Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sessions with Marian


Marian McPartland, the jazz legend, lives here in Port Washington.  I've been incredibly fortunate to have worked with Marian on a variety of projects, from her promos for NPR's "Piano Jazz" to original tracks she has composed for the Omnimusic Library.  There are many things I love about Marian - her sense of humor, her British slang, her determined spirit. But the thing I love most about Marian is her fearlessness.

Most jazz music is built on a framework of sequenced chord patterns and rhythms. Improvising musicians build on this framework, concocting elaborate melodies, and even going off on tangents, but eventually returning safely home at the end of their solo chorus. So long as the underlying framework remains intact, it all works and everyone knows where they are.

But if someone in the group starts playing unexpected rhythms, or using different chords, it rocks the foundation of the tune. It can feel as if the rug is being pulled out from under the soloists, and it's a little scary for most ordinary musicians.

But Marian has no fear.  When she plays, she often climbs out on a limb, introducing new chords and new rhythm patterns until the original framework of the tune is almost completely obscured. I'll admit that at times like these, I've sometimes wondered if she knows exactly where she is.

Then all of a sudden - BAM! - her left hand comes down with authority on the final chord of the chorus, and she calmly re-enters back into the original tune without batting an eye.  

Incredible. And inspiring. Taking chances is what makes the great ones great. 

1 comment:

  1. Great! Thanks for sharing! Glad to know she's still with us! I remember she was photographed as part of the large ensemble of musicians in Art Kane's 1958 portrait "A Great Day In Harlem". Image here: http://www.greatmodernpictures.com/pictures.htm

    Thanks again!!

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