serenely appropriate match” for McPartland, and he’s heard on 7 of the session’s 13 titles, including the Coltrane originals “Naima” and “Red Planet.”
In My Life includes memorial tributes to two of Marian’s favorites. “For Dizzy” was composed for a Piano Jazz appearance by Gillespie; the trumpeter died three weeks before the Concord session. It concludes with “Singin’ the Blues,” which Marian plays solo as a memorial to her husband Jimmy McPartland, who died in 1991. The cornetist was only 17 when he succeeded Bix Beiderbecke in the Wolverines in 1924, and Bix recorded his famous version of “Singin’ the Blues” three years later. The McPartland’s divorced in the mid-60’s, but it “didn’t work,” as Marian quipped, and they remained the best of friends. Marian recalls Jimmy in this interview with Billy Taylor.
Here’s a link to my previous feature on the Marian McPartland documentary, In Good Time.