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Jazz legend graces stage at Flushing Town Hall

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Flushing Town Hall on Friday marked the continuation of the five-part fall “Jazz Live” series and was the site of a very unique musical foray, as the harmolodic avant-garde sounds of the Bern Nix Trio led the way for the more traditional and familiar standards and hit tunes of celebrated National Public Radio jazz pianist Marion McPartland.

Nix, once the lead electric guitarist for the very colorfully iconoclastic Ornette Coleman group back in the early ‘80s, introduced the 50-and-older audience to cord nuances and riffs many jazz aficionados might describe as very introspective, daring, even adventurous and perhaps with an attack — comparing it to the stylings of deceased legendary jazz vocalist Betty Carter and Bop pianist Thelonius “Sphere” Monk, Sr.

The trio of contra bassist Bill Vola, drummer Adrian Valosin, and Nix, offered up some inventive variations on tunes like, “Ballad for El,” “C Jam” (which is from their latest CD release), “Just Friends,” “Furniture Music,” “Take the A Train,” and “I Tried to Call.” The delivery throughout was crisp, intentional, and at times challenging as they complemented each other’s harmonic nuances. Though brief, the solos on bowed bass and drums were just as intriguing.

McPartland, at the tender age of 3, was teaching herself Chopin waltzes on the piano by ear, and Friday evening at a mature 84 years of age was introduced by Clyde Bullard the series producer as, “one of the last remaining legendary musicians in the world famous black and white photograph, titled ‘Great Day In Harlem,’ and truly one of the Jazz world’s most respected and loved musicians.”

Known the world over for her contributions to the art form, McPartland was given the Peabody Award (1986) for her nationally syndicated show, “Piano Jazz,” and was honored in 2001 with the Gracie Allen award for excellence in American Women in Radio and television, and the National Music Councils American Eagle award. During her gig at Flushing Town Hall, a PBS location team was taping footage for an upcoming special on her life.

McPartland, a resident of Roslyn, L.I., with whom I’ve had the great pleasure to talk and photograph on several musical outings over the years (one photograph of us together has an honored place on the wall in my office), still is a pleasure and her reputation bears this out. She is one of the singularly most accomplished and self effacing regularly touring/working artists on the scene. As any of her listeners would surely attest, with her soothing voice and cultured mannerisms she gently inspires her guests to relax and play for, and with, her on her highly rated weekly NPR sponsored radio program.

McPartland. with her casual and confidently articulated way of speaking. loosened up the capacity audience of dedicated fans, including those up into the balcony section, by simply saying, “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, let’s play some tunes I’m sure you’ll remember, shall we?”

Reflecting on the past for the audience as if she were in the comfort of friends and family, McPartland casually shared brief stories of her formative years as part of a four-piano vaudeville act in England, and her later associations with the now deceased legends pianist legend Tommy Flannagan, whom she “met years ago in the village,” and Tenor Saxophonist Coleman “Bean” Hawkins.

McPartland also offered up a few personal family reminiscences that had the audience in stitches, including light quips during her performance like, “This tune was brought to you by the arthritis foundation.” Her fans got the inside joke and laughed deeply with appreciation, being aware of her affliction.

Marion “Piano Jazz” McPartland is truly a musical phenomenon not to be missed, for there just aren’t enough superlatives to adequately describe the talent and indefatigable energy with which she honors the genre.

In spite of having rather arthritically deformed fingers and knuckles, McPartland plays with amazing fluidity, stamina, grace, finesse and the energy of a pianist 50 years her junior. Along with the talented rhythm section of Glenn Davis on drums and Gary Masaropie on bass she showcased her amazing chops on the 88s with memorable tunes like, “All The Things You Are,” “Body and Soul” (an audience request), “The Days Of Our Life,” “Over The Rainbow” and “Close Your Eyes.” She is a treasure not to be missed, and if you weren’t there — what can I say?

Hey jazz fans, don’t miss another evening of unparalleled professional Jazz entertainment, in a world class acoustically beautiful and luxurious performance space. Call the Flushing Council on Culture and The Arts at 463-7700, Ext. 222 for tickets, or go online at www.flushingtownhall.com for future ticket information.

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