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.”
Mr. Feather, she added, “always used to tell me it was a joke, but I don’t think he meant it as a joke.”
The odds against any woman finding success as a jazz musician in the late 1940s and early ’50s were formidable, but Ms. McPartland overcame them with grace. Listeners were charmed by her Old World stage presence and captivated by her elegant, harmonically lush improvisations, which reflected both her classical training and her fascination with modern jazz.