10:17am

Fri May 8, 2009
Piano Jazz

Nnenna Freelon: Piano Jazz At Tanglewood

The annual recording of Piano Jazz at the 2008 Tanglewood Jazz festival fell nearly halfway between two important milestones — Marian McPartland's 90th birthday, celebrated in March of 2008, and the 30th Anniversary of Piano Jazz, which we celebrate in 2009. It was truly an extravagant concert, as three wonderful performers took their turns on stage with McPartland.

Mulgrew Miller was first to join her in Seiji Ozawa Hall. A Piano Jazz alum, Miller is arguably one of the most important jazz pianists of his generation, and certainly one of the most recorded, with more than 400 albums as a sideman and leader. He opened the concert with a gently swinging solo version of Duke Ellington's "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good." McPartland joined him on Thad Jones' ballad, "A Child Is Born," and the two took the audience along on a ride into Charlie Parker's "Au Privave."

Singer and pianist Spencer Day is a newcomer to the music scene, but he's sure to go far. He delivered his own song, "Last Train to New Jersey," a charming number about the painful end to a doomed romance. Day also proved that he can croon with the best of them, with McPartland providing delicate accompaniment to Mel Torme's "Born to Be Blue."

To finish off a perfect afternoon in the Berkshires, the always elegant Nnenna Freelon joined McPartland for a few tunes showing off what both do best — ballads. Freelon conjured "the lyric gods" to perform a tune she and McPartland first did on a Piano Jazz show from 2002 — Stevie Wonder's "All In Love Is Fair." The crowd spilling out onto the lawn could surely appreciate the celebration of nature in Freelon's choice of tunes — Cole Porter's "I Love You" and the Carmichael/Mercer tune, "Skylark." Freelon and McPartland wound up the hour with Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing."

Unfortunately, not all of the performances from this Piano Jazz concert fit into a one-hour show. Be sure to check out the Web extras: Spencer Day's original tune, "Poor Marie" and Freelon's duet with McPartland on "Amazing Grace."

Originally recorded Aug. 30, 2008.

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