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Marian McPartland Dies: Renowned Jazz Pianist, NPR Host Was 95 (Video)

Image: Marian McPartland Dies: Renowned Jazz Pianist, NPR Host Was 95 (Video)

By Ken Mandel   |   Wednesday, 21 Aug 2013 01:15 PM

Marian McPartland, a world-renowned jazz pianist and host of an internationally syndicated National Public Radio show for more than 40 years, has died at age 95.

The host of "Marion McPartland's Piano Jazz" died of natural causes Tuesday night at her Port Washington home on Long Island, N.Y., NPR said on its website.

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On her longtime program, McPartland combined conversation and duet performances that reached millions of listeners, and she interviewed most of the major jazz musicians of the post-WWII era. In addition to her soothing interview style, she was also an accomplished jazz pianist, and often performed on the show, backing musicians that included Oscar Peterson, Keith Jarrett, Benny Goodman, Norah Jones, and Elvis Costello.

She began hosting the show in 1979, and it went on to become the longest-running cultural program of its kind. She ended her run as host in 2010, three years after her induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2007.

Born Margaret Marian Turner on March 20, 1918, she grew up in Bromley, England, and was playing classical piano by ear at age 3, after she heard her mother play. She studied at London's Guildhall School of Music & Drama. She left in her third year to perform with a touring vaudeville act. Her parents didn't approve.

While touring with in jazz troupe during World War II, she met her husband, cornetist Jimmy McPartland, who was in a U.S.O. group after landing in Normandy. They were married in 1945, though they eventually divorced. He died in 1991.

She recorded more than 50 albums and performed across the country. She also wrote articles and essays about her craft. In one, she wrote about her experiences trying to break into the industry as a woman in the '50s.

"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,'" McPartland wrote. "For some reason or another, this struck me as a great compliment."

McPartland played well into her 80s, and influenced many young pianists. One of them, Geri Allen, told NPR that she hears something soothing to musicians when she listens to "Piano Jazz."

"It's a very personal exchange that only happens to musicians on the bandstand," Allen said. "But to have it opened up to the fans, I think it helps to create even more of an understanding [of] what that whole experience of improvising is about."

When asked once how she accomplished this, McPartland said: "You have to love what you do."

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