Despite the parade of jazz greats, McPartland still has wish list of guests

January 15, 1991|By David Hinckley | David Hinckley,New York Daily News

NEW YORK -- After 12 years, Marian McPartland still has a wish list of artists she'd like to have join her on "Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz," her National Public Radio series that started its 1991 season last week.

"I'd love to get Stevie Wonder," she says. "I think he'd have a wonderful time and I wouldn't be surprised if he knows about the show. But so far, I haven't been able to reach him. If someone mentions this to him, maybe he'll call."

She laughs lightly. Truth is, the wish list is shrinking, because most of the people she has wanted since the series began in 1979, she's gotten.

This winter's 13-week series (11 p.m. Saturdays on WJHU-FM 88.1) kicked off with Cleo Laine and John Dankforth, to be followed in order by Joanne Brackeen, Jason Rebello, Walter Norris, Hickory House Trio, Brian Dee, Branford Marsalis, Lorraine Desmarais, Willie Ruff, Beegie Adair, Dick Hyman, Diana Robinson and Monty Alexander.

Those who have played with her in past seasons include Oscar Peterson, Dave Grusin, Ramsey Lewis, Herbie Hancock, Gerry Mulligan, Bobby Short, Mose Allison, Benny Carter, Lionel Hampton, Eubie Blake, Harry Connick Jr. and others far too numerous to mention.

''It began as strictly a piano show, but as time went on, it seemed a good idea to have people who were not just piano players," says McPartland, who plays with the guests. "A Dizzy Gillespie or Sarah Vaughan. Tony Bennett was on a show recently. The idea is variety, and if anything, we have an embarrassment of riches now. There are more people I'd like on the show than there are shows for."

Which is not to say the show tapes itself. Thirty-nine segments a year adds up to almost a full-time job, though it's not quite as hectic as it used to be. "When I was playing at the Carlyle, sometimes I would have to do doubleheaders," McPartland recalls. "One taping in the afternoon, one in the evening, then to the Carlyle. I don't do that any more."

At the age of 70, she's allowed those little perks. She makes up for it by, for instance, flying out to California last week to tape a show for spring with Ray Charles and Dudley Moore.

In any case, she's not complaining.

"I have a wonderful time," she says. "I have to work very hard to keep up with Oscar Peterson, but it's a continuous educational process. Many times I find myself surprised by young guys like a Marcus Roberts, who has such a repertoire of tunes by Thelonious Monk or Bud Powell. I'm embarrassed that they play songs I don't. So I'm always learning -- new songs, new chord changes, new ways to approach a song. That's what so great about music."

As this suggests, McPartland doesn't put herself in the camp of those who feel the golden age of music ended with the arrival of Elvis.

"Often I'll be playing and somebody will say, 'Don't you know anything from the '50s?' I'm not really into that line of thinking. To me, there's great music in every era. There was particularly good music in the '30s and '40s, perhaps, but there are young artists now who are wonderful.

"Harry Connick is doing a good job of spreading the word. He's so into jazz and earlier music. I think a lot of artists now are going back to early styles, like New Orleans, way back in the early days.

"But I think all artists in any era work to create their own styles. You always know Erroll Garner. Anything Miles Davis does, you know."

There are those who would say the same for the British-born McPartland, who arrived in the United States in 1946 with her trumpet-playing husband, Jimmy, and made her own reputation in the '50s. She has subsequently recorded many albums and composed such works as "Ambiance" and "Twilight World."

While she works to stay contemporary, she does describe a traditional streak. She still writes on a typewriter. She's annoyed that the record industry discarded the LP. She's not crazy about a lot of rock and rap, though she's fond of Edie Brickell and Terence Trent D'Arby.

"I think we jazz folks have an advantage in that we never expect to get rich," she says. "We do it because we love it. I expect I'll be playing for as long as I'm able -- and if I broke my arm or otherwise couldn't play, I'd be composing. I'm glad I'm not a ballet dancer or some other profession where I would be forced to retire. For me, it would be impossible not to be involved in music."

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