Marian signs off

I was saddened to hear Marian McPartland passed away this week at age 95. My god I don’t want this blog to turn into an obituary but I can’t let this one go without a proper word or two.
Marian was the host of “Piano Jazz” radio show for over 40 years and carried on NPR for over 30 yrs. She was an accomplished jazz pianist herself. The format of her show was Marian interviewing another jazz artist, usually a piano player. Marian would play one of their songs and then they would play a song and then finish with a duet. I can honestly say I learned more about jazz music and it’s artists from Marian than any other person. See I’m not a formally trained musician. I learned on my own and don’t consider myself much of a jazz player at all. I’m a competent pop and rock pianist but have always loved listening to jazz. Running a business and raising kids have been my excuse from delving further into learning and playing more jazz. Someday. But I listened to Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz any chance I got since I was a teen. I can recall many a time sitting in my car in the garage after arriving at home listening to a song or end of an interview with Marian and some jazz great. She had the loveliest sounding speaking voice. She sounded like a sweet old lady. I mean that in the best possible way. She knew everything and everybody to do with jazz. She had an amazing ear too. She didn’t generally play with a lot of fireworks but what she did play was well constructed and more importantly, beautiful. Make no mistake, she could rip it up if she wanted. In her early years she woodshedded by copying runs by the likes of Art Tatum by ear. If you aren’t familiar with what that means just know that it’s insane. I can’t even listen that fast. She horrified her parents by leaving home to pursue a career in music in the early 1930s. She was a pioneer for women in music by becoming a respected instrumentalist and then band leader in the 1940s. But it was her radio show starting in 1978 that made her a world wide star. Everyone that was anyone in jazz has been on her show. My 1 degree of separation is Karrin Allyson. Karrin is a Grammy nominated jazz vocalist and pianist in New York City that grew up here in Omaha and went to UNO. It was at that time that we played in a pop band together. We eventually kicked her out cuz she wasn’t being honest to the melodies as they were performed on the radio. The truth is she was too good for us. She was itching to do more anyway and I’d like to take underserved credit that this move sent her forever upward and onward into the jazz world. Karrin is now the one with the Grammy nominated albums while I’ll be appearing at the Ozone some weekend coming soon. Check your local listings. See how that worked out? Karrin also had the amazing privilege to be on Piano Jazz with Marian. As it turned out Marian became quite an admirer of Karrin and asked her to performed with her on her 30th anniversary show. So that’s why she’s my 1 degree of separation from Marian. I’ve also had the honor of playing with jazz great Branford Marsalis who happens to be good friends with my band mate, Nikki Boulay. Branford and his whole family have played with Marian at one time or another. In the advanced solo piano book and CD, “Marian McPartland’s Portaits” she wrote “Portrait of Branford Marsalis.”
She will be missed by the entire world of jazz.
It is no stretch to say that Marian and her show influenced more generations of jazz artists and fans than perhaps any other.
Thank you so much Marian McPartland. I’ll play you a sad one tonight.

Old School

Oh heck ya, it’s back to school time. yay. Sorry I was never too excited to go back to school. Actually, I couldn’t stand it and the mere mention of that phrase “back to school” still gives me the heebee geebees, the creepy crawlies, the dry heaves, the booloo mooloos. Yes, I made that last one up but you kinda like it don’t you? Come on, you do. I’m so gonna start using it.
So OK, school time wasn’t for me but I do appreciate the hugeness of it. It’s a heady time. Think about your school years. There will never be another time in your life when you are so tightly associated with the same group of people for that long. Some of these associations with classmates are for 12 straight years. Then you graduate, hopefully, and poof. You are off into the big world and never again are you in that kind of a social institution again. Work buddies are different. There just isn’t that same connection. Good or bad it’s just not the same. People have lives outside of work. But when you’re in school you really don’t. Except for the summers.
Ahh the summer. I loved it. I lived for it. But sadly it was fleeting. It’s so much more than the weather too. It was ….freedom. Like real freedom. At least for me it was.
The end of May would come, the bell would ring and it was like, “See ya later teachers and parents and responsibility until Sept!” Ya, May to September. Remember that? Now what is it, like a few weeks in July? Geez! Mine seemed like entire lifetimes would come and go in comparison. Bell to bell I was off the grid. Of course there was no grid back then and no cell phones and no way to keep track of me. The pool all day, a pick-up game of ball in the afternoon and then shenanigans and tomfoolery all night. Next day, rinse and repeat. I am not kidding. It was like that all summer long. We never did camps or clinics or any of that stuff. I was the youngest of 6. My folks were over it by then. I get it. Actually, I loved it. I had it good. The street was my teacher. She could be cruel but she was honest. Oh who am I kidding. We moved out to the west O suburbs by the time I was 3. Leawood West wasn’t exactly the mean streets. We had one weirdo in the whole neighborhood and everyone knew to stay away from that house. Besides that it couldn’t have been safer. The salad days. The wonder years.
Then came Labor Day. It loomed like a giant dark cloud creeping over my sunny summer. Relentless with no regard to freedom, to summer love, to bare feet, to running from the cops, to kick the can, to homemade pyrotechnics, to amateur aviation, to “Kill The Man with the Ball” (actual name of a game we made up. I don’t think I need to explain the rules here. Its pretty self explanatory). If not for my birthday at the end of August I don’t know how I would have made it. That and the Jerry Lewis telethon. A legit excuse to literally stay up all night. “Hey it’s for charity Mom!” We once jumped on a neighbor’s trampoline all night to raise money. “Jump for Jerry’s Kids.” I recall we raised a total of $36 bucks.
I’ve tried hard to give my kids some sort of taste of my summers. I don’t schedule them a lot to do but I do try to keep an eye on things. Times have changed but some things never change. The cloud is rolling in.
Alas, “Back to School.” Oh my gosh I just got the booloo mooloos.

Thomas Sena

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