Cornetist Jimmy McPartland played alongside Bix Beiderbecke and Benny Goodman, and is credited as one of the architects of "Chicago Jazz" in a career that spanned six decades. Today he is also known as the husband of public radio's Marian McPartland.
Jimmy McPartland was a rough-and-tumble kid from Chicago’s West Side where he attended Austin High School in the early 1920s with his brother Dick, and classmates Frank Teschemacher, Bud Freeman and Jim Lannigan. They were captivated by the spirited new jazz that permeated Chicago: The New Orleans Rhythm Kings, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, and the Wolverine Orchestra with Bix Beiderbecke.
Inspired to get up their own group, Jimmy became the leader of the "Austin High Gang," as they later became known, and which, at one time or another, included future jazz stars saxophonist Bud Freeman, pianist Joe Sullivan, drummer Dave Tough, reedman Frank Teschemacher and guitarist Eddie Condon.
In 1924 Jazz Age cornet star Bix Beiderbecke recommended the 17-year-old Jimmy McPartland as his replacement when he left the Wolverines. Arriving at the Cinderella Ballroom in New York to audition for the break of a lifetime, Jimmy recalled, "We finished the rehearsal and I said, 'when am I gonna meet Bix?'...He came walking toward me and we met in the middle of the dance floor…he said, 'I like you, kid. You sound like me but you don’t copy me.'" Before he left town to join the Goldkette Orchestra, Bix bought Jimmy a cornet which he played and treasured for the rest of his life.
McPartland made his first recording with the Wolverines in 1924. Leaving the group a year later, he worked with bandleader Art Kassel before achieving great acclaim with Ben Pollack's Orchestra in the late 1920s in a group with Benny Goodman, Jack Teagarden and former Austin High Gang member Bud Freeman.
Marian McPartland recalls her husband Jimmy as a gracious and gregarious man, much loved by everyone around him. He was a sportsman, an amateur boxer, a strong swimmer and an expert fly fisherman. Marian has often reminisced of summer days spent fly casting on Pike Lake in Wisconsin at his friend Squirrel Ashcroft's cottage. She says Jimmy took a childlike pleasure in the simple things of life, and notes that his favorite saying was, "Do it gracefully."
Though Marian and Jimmy divorced, the couple remarried in 1991, just two weeks before Jimmy's death.
Photo credit for Home Page: Jimmy McPartland, England 1942. Photo courtesy bixography.
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick © 2011