Two stylists

Recent deaths: writer Elmore Leonard and pianist Marian McPartland, great stylists in their respective fields.

Recollections and celebrations of both of them are appearing in lots of places. Here I’ll start with the obituaries in the New York Times.

For Leonard, “A Novelist Who Made Crime an Art, and His Bad Guys ‘Fun’ ” by Marilyn Stasio on the 21st:

Elmore Leonard, the prolific crime novelist whose louche characters, deadpan dialogue and immaculate prose style in novels like “Get Shorty,” “Freaky Deaky” and “Glitz” established him as a modern master of American genre writing, died on Tuesday at his home in Bloomfield Township, Mich. He was 87.

Reviewing “Riding the Rap” for The New York Times Book Review in 1995, Martin Amis cited Mr. Leonard’s “gifts — of ear and eye, of timing and phrasing — that even the most indolent and snobbish masters of the mainstream must vigorously covet.” As the American chapter of PEN noted, when honoring Mr. Leonard with a lifetime achievement award in 2009, his books “are not only classics of the crime genre, but some of the best writing of the last half-century.”

And from Wikipedia:

Elmore John Leonard, Jr. (October 11, 1925 – August 20, 2013) was an American novelist and screenwriter. His earliest novels, published in the 1950s, were Westerns, but Leonard went on to specialize in crime fiction and suspense thrillers, many of which have been adapted into motion pictures.

Among his best-known works are Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Hombre, Mr. Majestyk, and Rum Punch (adapted for the movie Jackie Brown). Leonard’s writings include short stories that became the films 3:10 to Yuma and The Tall T, as well as the current FX television series Justified.

Over on Language Log, Mark Liberman quoted from Stasio’s obit and noted that “Over the years, we’ve discussed Elmore Leonard at least as often as any other writer”, providing a list of some postings about Elmore and his writing style.

Then on McPartland, “Marian McPartland, Jazz Pianist and NPR Radio Staple, Dies at 95” by Peter Keepnews on the 22nd:

Marian McPartland, the genteel Englishwoman who became a fixture of the American jazz scene as a pianist and, later in life, hosted the internationally syndicated and immensely popular public radio show “Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz,” died on Tuesday at her home in Port Washington, N.Y.

… Ms. McPartland was a gifted musician but an unlikely candidate for jazz stardom. She recalled in a 1998 interview for National Public Radio that shortly after she arrived in the United States in 1946, the influential jazz critic Leonard Feather, who himself was born in England and who began his career as a pianist, said, “Oh, she’ll never make it: she’s English, white and a woman.”

… Ms. McPartland’s contributions to jazz were not limited to her piano playing. An enthusiastic and articulate spokeswoman for the music, she lectured at schools and colleges and wrote for Down Beat, Melody Maker and other publications. (A collection of her essays, “All in Good Time,” was published in 1987 and reissued in 2003.) Most notably, for more than 30 years her “Piano Jazz” was one of the most popular jazz shows ever on the radio.

And from Wikipedia:

Margaret Marian McPartland, OBE (née Turner; 20 March 1918 – 20 August 2013), was an English-born jazz pianist, composer, and writer. She was the host of Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz on National Public Radio from 1978 until 2011. After her marriage to an American musician [jazz cornetist Jimmy McPartland], she resided in the USA when not traveling throughout the world to perform. In 1969 she founded Halcyon Records, a recording company that produced albums for ten years.

For some time in the 1950s, McPartland played (with a drummer and bassist) at the Hickory House (on 52nd St. in NYC), in an intimate setting where I heard her perform several times.

Her own style was melodic and polished; it often reminded me of the variation pieces by Mozart and Schubert (she was trained as a classical pianist). She was also good at “doing” the styles of other jazz pianists, with whom she played (enthusiastically) on Piano Jazz.

Both Leonard and McPartland enormously enjoyed what they did; it was fun for them, and their pleasure shone out in their work. (And they both worked virtually to the end of their lives.)

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