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Three Strikes Against Her: White British Female - Remembering Jazz Pianist Marian McPartland

12/08/2014 18:56 BST | Updated 11/10/2014 10:59 BST

The grass apparently is always greener on the other side.

Jazz, the distinctly American art form that caught on in Great Britain between the two wars, no doubt was helped along by the influence of U.S. military men who crossed the Atlantic.

Transatlantic romances during wartime were common, and the former Margaret Turner, of Windsor, England, and Yank trumpeter Jimmy McPartland met a USO concert in Germany in 1945. Married after the war, she started using the stage name Marian McPartland and settled eventually in a New York suburb. The McPartlands divorced in 1972, but remarried in 1991, shortly before Jimmy's death from lung cancer.

Marian McPartland died about a year ago at the age of 95. I recently attended the estate sale of her belongings at her Port Washington, Long Island home, and came away with such finds as her first edition, hardcover copy of Charles Mingus's autobiography Beneath The Underdog, two well-thumbed, UK-pubished jazz encyclopedias, two issues of Downbeat magazine and LPs of jazz bandleaders Sun Ra and Duke Ellington, including the last concert of his last tour, recorded in 1973 in Eastborne, England.

You can take the girl out of England, but not the England out of the girl, at least when jazz was concerned. Despite spending most of her long adult life in the States, she never renounced her British citizenship, and was appointed OBE in 2010.

When she first came to New York in search of fame as a jazz pianist in the early 1950s, an acquaintance reportedly quipped she had three things going against her: she was a woman, she was white, and she was British.

Thankfully, she persevered and won over audiences. Her compositions were often sung by great jazz vocalists including Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughan and Tony Bennett, and she collaborated with top lyricists including Lee, Johnny Mercer and Sammy Cahn.

I learned of Marian McPartland through her great radio series "Piano Jazz," which features her interviews and performances with a who's who of jazz music. Guests included such fans as Elvis Costello, who no doubt used McPartland's format as a model for his TV show Spectacle, which ran for two seasons on the UK's Channel 4 a few years ago.

Not surprisingly Costello was a guest on "Piano Jazz," which ran for 30 years and more than 700 episodes heard on more than 200 stations around the world.

http://www.npr.org/2007/04/06/15046669/elvis-costello-on-piano-jazz?autoplay=true

NPR in the States has archived for on-demand, online listening many "Piano Jazz" shows.

http://www.npr.org/series/15773266/marian-mcpartland-s-piano-jazz/

McPartland hosted "Piano Jazz" from 1978 until 2011 during which she played duets with many of the genre's greats, many of whom are captured in a beautifully drawn new card deck dubbed "American Music Pioneers." https://www.americanmusicpioneers.com/

Glenn & Ron Bucalo, the New York-based brother team behind the cards, are also planning another deck of American blues greats, and raising money for the project via a crowdfunding campaign.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/american-music-pioneers-jazz-educational-collectible-cards#pledges/

Among those who appeared on "Piano Jazz" and also get an AMP card among the 35 greats are Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Herbie Hancock and Mary Lou Williams. Ron Bucato, the artist who drew the cards, said he came up with the idea for the card deck partly because he "wanted to carry a Thelonius Monk card in my wallet."

Of course, all the household names besides Monk are included in the deck, which makes the perfect gift for the jazz fan: Miles, Mingus, Coltrane, the aforementioned Duke, Bird, and Louis Armstrong, the latter whom is the inspiration for a 15th annual Jazz Festival is being held in his honour this coming Friday 12th - Monday 15th September at South Downs Holiday Village Bracklesham Bay, nr. Chichester, Sussex PO20 8JE.

http://www.traditional-jazz.com/mainpages/bracklesham.htm

(Incidentally, Marian was introduced to Armstrong by her former husband trumpeter Jimmy McPartland when the then newlyweds first landed in New York after the war.)

And two months later in November, the London Jazz Festival is programming a mixture of world-class artists and emerging stars. http://www.efglondonjazzfestival.org.uk

Yes, Britain might have given America the Beatles, but the cultural exchange on the other side of the pond remains in full swing celebrating American jazz.