In March “REMEMBERING MARIAN” was presented at the 92nd St. Y in Manhattan.  Marian McPartland, Ms. McP, as I had come to know her, passed the preceding summer leaving a gap in NPR programming where her “Piano Jazz” featured a who’s who of jazz weekly.

Here, too, there was a parade of McP worshipers both in the star-filled audience as well as on the stage.  Host, Jon Weber, who took over the radio hosting, opened the proceedings with Eddie Gomez on bass playing Marian’s P-J theme, “Kaleidoscope.”  The tearing had begun.

Long-time friend and colleague Barbara Carroll followed with Broadway’s “Hey Old Friend,” a perfectly chosen selection.  Another pianist associate, Bill Charlap played Marian’s “A Delicate Balance.”  His accompanist also with great chops was bassist George Mraz.

Surprise#1!  Out walked Tony Bennett dramatically unannounced.  After a few dedicatory words he offered up “The Way You Look Tonight” with Charlap.  The crowd went wild!  You expected something less?

On a notable Piano Jazz the late Dave Brubeck played an impromptu composition called “Marian McPartland.”  A six-note evocation, Brubeck went on to record it as well as play it live wherever he went.  Brubeck scion, son Chris, played the piece representing his dad.  More tears.

Sitting at two contiguous 9-foot grands were Kenny Barron and Helen Sung.  Barron, the established pro, gave Sung, a major comer, plenty of room to stretch.  The tune, the popular jazz waltz, Freddie Hubbard’s “Up Jumped Spring,” was hardly enough, but, alas, the program was running long.  In retrospect the duo was the highlight of the evening for me.

Surprise #2!  Michael Feinstein walked jauntily to the piano, introduced himself –as if he had to having been greeted by spontaneous applause, but unannounced nonetheless– to offer Irving Berlin’s “I Love A Piano,” something both Marian and Michael agreed upon.

Other highlights included saxophonist Bria Skonberg and Weber playing “Singin’ The Blues,” the tune made famous by Bix Beiderbecke who was replaced in the Wolverines by Marian’s husband Jimmy.  It was dedicated to the latter.

Trumpeter Jon Faddis, Weber, saxophonist Grace Kelly –chops for days– bassist and McP alum Bill Crow joined for McP’s “Stranger In A Dream.”  Thrush Neena Freelon closed it before the expected all out blow.

I have been to some of these “Live Piano Jazz” presentations and have many tapes of broadcasts (men in black please feel free to ignore), which I listen to frequently, but this one was something special for me and the assembled.  It was our final farewell to the host of the uniquely entertaining, erudite and educational series.

© arnold jay smith April 2014

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