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Bobbe 'Beegie' Long Adair, a formative center of Nashville's jazz scene, dies at 84

Bobbe "Beegie" Adair. The prolific pianist and community builder died Jan. 23, 2022 at the age of 84.
Courtesy of the artist's representative

Pianist and bandleader Bobbe "Beegie" Long Adair's impact and influence extended across the entire Nashville music community, but it particularly resonated among jazz fans and players there. Adair, who died in her Franklin, Tenn. home on Sunday at 84, was a master of melodic interpretation and embellishment, a superb soloist and tremendous accompanist who could fit smoothly into any situation and still deliver a distinctive sound.

"She could play anything, in any key or at any tempo," Nashville Jazz Workshop (NJW) co-founder and fellow pianist Lori Mechem said Monday. "She was astonishing in terms of every tune that she knew, whether it was the American Songbook or a country song. There was literally nothing you could bring out that she couldn't play and play well."

Adair's extraordinary career, which stretched over more than six decades, exemplified that stylistic versatility. A Kentucky native and Western Kentucky University graduate with a B.S. in Music Education, Adair came to Nashville in 1961. As a session musician, she recorded with everyone from Dinah Shore and Peggy Lee to Ray Stevens, Steve Allen, Chet Atkins, Mama Cass Elliott, Vince Gill and Dolly Parton. Her broadcasting contributions included being part of the bands for The Johnny Cash Show, The Ralph Emery Morning Show and the Noon Show on WSM-AM, home of the Grand Ole Opry. At one time she even had a jingle company with her husband Billy Adair, helping create music for commercials.

But more than anything else, Adair's role in building and growing Nashville's jazz structure was as bedrock: There were numerous milestones, including the Adair-Solee Quartet, with saxophonist Denis Solee (which later became the Be-Bop Co-Op), and cutting 35 studio albums with her trio of bassist Roger Spencer and drummer Chris Brown; Adair teamed with Spencer and Mechem to help start the Nashville Jazz Workshop; she jammed in clubs on Printer's Alley and across town with Boots Randolph and Hank Garland, and was vital in getting the city national jazz attention, bringing her trio to Carnegie Hall and the storied jazz venue Birdland.

Adair's many other accomplishments included hosting a radio program, Improvised Thoughts, for NPR and twice serving as a substitute host for Marian McPartland on Piano Jazz. Her prolific recordings are represented on over 100 albums.

"She was such a joy to play with," Spencer remembers. "There were never any issues regarding song selection or pacing, and she was the ideal pianist to accompany." Escape to New York, her debut release with bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Gregory Hutchinson, "The Real Thing," her first live date which spent 20 weeks on JazzWeek's Top 20 charts.

Among her many honors was being named a Steinway Artist in 2002, bestowed on only 1,600 pianists ever, spanning the idiomatic spectrum. She was inducted into the Western Kentucky and her home town's "Cave City's" Halls of Fame, and was the initial recipient of NJW's inaugural Heritage Award.

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