There’s a space in the jazz world for flashy big stars -- but there’s another place for folks who are soft-spoken and hard working – and that’s where pianist Beegie Adair carved out a comfortable spot for herself for over 60 years. Paige Hansen has a remembrance.
Background music has its place. You are soothed by it – calmed by it – but you may not necessarily know who’s playing it.
Soft-spoken and sweet Beegie Adair made a career out of playing softly in the background as well as producing studio work that sold well and was heard widely – romantic jazz, holiday jazz and music for quiet moments.
Adair was most proud of her education, her family and her music; all of which began in Kentucky.
Bobbe Gorin "Beegie" Adair came from a working class family in Cave City, Kentucky. Her parents started young Beegie playing piano at age five.
She eventually got a degree in music education at Western Kentucky University, and taught children music for a few years before hightailing it to Nashville to work studio and club gigs.
She began graduate studies at what is now Vanderbilt University. And played Printers Alley, which is still a staple of Nashville nightlife. Adair was so successful there that she dropped out of school to play music full time.
Nashville is known as the home of country music – and a jazz musician like Adair needed to be flexible and agile; and that she was, like many working musicians, playing whenever and wherever she could. She played hotel lobbies and retirement homes. She wrote jingles for television commercials.
The practice paid off and Adair was in constant demand as a session musician. She played on more than 100 albums with folks like Dinah Shore and Peggy Lee, Ray Stevens, Steve Allen, Chet Atkins, Mama Cass Elliott, Vince Gill and Dolly Parton. She also recorded with John Stewart, drummer for "The Band," and guitarist Jack Jezzro.
She was part of the bands for The Johnny Cash Show, The Ralph Emery Morning Show and the Noon Show on radio station WSM-AM, home of the Grand Ole Opry.
About a third of the 100 albums she’s on were recorded with her longtime trio featuring bassist Roger Spencer and drummer Chris Brown.
Adair co-founded Nashville Jazz Workshop along with fellow pianist Lori Mechem, who said, "She could play anything, in any key or any tempo. 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 went on to become an adjunct professor of jazz studies at Vanderbilt University's Blair School of Music.
In 2002, Adair was named a Steinway Artist. She was inducted into Western Kentucky University’s Hall of Fame and Cave City's Hall of Fame.
Adair was the inaugural recipient of Nashville Jazz Workshop’s Heritage Award. She died in January at age 84.