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There's a new label on the jazz scene, and it's coming out of Nashville, the city where Gary Burton got his professional start and where the extraordinary bassist/singer Jim Ferguson resides. The Hillsboro label's parent company, Spring Hill Music Group, had already been successful in releasing gospel and gift market CD's.
In some respects, Nashville is similar to Orlando or Las Vegas because of its need for first-class musicians to support the cities' strong but localized entertainment industries, even though the jazz media center resides for the most part in New York. Thus, it shouldn't be surprising that cities like these possess numerous outstanding musicians waiting in the wings for their chance to be recognized. These behind-the-scenes musicians back up country/western acts most frequently and perform their own jazz in clubs infrequently. Hillsboro is giving the Nashville jazz musicians a chance to be recognized for their own musical identities.
The first musician that Hillsboro has recorded is pianist Beegie Adair, "an overnight success at the age of sixty," as she aptly puts it. It turns out that Adair, like so many other talented musicians, has been performing accompaniment for a long time. Settling in Nashville from her home state of Kentucky, Adair has backed up country music legends Chet Atkins, Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash. And she has worked with people like Helen Merrill, Dinah Shore and Carol Burnett as they have come through the city for special productions. (One wonders why Chet Atkins, with all of his clout at RCA, didn't provide some assistance earlier in Adair's career.)
Nevertheless, Adair continued to hone her craft and pursue her interest in jazz piano. Finally, she has released a trio album of Cole Porter tunes, Dream Dancing, that features her deft touch and confident manner of playing tunes without straying far from their melodic strengths..
Alternating between block-chorded movements with assured variations of the tunes, Adair enlivens the music even as she respects it. If influences were to be summoned, Adair could be compared to the grace and technical precision of George Shearing, with perhaps some Nat Cole and Marian McPartland thrown in for good measure.
Adair introduces "You're The Top" with a reference to "Giant Steps" before gliding into the buoyant song, the modulations between choruses evolving into a subtle restatement of the theme. On the other hand, Adair creates an appealing solo breakdown of "So In Love's" melody before it blossoms into a rhythmless presentation of the theme. Once Spencer and Brown join in, it seems that the pace of the tune is so slow that Adair wouldn't be able to sustain interest. Instead, she inserts internal melodies within the overriding one, doubling up on the unremittingly minor-mooded piece that resolves in a major key.
"Easy To Love" lends itself comfortingly to Adair's no-nonsense approach, its straightforward message consistent with her luminous interpretation and its adaptability to multiple improvisations. Adair ends Dream Dancing with a thoughtful and flowing version of "Begin The Beguine" that beguiles the listener with its meditativeness enhanced by chorded movement.
Better late than never, Dream Dancing provides Beegie Adair with the opportunity to release her jazz sensibility and seasoned talent that only local Nashville residents have been able to hear throughout the years. And it allows listeners to discover yet one more of the regional talents that have spent years performing jazz purely because of the love of the music, despite the until-now limitations of recorded distribution.
Track Listing: You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To, You're The Top, I Love Paris, So In Love, I Concentrate On You, Dream Dancing, I Love You, What Is This Thing Called Love, Easy To Love, Every Time We Say Goodbye, It's All Right With Me, Why Shouldn't I, From This Moment On, Begin The Beguine
Personnel: Beegie Adair, piano; Roger Spencer, bass; Chris Brown, drums
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.