She was 61 when the first “Piano Jazz” episode — with pianist Billy Taylor — aired in 1979. By the time she stepped away from the series in 2011, Ms. McPartland had won a Peabody Award for broadcasting and a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement. She also helped a generation learn about jazz through her searching interviews, conducted in her dulcet-toned, sometimes irreverent, British-accented voice.
“Marian McPartland has done more for jazz pianists than anyone in the entire world,” jazz impresario George Wein said in 1991.
Ms. McPartland died Aug. 20 at her home in Port Washington, N.Y. She was 95.
Her death was announced by NPR. The cause was not disclosed.
Trained as a classical pianist at a conservatory in her native England, Ms. McPartland was drawn to the improvisational freedom of jazz, a world dominated by men and derived from African American culture.
She succeeded in spite of “three hopeless strikes against her,” as countryman critic Leonard Feather put it 1951: She was British, white and a woman.
Yet she managed to use her background as an outsider, “without American social, racial and class baggage,” to her musical advantage, Paul de Barros wrote in his 2012 biography of Ms. McPartland, “Shall We Play That One Together?”
“It allowed her to perceive jazz from the start as a high art,” he wrote.
During the 1950s, Ms. McPartland led a trio in New York nightclubs, most notably the Hickory House, and soon became one of the era’s few women to become established as jazz instrumentalists.
She was one of only three women included in Art Kane’s renowned group portrait of jazz musicians on a Harlem street in 1958. She stood in the front row, next to Mary Lou Williams, in the photograph of 57 musicians that became the inspiration for Jean Bach’s Oscar-nominated 1994 documentary, “A Great Day in Harlem.”
Ms. McPartland was a pioneering woman in jazz and often appeared at the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival at the Kennedy Center. A teenaged Diana Krall called her for career advice, and Ms. McPartland often gave air time on “Piano Jazz” to female performers, from Carmen McRae to Norah Jones.
Nonetheless, she was reluctant to identify herself as a feminist. Replying to a question from Ms. magazine co-founder Gloria Steinem at a college forum in 1974, Ms. McPartland shrugged off the idea that she had faced discrimination.
“It always seemed like an advantage to be a woman,” she said.
Margaret Marian Turner was born March 20, 1918, in Slough, England, outside London. Her father was an engineer with the British arsenal, and her mother followed the strict class rules of the times.