Jazz star, NPR host Marian McPartland dies at 95

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Marian McPartland (AP Photo/File)

by Todd Leopold

(CNN) — Marian McPartland, the famed jazz pianist and longtime host of NPR’s “Piano Jazz” program, died August 20, her label confirmed.

McPartland was 95 and died of natural causes at her Port Washington, New York, home, Concord Music Group said in a statement.

McPartland had a career that spanned more than seven decades in music, first as a piano player in music halls in her native Great Britain during World War II and then in the jazz clubs of the United States. She’s pictured in the classic 1958 Art Kane photograph of jazz musicians that became the basis of the documentary “A Great Day in Harlem.”

“I’ve played jazz as long as I could hear any. And I heard plenty in England before I came over here to America,” she told CNN in 2004.

She also frequently lectured at universities and served as a jazz disc jockey for a New York radio station.

But she’s probably best known for her hosting of “Piano Jazz,” the NPR show that began in 1979. The show was as gracious and casual as McPartland’s fluid playing.

“It’s so easy to make it a conversation, and you don’t know where it’s going to lead,” McPartland once told NPR. “The whole thing is so improvised, you really don’t know where it’s going to go.”

Her guests included a wide variety of musicians, including Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Willie Nelson, Bruce Hornsby and Elvis Costello.

She earned a number of honors for the show, including a Peabody Award, the Gracie Allen Award from American Women in Radio and Television and a Grammy Trustees Award for lifetime achievement.

“Our culture has lost a national treasure, and jazz music will greatly miss one of its most ardent and beloved supporters,” the Recording Academy, which awards the Grammys, said in a statement.

She never stopped recording. Concord credits her with more than 50 albums since 1984.

“What a truly wonderful and amazing lady,” John Burk, Concord’s chief creative officer, said in a statement. “We were very lucky to have her in our lives and to be involved in such a great musical legacy.”

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