Marian McPartland, Mingus Big Band
January 1, 1970This week's newsletter is coming to you from my mother's house, my base of operations for covering the nearby Tanglewood Jazz Festival. My review of the whole shebang will appear in Monday's Boston Globe (and next week's newsletter).
Friday's column had to do with Tanglewood, too — specifically, it was about Marian McPartland, who will be taping an episode of her show "Piano Jazz" with Madeleine Peyrtoux there this afternoon. McPartland, at 87, has a handful of new CDs out, too — one an 85th birthday tribute for which she was joined by a bunch of jazz all-stars, the other two past tapings of "Piano Jazz" with Steely Dan and Elvis Costello.
Annoyingly, a very good quote from the talented young pianist Jason Moran failed to make it into the article, presumably for space reasons. Annoying because I made a special effort to get Moran to comment on her, because he made a special effort to e-mail me back something before leaving for Europe the next day, and because what he said was so cool and thoughfully put.
McPartland's quote got a little abridged, too, so I've decided to include both what she said about him and what he said about her here:
"I love that guy, as weird as he is. I sort of like the fact that he can go off into tangents, but he can really play straight if he wants to. But he seems like somebody that, at least playing two pianos, he really wants to see where he can mess me up. And he can't. I can do that, too, what he does. Funny guy. He's got a good sense of fun."
"It's good to hear her say those things about me, because that's how I feel about her," responds Moran in an e-mail. "She's as witty with her words as she is with her fingers. Every time we play together, the looseness becomes the form. Usually we sit down at the pianos, look each other in the eyes, and dare one another to jump. She usually jumps first because she IS music. She steers the ship, and I usually, as she says, throw her some waves. It's rare to play with someone as pure as Marian. I cherish every concert we've done together."
Nice quote, don't you think? It's a pity there wasn't room for it.
I had better luck with last week's column profile, Tessa Souter, whose show I caught Wednesday with my father-in-law. Souter played to a surprisingly full house for a Wednesday, for which she made a point of crediting my story from the stage, earning me a round of applause. (She also got me booed briefly by noting that I'd pried her age out of her, quelling the discontent by pointing out that I didn't actually come out and give her current age in the story, just her age when she began performing.)
A few people in the audience did in fact tell me they were there that night because of having read about Souter in my column. It's gratifying to know the column actually gets read, and that people sometimes even act on what's in it.
Anyway, here are this week's two pieces: the much abridged Marian McPartland profile and a Calendar preview of the Mingus Big Band.
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For radio host, performing with stars never gets old
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | September 2, 2005
Marian McPartland stays young by keeping youthful company.
Playing with musicians half her age (and younger) on her National Public Radio show, "Piano Jazz" — as she'll do before a live audience at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival tomorrow with guest Madeleine Peyroux — is routine for McPartland by now. After all, she's been hosting her show for 27 years. At two previous Tanglewood festivals, McPartland's guests have been Norah Jones and piano prodigy Taylor Eigsti, and her guest on the show that aired this week was Ethan Iverson of the very hot Bad Plus. Peyroux's album "Careless Love" remains near the top of the jazz charts.
McPartland's recent release, "85 Candles — Live in New York," recorded two years ago at her 85th birthday celebration, offers further proof of her openness to new artists and new sounds. Veterans Clark Terry, Billy Taylor, Jim Hall, Phil Woods, and piano-playing impresario George Wein shared the Birdland stage with her. But newer faces such as Dave Douglas, Chris Potter, Ravi Coltrane, and Bill Charlap were among the many others on hand.
McPartland also took an adventurous duet romp through "Summertime" that evening with 30-year-old Jason Moran. It turns out they've played together before — on McPartland's show, at the Monterey Jazz Festival, and on what McPartland calls "several casual dates here and there."
"I love that guy, as weird as he is," McPartland says of Moran, whose musical derring-do helped get him voted pianist of the year by the Jazz Journalists Association this spring. "I sort of like the fact that he can go off into tangents, but he can really play straight if he wants to. He's got a good sense of fun."
