October 2017

The Factory at Franklin | October 14

WORDS Bob Doerschuk

Unplug those steel guitars. Put that Stetson back in the closet. Dust off your pork pie hat, slip on those hipster shades. And most important, whip out your wallet and get ready to buy a couple of tickets to the “Jazz Party of the Year,” which takes place October 14, from 6 to 10 p.m., at The Factory at Franklin.

Kirk Whalum performs at Jazzmania; Photograph by Duncan May

While Nashville’s fabled community of musicians has always included more than a few world-class jazz players, those numbers have exploded in recent years. Some of it has to do with artists moving to town to seek opportunities to do session work or join bands led by country superstars. But much of the credit goes to the Nashville Jazz Workshop, whose contributions to local talent are both vital and, one might say, under- appreciated.

“We do fly under the radar,” admits pianist Lori Mechem, the Workshop’s Director of Programs & Education. “But we’ve had such a surge these past five years or so. We’ve gone from hosting performances twice a month to every single weekend—sometimes twice in one weekend. I’m so happy with how many people are coming over here to take classes. Our youngest student now is 10; the oldest is 90.”

The Workshop also offers classes for those who play jazz and those who count themselves as fans of the genre. Its Summer Jazz Camp has grown to the point that it had to move to larger facilities at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music. Jazz on the Move, its neighborhood concert program, has recently added new venues that include the Nashville Public Library and La Plaza Mariachi. A scholarship has been established that allows the Workshop to work with needy and committed students all the way up through high school.

2016 Jazzmania Party; Photograph by Duncan May

And the Workshop also launched Jazzmania sixteen years ago, not only to celebrate America’s music but also to help fund the Workshop’s expanding activities. This year’s event will include a dinner, live and silent auctions for prizes that include vacation packages, works of art, and in-home concerts and presentation of the NJW Heritage Award to honor the recipient’s contributions to jazz in Middle Tennessee. Live music will be provided by saxophonist and former NJW board member Kirk Whalum.

“Honestly, Jazzmania really helps us keep our doors open,” says Mechem, who founded the Workshop with her husband, bassist Roger Spencer, in 1998. “We can’t just do it with grants and tuition. So I really appreciate the support we’ve gotten from artists and restaurants and our other partners and of course from people who’ve come to us from all walks of life. Two years ago I stood up on the stage at Jazzmania, looked out at the audience—and I didn’t know at least three-fourths of the people who were sitting there! It was weird!”

Then, smiling, she adds, “It was great!”

For more on Jazzmania, visit www.nashvillejazz.org.

 

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