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Marian McPartland, one of the lamentably few women to succeed in the boys' club that is the jazz world, has passed away at the age of 95 in Port Washington, L.I. 

Though a talented jazz pianist in her own right, McPartland is best known today as the host of NPR's Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz, which The New York Times calls "one of the most popular jazz shows ever" in its obituary of McPartland, noting its run of almost half a century and presence on more than 200 radio stations. (McPartland retired two years ago.)

NPR announced McPartland's passing, praising her program for "pairing conversation and duet performances that reached an audience of millions, connecting with jazz fans and the curious alike." The appreciation continues: 

She made Piano Jazz not about her, but about the musicians, the fans and our collective exploration of jazz. For more than 40 years, she reminded listeners every week that we're all in it together.

McPartland was born in 1918 in Windsor, England. Touring, as a 20-year-old pianist, in the United States, she met and married the cornet player Jimmy McPartland. In the late 1940s, the McPartlands moved to New York, where Marian played at the Hickory House, on a strip of now-extinct jazz clubs on 52nd Street. To stand out as a woman playing piano in jazz clubs of the postwar era was no easy task, as The Associated Press points out:

In one essay, included in McPartland’s collected works, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby” (1975), she wrote about her experiences as a woman trying to break into the jazz scene in the ’50s, striving to be taken seriously by male musicians unaccustomed to playing with women.

“Once a man stood at the bar watching me intently, and when the set was finished he came over and said with a smile, ‘You know, you can’t be a respectable woman the way you play piano,’” she wrote. “For some reason or another, this struck me as a great compliment.”

McPartland became a radio host in 1979, when her NPR show premiered. Notes The Times:

The format was simple: an informal interview interspersed with extemporaneous duets. “I didn’t have any idea I’d be good at something like this,” she told The Associated Press in 2000. “I certainly never thought people would know me because of my voice.” But she proved a natural.

As its title suggests, “Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz” was originally a show about piano players. But the guest list eventually came to include vocalists, among them Mel Tormé, Tony Bennett and even Willie Nelson, and ultimately trumpeters, saxophonists and other instrumentalists.

McPartland was awarded a lifetime achievement Grammy in 2004.


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