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Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz with Steely Dan

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For many years, Marian McPartland has been hosting Piano Jazz on NPR which showcases both legends and rising stars of jazz. But she’s also not afraid to branch out beyond jazz musicians to bring in other artists who have an appreciation for the genre. Such is the case with Piano Jazz with Steely Dan. Ironically, some NPR stations refused to originally air the program because they felt it was inappropriate for a jazz program to be profiling a pop band.

Recorded in July 2002 as their album Everything Must Go was being assembled, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen sit down with the the legendary Ms. McPartland to discuss everything from the origins of their music and their influences to McPartland’s own encounters with jazz giants such as Charlie Parker and Louis Armstrong.

Although McPartland is not quite as sharp an interviewer as she used to be (she was 84 when the session was recorded) she still knows her way around the keyboard as best evidenced in her two duets with Fagen on “Mood Indigo” and “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be”.

The real highlights of the CD, however, are no just Becker and Fagen’s stripped down versions of their own songs (“Josie”, “Chain Lightning” and “Black Friday”) but their handling of great jazz tunes such as “Limbo Jazz” which opens the program or the outstanding “Hesitation Blues” which pays homage to Louis Armstrong.

It is really the music that makes this CD more than the conversation. Still, it’s interesting to hear the various influences that converged to help create one of the most distinctive sounds in rock music.

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  • Steve

    I found that the most interesting thing about this show was that I discovered Donald Fagen can actually play. It always seemed that studio guys played all the good stuff on their records, but now I think maybe Donald actually might have played some of it. When you go to their shows, they’ve always got hired guns, and Donald sits behind his Rhodes doing god knows what. Walter is a good guitarist, but he’s always playing the same busy runs here and there or stabbing at the strings throughout their records. He needs to lay out and let the other guy (or some hot shit guest guitarists) wail–it will bring back the “Aja” vibe to their music. Same goes for the drummer–whoever he is this year–they still think they’re working with Wendel, and the drums are just dull. Beware, on this show, when the old lady joins Donald, it gets pretty sloppy sounding, but nobody even mentions or laughs about it during the conversation interludes. The boys are actually very respectful of her, totally opposite of their usual snide, we’re-too-cool-for-this tude.