October 9, 2011

Lady grand

A new documentary from Portland filmmaker Huey explores the life and jazz of pianist Marian McPartland.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The filmmaker James Coleman -- better known in these parts simply as Huey -- has always had fondness and admiration for older artists. Throughout his career, he's told stories about dancers, musicians and artists who have either recently died or are facing the final stage of their lives.

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Marian McPartland at home in Port Washington, N.Y., during filming in 2007 of “In Good Time: The Piano Jazz of Marian McPartland,” which will be shown at 7 p.m. Thursday at Hannaford Hall on the USM campus in Portland.

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McPartland with the filmmaker Huey at a screening for cast and crew of “Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz.”

Additional Photos Below


7 p.m. Thursday at the Abromson Community Center, University of Southern Maine, Bedford Street, Portland, with music at 6:30 p.m. by USM jazz students. $10.

Movies at the Museum at the Portland Museum of Art will screen it Nov. 18-20; it will screen at Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville on Dec. 4.

The film will tour across the country this fall, including screenings in Oregon, Hawaii, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. On Dec. 10, McPartland will attend a screening in her hometown library at Port Washington, N.Y.

INFO: filmsbyhuey.com

In summer 2006, he found himself listening to the syndicated radio show "Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz," as had been his custom for the previous decade or so. As he tuned in week after week that summer, it dawned on him that McPartland would be a worthy subject for one of his film projects.

He appreciated the cadence of her voice, her engaging English accent and her easy rapport with her guests. She made him laugh, and he liked her work on the piano.

"Elder artists appeal to me because you can look back at their work, and there's a certain wisdom of their age," he said. "I thought she was approachable, and I was right."

He arranged to meet McPartland at her home in Port Washington, N.Y., just outside the city. A month later, he began working on a film about the jazz musician and radio host, who was 88 at the time. The result, "In Good Time: The Piano Jazz of Marian McPartland," is making the rounds and winning praise in jazz and film circles.

Huey, who lives in Portland, will screen the film at 7 p.m. Thursday in Hannaford Hall at the Abromson Community Center at the University of Southern Maine in Portland.

It may not be his most ambitious film project to date. That distinction likely rests with his epic movie from a few years back, "Wilderness and Spirit, a Mountain Called Katahdin."

But this new one makes him feel especially proud. "Any artist, you think the latest thing is the best thing you've done," he says. "But I felt really in control during the editing process."

He spent four years filming and five years working on the movie, and traveled near and far to secure interviews. Among those he interviewed and who appear in the film are musicians Elvis Costello and Diana Krall, who happen to be married and are big fans and friends of McPartland.

Huey incorporated old photographs and films into the documentary to complement new footage that he shot. He interviewed McPartland repeatedly, and filmed her performing live and taping "Piano Jazz" a half-dozen times or more.

Combined, the tapestry of images and words help shape the life of a jazz legend.

McPartland, who is now 93 and still performing, is a member of the National Radio Hall of Fame. Last year, she received the Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth II. She has been honored as a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master and a Living Jazz Legend.

She's hosted her radio show since 1978. It can be heard at 8 p.m. Fridays on MPBN.

For the movie, Huey included recording sessions with pianist Julian Waterfall Pollack, guitarist Bill Frisell and ragtime musician Dick Hyman. Viewers also see McPartland at the Kennedy Center with Billy Taylor and at the White House as a guest of President Clinton.

"In Good Time" won second place this summer in the Audience Favorite category of the Maine International Film Festival, where it premiered. Because of McPartland's international stature, the film will receive screenings across the country, and Huey is working with public radio and TV stations to air it as part of their fundraising campaigns. He plans to enter the movie in festivals nationwide.

While most of his previous movies have established Huey as a Maine filmmaker, this one might deliver him a national audience, said Lea Girardin, director of the Maine Film Commission. "I think this is going to elevate his stature," she said. "He is certainly a well-known filmmaker in Maine, and this gives him a chance to reach a wider audience."

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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McPartland at the piano in the 1950s.

Photos courtesy of Huey

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McPartland with the Hickory House Trio in New York in 1954. McPartland, bassist Bill Crow and drummer Joe Morello performed at the Hickory House, a legendary jazz spot, throughout the 1950s, along with the likes of Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington.


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