Piano Jazz hits its silver anniversary in April, a landmark that surprises nobody more than venerated host and pianist Marian McPartland. “It’s kind of amazing that we’ve managed to be on the air for 25 years and no end in sight,” she says with a laugh. “I sort of envisioned doing it for a few months, or at the most a year. It never occurred to me that people would like it as much as they do.” Today it ranks among public radio’s most popular music programs, airing on 241 stations and reaching almost 400,000 listeners a week.
When the NPR-distributed program Piano Jazz had its 20th anniversary in 1999, Current Contributing Editor David Stewart wrote this profile of the program and its host. Marian McPartland is the host of the longest-running jazz program in the history of network radio. Her Piano Jazz has also enjoyed the longest run of any entertainment series on NPR. In March 1998, she celebrated her 80th birthday on stage at New York’s Town Hall. Billy Taylor, himself the host of an NPR jazz series, Billy Taylor’s Jazz from the Kennedy Center, kept up the musical action as a parade of Marian’s friends came to perform and wish her well: pianists Tommy Flanagan, Jacky Terrasson and Ray Bryant, bassists Christian McBride and Bill Crow, drummers Joe Morello, Grady Tate and Lewis Nash, and trumpeter Harry (“Sweets”) Edison, among others.