The story of the distinguished female jazz pianist who devoted herself to her art and won popularity, the respect of her colleagues and just about every honor the profession bestows.
There will not be a more richly detailed biography of McPartland (born in 1918 in Slough, England, as Margaret Marian Turner). McPartland has led an extraordinarily peripatetic life, and Seattle Times music writer de Barros seems to have been a stowaway in her luggage. He has very few negative observations: She could be crusty (especially later on); she didn’t like to read music; she sometimes had trouble keeping a consistent beat; not all her albums were good. Otherwise, this is a tribute to McPartland’s talent (she learned to play by ear as a girl), her determination to forge a career in jazz, her writing ability (she published in DownBeat and elsewhere) and her ongoing artistic evolution. The author also chronicles the serpentine route of her relationship with her American husband, the late cornetist Jimmy McPartland, whose drinking problems came and went—as did their ability to live together. She played with Jimmy from time to time but also had her own career—and her own love affairs, including a long-term one with legendary drummer Joe Morello. De Barros tells us about her albums (quoting the reviews—even the bad ones) and marvels at McPartland’s versatility and success with Piano Jazz, her NPR show that began in 1978. (The book’s title comes from her customary question to her guest on the show.) The author also charts her fierce devotion to jazz education and, sadly, her physical decline.
A splendid catalogue of McPartland’s achievements, although readers may stumble in the great tangle of detail.