A Career Well-Played

Grammy award-winning jazz pianist Marian McPartland has died. Ms McPartland came of age in an era when women who were talented at the keyboard often stayed home instead of pursuing a music career. Even when female musicians did manage to tour for awhile, it was still expected that they give up their careers when they married and had children. I met one pianist who settled in Ithaca, NY after graduating from Julliard and touring all over the world. As she explained to me, “It just wasn’t done back then. Once you had kids, your career was over.”

Yet Ms. McPartland went on to create a career that included performances, album releases and hosting of a long-running NPR show called “Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz.” My parents took me to see her in Rochester, NY. As a young girl, in love with piano and sitting only a few feet away from Ms McPartland as she played, I was enthralled. She must have been about 70 at the time, but her sound was so refined and her keyboard technique so supple.

She was often criticized for her careful playing, her “white woman sound.” However, she must have been respected by musicians, both male and female, as she hosted so many great pianists and jazz instrumentalists over the 40-year span of her radio show. I feel honored to have had the chance to see and listen to her in person. She will be greatly missed.

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