So does McPartland. Listening to the musical and verbal interaction on two "Piano Jazz" episodes recently released on CD — one with Steely Dan principals Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, the other with Elvis Costello — you get the sense that McPartland loves the time spent with her guests.
McPartland expects to enjoy her time with Peyroux tomorrow, too, though she doesn't know yet which songs they'll perform together.
"I'm curious myself," says McPartland, "because most of the tunes on her record I think are either her own or are tunes that I don't know. I said, 'Please don't bring sheaves of music, because I'm a terrible reader.' So I'm hoping she knows a few standards."
Then McPartland goes one step further.
"In fact, I'm going to make a list and call her up. Find out what she knows, because she sounded a little tentative. She said, 'Your show sounds as if it's very spur of the moment. Do you get time to rehearse?' I said, 'Sure, we'll rehearse.' You know, I don't expect to spend hours going through different tunes. I didn't tell her that."
McPartland pooh-poohs a BBC News report two weeks ago that Peyroux's record label had hired a private detective to track her down after the singer failed to show up for promotional work. McPartland spoke with Peyroux soon after the alleged disappearance.
"I said to her, 'That sounds to me like a publicity stunt,' " says McPartland. "She kind of said, 'Well, something like that.' 'They found you the next day, didn't they?' And she said something like, 'Well, I was getting tired.'
"Maybe she was getting tired of the interviews," surmises McPartland. "She seems very nice. I'm sure we'll do all right."
Radio active: The only two outlets for "Piano Jazz" in Massachusetts are WICN-FM in Worcester and WAMQ-FM in Great Barrington, but Boston's WGBH Radio (89.7 FM) will broadcast "Live Jazz From Tanglewood" at 8 tonight. Vocalist Diane Schuur opens the festival with Dave Samuels and the Caribbean Jazz Project, and harmonica legend Toots Thielemans will perform a separate set joined by special guest Airto and others. WGBH's Steve Schwartz will cohost the broadcast with Rhonda Hamilton of WBGO, Newark. It's the third year that WGBH, WBGO, and NPR have joined forces to broadcast the opening night of the festival.
Marian McPartland will tape her National Public Radio show, "Piano Jazz," with guest Madeleine Peyroux at 3 p.m. tomorrow at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival, Seiji Ozawa Hall, Lenox. $17-$45. Call 888-266-1200 or visit www.bso.org.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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Calendar Jazz Picks
Mingus Big Band
Regattabar, Charles Hotel, One Bennett St., Cambridge. 617-395-7757. 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. $25. Repeats Saturday.
There are those who rank Charles Mingus alongside Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk as jazz's three greatest composers. The critic Nat Hentoff is one. Mingus himself may have been another: He titled one composition "MDM," he proclaimed (on an album produced by Hentoff), for "Monk, Duke, and Mingus." In any case, there is no disputing that Mingus left a remarkably rich body of work behind when he died in 1979. His widow, Sue Mingus, has kept that music very much alive, largely via weekly New York performances of the Mingus Big Band. The band draws its rotating cast of 14 from a pool of 150 top jazz musicians, who for all their love of Mingus's music, approach it with a boisterous irreverence reminiscent of Mingus himself. Don't be surprised to see trombonist Frank Lacy grab a microphone and sing the "Spider-Man" theme song over the strikingly similar melody of Mingus's "Boogie Stop Shuffle." But don't think the musicians don't take Mingus and his music seriously. "Charles wrote music so he is dead center in the middle of that music," Sue Mingus told me last year. "His spirit is there. The musicians will be the first to tell you they feel it."
Wed 9-7 Kurt Elling Fresh off winning the Down Beat Critics Poll as best male vocalist last month (he also topped the magazine's December Readers Poll), Elling brings his quartet to Scullers for two nights. Scullers, Doubletree Guest Suites Boston, 400 Soldiers Field Road, Boston. 617-562-4111. 8 p.m. $18, $58 with dinner. Repeats next Thursday.