LifeNotes: Billy Adair

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Billy Adair

One of the Nashville jazz scene’s most beloved musicians died Tuesday (Feb. 18). Adair died at age 66 at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, following a long battle with melanoma.

As an instrumentalist, Billy Adair was noted as a founding member of the big bands The Establishment and The Nashville Jazz Machine. As a composer, he created hundreds of national advertising jingles, winning more than 150 awards. As a teacher, he brought jazz studies to Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music, which had previously emphasized mainly classical music.

As a sideman, Adair played on recording sessions by The Oak Ridge Boys, Brenda Lee, Waylon Jennings, Ronnie Milsap, George Strait, Alabama and more. He also toured with several Nashville stars. Adair was a multi-instrumentalist who was admired as much for his generosity of spirit, kindness, compassion and warmth as he was for his virtuoso playing.

A native of Franklin, Adair was the son of a piano-playing mother. He was fascinated with big-band music from an early age and bought his first guitar when he was a junior in high school. He was self-taught as a musician.

He became the vice president of the Nashville Jazz Orchestra’s executive board and the director of The Establishment. He began to teach at Blair in 2002 and became the school’s department chairman of jazz and folk music. The widely beloved teacher was a mentor to hundreds of musicians.

He was the husband of acclaimed jazz pianist Beegie Adair, a frequent collaborator.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests gifts to the Billy Adair Fund for Jazz at the Blair School of Music, c/o Gift Processing, PMB 407727, 2301 Vanderbilt Place, Nashville, TN 37240-7727.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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