It's one of the more quotable reviews in jazz lore: "She is English, white and a woman -- three hopeless strikes against her." Pianist Marian McPartland laughs now when she's reminded of the line, a tongue-in-cheek barb fashioned by critic and composer Leonard Feather in Down Beat magazine in 1951. Back then, though, she wasn't laughing.

"I really didn't think it was a joke, truthfully," says McPartland, who's busy promoting her new book, "All in Good Time" (Oxford University Press), a collection of intimate jazz profiles that have appeared in Down Beat and Esquire over the years. "I viewed it as sort of a challenge, really. I thought, well, okay, but I'm not going to let that get in my way."

Besides, a joke or not, it wasn't the first time someone had given her talent short shrift. She loves to tell this story about her ex-husband, renowned jazz cornetist Jimmy McPartland, who remains a close friend, occasional playing partner and her "biggest booster." They met at a large party in Belgium during World War II. "My God," he said, "there's a woman musician -- a white woman -- and she's going to want to sit in and she's going to sound awful."

Then they got married. Well, not immediately. They became bandmates first, playing for the troops on the front lines. "It's a terrible thing to say," she concedes, "but I really enjoyed my involvement in the war. Maybe I was too dumb to be scared. We were playing for the soldiers and they loved us, and we felt we were doing something worthwhile."

There was glamor, too. McPartland cherishes a photograph of herself posing with Fred Astaire in Holland. She recalls attending a dinner for Astaire that was suddenly disrupted by a bombing nearby. "I never saw anyone dive under a table faster than Fred," she says, laughing. "He made a lovely swan dive."

With Jimmy's encouragement, McPartland assembled her own group when the couple returned to the United States following the war. Her trio became a fixture at New York's Hickory House during the '50s. Duke Ellington frequently dropped by to hear her play, as did Alec Wilder and Billy Strayhorn. (McPartland's latest album for Concord is devoted to Strayhorn's music.) Once, even her uncle visited. Like the rest of her family abroad, he considered himself a part of the British aristocracy. He was shocked to find his niece working in a bar.

"Does your father know what you're doing?" McPartland recalls him asking adamantly. "He acted as if it were a brothel or something. I guess it was just too much for him ... My family was always rather snobbish about jazz."

Eventually, her family began to take pride in her success. A few excellent album reviews and a mention in Time magazine worked wonders, it seemed, and now McPartland is widely regarded as one of the most gifted and versatile figures in jazz -- musician, composer, educator, record label chief and host of "Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz," the Peabody Award-winning National Public Radio program.

"Things have really improved," she volunteers. "You see all these women coming up in jazz now, like Jane Ira Bloom and Stacey Rowles. It's wonderful to see. And no one would say that I play like a man anymore; or if they did, you could laugh it to death."

Her book, an entertaining companion piece to the radio show, includes loving portraits of the late pianists Mary Lou Williams and Bill Evans, both of whom helped to establish the program and make it a success. Now taping the ninth season of "Piano Jazz," McPartland says that if her interviews with jazz musicians over the years have a common denominator, it's a willingness to share knowledge, "a generosity of spirit and ideas."

"For all I know some of them may not even like my playing, but they know I'm in the field and I've paid my dues. So when you ask them a question about how to do this, they're happy to show me. It's a giving thing."

McPartland also hopes to return to Washington soon to resume the public school jazz program she helped implement in 1974, with the help of pianist and educator Billy Taylor and funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

"It was one of the high points of my life," she says, "to be playing in the schools and to have someone like Duke come in and play 'C Jam Blues' for the kids. And I keep thinking that this has to be done all over again. Kids keep growing up and they never hear of Louis {Armstrong} or Duke or Dizzy Gillespie. To me, it's just shocking that these kids are getting shortchanged."