Roughly a century ago, six composers were born -- Irving Berlin, Hoagy Carmichael, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Duke Ellington and Richard Rodgers -- and they forever changed the style of popular music. To celebrate their awesome musical accomplishments, pianist Beegie Adair and her jazz trio have released a four-and-a-half-hour Centennial Composers six-CD box set with new renditions of a dozen or more of the best-known tunes by each songwriter.
With a full CD devoted to each composer, this expansive and ambitious box (on the Green Hill Productions label distributed by the Spring Hill Music Group) contains instrumental versions of 75 of the greatest tunes from the first half of the Twentieth Century, plus biographies and extensive song notes. The box set can be purchased on-line at amazon.com or greenhillmusic.com, or by calling 800-972-5900. To find a local retailer who carries the album, consumers can call 800-200-4656.
Most of the Centennial Composers songs have now entered the collective consciousness of the human race. These are melodies that are familiar to all ages. It is easy to predict that many of these songs will last forever. The list of compositions is breath-taking -- Berlin's God Bless America," White Christmas" and Alexander's Ragtime Band;" Carmichael's Stardust," Heart and Soul" and Georgia On My Mind;" Gershwin's Summertime," Our Love Is Here To Stay" and Someone To Watch Over Me;" Kern's Old Man River," The Last Time I Saw Paris" and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes;" Ellington's Sophisticated Lady," In a Sentimental Mood" and It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing);" and Rodgers' The Lady is a Tramp," Where or When" and My Funny Valentine;" among countless others that have entered our musical lexicon as standards."
Even 50-to-75-years after this music was written, it is still heard everywhere," explains Beegie. The tunes are so familiar that we almost take them for granted. The music has been a part of the fabric of people's live -- for so many years. It is simply ingrained into our culture. It's the type of music that is passed down from generation to generation. Right now when I teach a jazz class, this is the music we start with whether we are studying composition or performance. This is the musical background that influenced everything that came in the second half of the century as well as every type of popular music happening today. These classic composers blended what was passed down from the classical music repertoire with traditional folk music to create modern popular, or pop music. Every musician owes these composers a great debt. Music is a continuum, and the thread of these sounds continues every year."
Beegie Adair was uniquely qualified to tackle such a large-scale recording project because she has built a large and loyal fanbase with a series of jazz instrumental albums featuring similar classic material made famous by various singers (The Frank Sinatra Collection which was named Jazz Album of the Year" at the Nashville Music Awards, The Nat King Cole Collection and Love, Elvis containing the romantic Presley repertoire) and other collections of standards (Dream Dancing: Songs of Cole Porter, Sax & Swing also featuring saxophonist Denis Solee, Jazz Piano Christmas and I'll Take Romance with classic love tunes by famous composers).
While most of the material on Centennial Composers was initially written with lyrics (most often by a songwriting partner), this box set focuses on the men who wrote the actual music. Those melodies are interpreted here by a classic acoustic traditional jazz trio (Adair on piano with bassist Roger Spencer and drummer Chris Brown). This gives the music a warm resonance, a high-standard of quality in sound and performance, and a consistant flow throughout. We looked at this project as if we were creating a reference work," Adair states. Besides collecting such purely enjoyable music, we wanted it to stand a £lmost as an archival project capturing the original, correct melodies. With material that has been around so long, it is amazing how these tunes have been changed and rearranged. We generally referred to the earliest sheet music and recordings we could find, although sometimes we deferred to an arrangement, for example on a Sinatra album, if it is generally considered definitive."
Having tackled so many previous projects featuring tunes originally known for their vocal arrangements, Adair is adept at turning popular songs into jazz instrumentals. I know most of the lyrics to these compositions so I hear the singing in my head while I'm playing," says Beegie. My trio takes pride in not straying too far from what made the original melody a classic, but we put our stamp on the material in the time-honored jazz trio way. We usually state the melody or opening 32-bar chorus, we will improvise a bit in the middle, and then make sure we restate the main melody at the end because those are the notes that the public has come to know and love over the years."
Besides her own albums, Adair has a lengthy list of top credits backing other acts. She has both recorded and performed in concert with Chet Atkins, Henry Mancini, Wayne Newton and Perry Como. Beegie also has played on recordings by Sonny Curtis, Johnny Cash, Al Hirt, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, J.J. Cale, Englebert Humperdink, Jerry Reed, Melba Moore, Hank Snow, The Little River Band, John Stewart, The Jordanaires, Connie Francis, Ronnie Milsap, John Loudermilk and many more. On stage, Adair has played with jazz artists such as Nat Adderly, Urbie Green, Bill Watrous, Red Rodney, Lou Tabackin, Jim Ferguson, Terry Clark, Conte Candoli, Michael Moore, Slide Hampton, Kai Winding, Bernard Purdie and Nick Brignola; with comedians such as Red Skelton, Steve Allen and Rodney Dangerfield; plus extended stints with Ray Stevens, Lorrie Morgan, the Hank Garland Quintet and the Andy Goodrich Quintet. Beegie accompanied Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Johnny Cash, Danny Thomas and Dinah Shore on television appearances. Beegie also has an earlier jazz trio album, Escape to New York.
The Beegie Adair Trio's drummer Chris Brown graduated from the renowned music program at North Texas State University, toured with Maynard Ferguson for three years, and also toured with Lorrie Morgan. Bassist Roger Spencer has played with the Les Brown Band, Ray Conniff, the Page Cavanaugh Trio and Pete Jolly, and is the co-director of the Nashville Jazz Workshop.
Beegie was born in Kentucky and began piano lessons when she was five. She continued studying piano through college at Western State University in Bowling Green where she received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Music Education and played jazz professionally every weekend. Adair credits as her main influences Jimmy Jones, Teddy Wilson, Tommy Flanagan, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, George Shearing, Red Garland and Russ Freeman (the pianist who played with Chet Baker in the Fifties). Beegie's first main gig was with the Hank Garland Quartet. She moved to Nashville and landed in the house band at radio station WSM for a decade. That led to being the in-house pianist for The Johnny Cash Show" on ABC-TV for three years where she performed for millions of viewers not only with Cash, bu Nt also guests such as Neil Diamond, Mama Cass Elliot and Peggy Lee. Adair, who was recently named a Steinway Artist," has been an adjunct professor in jazz studies at Vanderbilt University the past decade and has taught vocal jazz at the Nashville Jazz Workshop for the past three years. Beegie also has played on movie soundtracks -- such as Smoky and the Bandit" and Every Which Way But Loose."
The Centennial Composers music first entered the public's mass consciousness through Broadway shows, Hollywood films, radio and recordings, but it wasn't long before these amazing tunes became an integral part of countless act's concert performances. My trio is no exception. This is the material we most-often play at shows. Why? Because the music is so well-composed. It's fun to play and audiences love it."