Waking up to hear about the death of Marian McPartland, I’ve been thinking all morning about what this epitome of grace demonstrates about living like you mean it. Here’s what comes to me from many nights of driving home in the dark enveloped in the gravelly silk of her voice:
- Choose kindness over all else. There were moments McPartland could easily have tipped her hand toward resentment or social climbing when talking with some musical great, but she instead aimed all her words toward the kind of kindness born of honoring the best in everyone around her.
- Assume the best intention in all people you encounter. McPartland’s grace — and no one did grace with the kind of fierce gentleness and fullness that she did — came from playing in the field of highest seeing.
- Don’t hide your light under a rock. Every week McPartland played that piano full throttle, not holding back on her strength (including the strength to play with great tenderness) or talent. She shone her light alongside everyone from Elvis Costello to Chick Corea to Willie Nelson.
- Encourage others to shine their light fully also. Is there anyone in the world so nurturing and inspiring of others’s talents, whether a seasoned performer such as Mel Torme or someone none of us heard of until she played on Piano Jazz? McPartland cajoled, with never a hint of manipulation, everyone on her show to bring out their full gifts.
- Leap large and dream larger: How did a classical music studies major in London end up playing alongside Duke Ellington, Fats Waller and Mary Lou Williams? How did this white British woman land in the center of an American jazz scene created by people of color? She followed what she was called to do, and took leaps of faith whenever she encountered a gap or challenge. As she was quoted as saying in an AP article today, “I’m not afraid, for the most part, of anything….Somebody said, ‘You’re like someone who rides a bucking bronco. You’ll ride anything that comes along.’”
- In all circumstances, choose love. Listeners like me almost took for granted her affection for Jimmy, her late husband, who she married, divorced and remarried. According to Peter Keepnews in The New York Times today, “The divorce, she was fond of saying, did not take. She helped take care of him when he was found to have lung cancer, and they remarried shortly before he died in 1991.” Since 1991, her love for him continued to be center-stage whenever she spoke of their music.