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Group from iconic photo loses another member

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Only five musicians from this 1958 photo (above) are still alive.

ART KANE / ESQUIRE Enlarge Image

Only five musicians from this 1958 photo (above) are still alive.

There's another empty spot outside the brownstone in the famous A Great Day in Harlem photo.

When pianist and longtime host of National Public Radio's Piano Jazz, Marian McPartland, died on Aug. 20 at 95, she left a great hole in jazz, but also in the iconic 1958 Esquire photo by Art Kane of 57 top jazz musicians of the time.

A Life magazine photo by Gordon Parks in 1996 with 10 of the surviving musicians (and one of the kids on the curb from the original) was a stark reminder of what the jazz world had lost.

Of the 13 survivors, nine are now dead: Eddie Locke, Hank Jones, Gerry Mulligan, Milt Hinton, Chubby Jackson, Art Farmer, Johnny Griffin, McPartland and Ernie Wilkins, who missed the photo shoot.

Still around are Sonny Rollins, who missed the shoot,  Horace Silver, Benny Golson, and Taft Jordan Jr. (seated), who had accompanied his trumpeter father to the original shoot and sat on the curb right next to Count Basie.

So many jazz greats are at an age when fans can expect to hear of their demise, but McPartland's is one of four recent deaths that shook the jazz world.

Pianist Cedar Walton died Aug. 19 at 79; literary and jazz critic Albert Murray died Aug. 18 at 97; and pianist Mulgrew Miller died of a stroke on May 29 at 57.

British-born McPartland is best known for her long tenure as host of Piano Jazz on NPR in the United States. Her first episode aired in 1969 and she retired from the series in 2011 after countless interviews and performances with jazz musicians. Her guests ranged from Count Basie to Elvis Costello.

McPartland was a respected pianist and bandleader before her defining NPR gig, and led bands at a time when women just didn't do that. She credits her jazz cornetist husband Jimmy McPartland with encouraging her to lead her own groups.

A New York Times profile on McPartland last week quoted her recollection of a "1998 interview for National Public Radio... shortly after she arrived in the United States from England in 1946, the influential jazz critic Leonard Feather, who himself was born in England and who began his career as a pianist, said, 'Oh, she'll never make it: She's English, white and a woman.'"

Feather, she added, 'always used to tell me it was a joke, but I don't think he meant it as a joke.'"

Pianist and composer Walton, a National Endowment for the Arts jazz master, worked with nearly every major jazz artist of his era.

He was paid tribute here on Aug. 21 at a concert by University of Manitoba jazz camp instructors when saxophonists Steve Wilson and Jon Gordon, trombonists Wycliffe Gordon and Steve Turre, pianist Will Bonness, bassist Steve Kirby, drummer Quincy Davis and guitarist Larry Roy performed a couple of his compositions, including a terrific rendition of Bolivia.

Murray was an influential novelist and critic who celebrated black culture, scorned black separatism and was an influence on the critic Stanley Crouch and the celebrated jazz musician Wynton Marsalis. Murray and Marsalis were co-founders of Jazz at Lincoln Center.

The author was once praised by Duke Ellington as the "unsquarest man I know." Enough said.

Miller was, indeed, a gentle giant of a man and musician. He was a pianist with an ebullient and graceful style, a man who knew the blues, and a musician who could command your attention and win your approval whatever he played.

He was director of jazz studies at William Paterson University of New Jersey, but his teaching wasn't limited to a music lab. Facebook was filled with posts by musicians who praised Miller as a mentor, who was generous with his time and knowledge, and as a great pianist.

Every walk of life loses great people, but these four deaths so close together come as a shock.

chris.smith@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 3, 2013 C3

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