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These are our choices for the Top 10 events, institutions and personalities for the year in jazz and blues circles. We make no claim to these being the only important things that occurred, but it’s a start:

1. The Schmerhorn Symphony Center’s jazz/world music series

The Schmerhorn remains a prime destination for topflight jazz and world music events. Any year that includes stops by Branford Marsalis, McCoy Tyner, Diana Krall, Gilberto Gil and the Spanish Harlem Orchestra (among others) is a great one. Plus, the dancers at the Latin music concerts brought so much vitality into the building they loosened up the old guard among the audience.

2. WFSK-FM’s 24/7 presence for jazz on the broadcast airwaves

The gutting of WMOT-FM’s weekday programming and demise of Vandy’s wonderful WRVU-FM left a huge hole in radio options for jazz fans. WFSK, Fisk University’s stalwart station, fills this gap with programming for devotees of both contemporary (smooth jazz) and classic (Jazz From Lincoln Center and Rahsaan Barber’s new Generations in Jazz) fare. They present a nice mix of international/worldbeat shows, an array of talk programs from a black community perspective and outstanding specialty presentations covering other neglected areas like funk, dance and blues.

3. Marion James’ 30th Anniversary Musicians Reunion benefit

What began as a spontaneous, one-time party to help some struggling musicians has evolved into an annual event that attracted more bands and attention this year than ever before. Besides having known or worked with nearly every major R&B, soul and blues musician who’s passed this way since the ’60s, Marion James constantly seeks to help aging and forgotten performers get the necessary medical care to make it through their final years with dignity.

4. Local labels issue top recordings

Premier saxophonist and bandleader Rahsaan Barber launched his label Music City Jazz, issuing recordings by his Everyday Magic band and outstanding pianist/composer/arranger Bruce Dudley. Jeff Coffin landed on the cover of Downbeat behind a fantastic release featuring his Mu’Tet, and Victor Wooten issued a pair of fine full-lengths on his own label, Vix Records. In addition, Franklin-based Naxos distributed important releases from foreign and domestic artists and companies.

5. Monica Ramey/Beegie Adair return to Birdland

Being asked to appear once at Birdland — one of New York and the nation’s prime jazz spots — is an honor. Getting a second shot, as was the case with vocalist Monica Ramey and pianist Beegie Adair, is even more impressive. The duo’s newest recorded collaboration is out shortly, as Adair’s releases — which feature her distinctive interpretations of standards — continue to win critical praise, with airtime on such syndicated shows as Jazz After Hours.

6. The Jazz Session comes to town

Jason Crane’s popular The Jazz Session podcast made its first Nashville visit this year. Crane’s activities included a poetry reading at the Jazz Workshop, appearances on local radio stations and extensive one-on-one interviews with such area performers as Evan Cobb and Jeff Coffin. All his Nashville interviews are available online at thejazzsession.com.

7. The Nashville Jazz Workshop’s numerous activities

No local or regional entity combines music activism and education like the Nashville Jazz Workshop, led by the tireless husband-wife duo of bassist Roger Spencer and pianist Lori Mechem. Their menu includes classes, concerts (Snap on 2 & 4, contemporary jazz performers, etc.), radio broadcasts (Live From the Workshop) and tie-in performances and discussions with The Frist Center and Parnassus Books.

8. Nashville Jazz Orchestra live

The Nashville Jazz Orchestra offers listeners the opportunity to hear a great swing unit that isn’t a ghost band. Under the leadership of Jim Williamson — also an excellent trumpet and flugelhorn player — the NJO presents entertaining and diversified theme concerts, showing there’s still plenty of life in the big band idiom.

9. The Belcourt brings Shirley Clarke’s films to town

The late Shirley Clarke’s edgy, unusual films weren’t commercial smashes, but they were vital portraits. The Belcourt brought two of them to Nashville for short runs: Ornette: Made in Americaspotlighted one of jazz’s last innovators, while The Connection stripped away any pretense regarding drug addiction.

10. Top biographers visit Music City

R.J. Smith’s The One: The Life and Music of James Brown and Ben Sandmel’s Ernie K-Doe: The R&B Emperor of New Orleans were stunning volumes devoted to R&B greats. Smith and Sandmel enlightened Music City audiences during appearances at Parnassus.

Ron Wynn, Nashville Scene

“By the time the opening suspended harmonies of “The Lamp Is Low” filled my room, I was hooked.  I pretty much stopped everything else I was doing and let the record spin until the music stopped. There’s great vitality, generosity, and authenticity in this live set, plus many moments of shimmering beauty. Beegie has the confidence and wisdom to dispense with anything that would interfere with the telling of her story, so what she communicates feels very direct, very honest.  She’s beautifully supported here by Roger and Chris, and as a group they transition effortlessly between dreamlike moods, playful swing, and deep-rooted grooves.  Our spirits want to dance, and music like this reminds us of that.” 

On her sophomore release, Monica Ramey further establishes herself as a first-rate interpreter of the jazz canon. Eschewing scat improv or excessive vibrato, Ramey opts for a subtle approach, finding the beauty in the melodies that made songs like “Witchcraft,” “Lullaby of the Leaves,” “This Could Be the Start of Something Big” and “You Fascinate Me So” the classics they are. That’s not to say Monica Ramey and the Beegie Adair Trio is a by-the-book exercise — Ramey has a knack for phrasing, at times employing an almost conversational approach that suggests she’d be pretty good at musical theater too. She’s especially effective on ballads like “I’ll Close My Eyes,” “Change Partners” and “Fly Away” (co-written by Adair and Lori Mechem), which showcase the delicate timbre of her voice. And she proves she has the one indispensable skill to be a successful jazz singer: selecting a terrific backing band. Pianist Adair, bassist Roger Spencer and drummer Chris Brown are the cream of Nashville’s crop, particularly when it comes to accompanying vocalists. Local jazz stalwarts George Tidwell (trumpet) and Dennis Solee (saxophone, flute) make guest appearances.

 

Jack Silverman, Nashville Scene

“Beegie Adair has been my musical sister for many years now. I have been so lucky to know her and experience her marvelous musical persona. With this new CD she shines forth with her beautiful touch and deep musicality and as always her sense of time and swing are a delight to listen to many times over. Don’t sleep on this one!”

Mike Longo, jazz pianist/composer/educator

“I have all of Beegie’s CD and love them all, but if I were to single out any of them it would be my first collection of Gershwin, Ellington, Rodgers, Berlin, Carmichael. It was purchased in Canada for me by my dear friend Agnes who is a concert pianist and has now gone profoundly deaf, but amazingly can still play. Both Myself and Husband adore Christmas and 2 years ago purchased the Christmas DVD which plays for the month of December on our big screen in the conservatory. Love you.”

Linda (Ireland)

Beegie Adair is one of the finest piano players in the world.

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