Marian McPartland’s Legs Sure Can Play the Piano

Last night I saw a taping of NPR’s Piano Jazz with Marian McPartland. After years of listening to her jazz series on NPR Sunday morning, it was a great treat to not only see her perform live, but watch the taping of one of her shows. Her guest for this show was a mystery up until the time that he walked out on stage, and I was dreading that it might be Kurt Elling (whom I really don’t like.) Instead, we had the good fortune to watch Jon Weber perform with Marian. I’d never heard of him before and he was great. Funny, charming, extremely knowledgeable and a very talented pianist. He and Marian were great together. They did a number of duets, including a “free” number that they performed completely spontaneously which was really fascinating to watch and listen to. Marian was wonderful. She received a standing ovation as soon as she appeared on stage, and had the audience in the palm of her hand the entire evening. The conversation she lead between herself and Jon was interesting, entertaining and often very funny, on both sides.

It was also interesting to see the taping of a live radio show. I should say that I’m using the word “see” a little loosely, since we were sitting on the side of the audience with an obstructed view. Unfortunately, because of the way that the pianos were positioned on stage, there was a big black grand piano blocking my view of Marian at the piano. All I could see was her feet tapping time and working the pedals. Kind of hilarious when you think about it–you go to see someone you hear on the radio, and then you can’t actually see them, just hear them…like they were on the radio!

They taped two 45-minute segments (with a 15-minute break in between) which will later be edited into the final one-hour program. A number of times, due to technical considerations, they would have to repeat some of the banter, recreating the lead in or out of a song, and once they had to repeat a tune. The producer sat on the stage, off to the side, with two sets of headphones, one to talk to the engineer, the other to listen to the show as it recorded. Occasionally, she’d prompt Marian in one way or another. It will be really interesting to hear what they cut from the show when it airs.

My favorite part of the evening came after the taping was completed and Marian and Jon took questions from the audience. An elderly African-American gentleman stepped up to the microphone and asked “Didn’t I see you perform with (and he named off three jazz greats I don’t remember) in Munich Germany, in 1945?” And Marian replied “You probably did.” The audience burst into laughter and a huge round of applause. He said, “Marian, you and Jimmy blew the lid off the place.” Then, Marian and Jon performed a spontaneous encore, a lovely duet of “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” that was a wonderful way to end the evening.

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