Photo by Art Kane for Esquire in 1958. It’s a gathering of as many great jazz artists as were in New York. McPartland is in the second row. Go here for a listing of everybody in this photo.
When Bob mentioned to me that he wanted to include Marian McPartland on our trip to New York City for the end of January, I was thrilled. After spending two years working on NPR’s Piano Jazz Christmas concert, I wanted to meet the woman who started it all. I got in touch with Marian’s publicist and found out that this was a perfect time to talk with the host of public radio’s longest running cultural program. Not only was this year Marian’s 90th birthday, but she was also releasing her first studio album in nine years.
We scheduled a time to visit Marian at her home in Long Island, but actually getting out there took some work. We had to be to our Manhattan studios for a 9 AM interview with jazz guitarist Pat Metheny and then get out to Port Washington, Long Island to meet with Marian. Luckily for us, the trains ran on schedule, and we made it to Port Washington with a little time to spare (which meant lunch for all of us, an important factor for a happy host!). Marian graciously welcomed us into her home, shared with Bob stories from her fascinating career, and played for us on her big grand piano. I sat just behind Marian as she played Twilight World, an original composition that she dedicated to her late husband Jimmy McPartland. Jimmy encouraged Marian as she developed as a musician and band leader, and he was, she told us, the least jealous man she ever knew. She still expressed to us her appreciation for all he did to help her throughout her career, and I thought I could hear her gratitude for his support as she played this beautiful song so many years after they worked together.
After I got back to DC, I looked up the words Johnny Mercer wrote for this tune. As Marian enters her 90th year, they seem appropriate for a woman who has lived such a full life: “Life is a twilight world, don’t let it slip away. Come take it while we may, and let it begin.”
- Cristy Meiners