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Terrific year for jazz and blues in 2012

All That Jazz … and Blues

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These are our choices for the Top 10 events, institutions and personalities for the year in jazz and blues circles. We make no claim to these being the only important things that occurred, but it's a start:

1. The Schmerhorn Symphony Center's jazz/world music series

The Schmerhorn remains a prime destination for topflight jazz and world music events. Any year that includes stops by Branford Marsalis, McCoy Tyner, Diana Krall, Gilberto Gil and the Spanish Harlem Orchestra (among others) is a great one. Plus, the dancers at the Latin music concerts brought so much vitality into the building they loosened up the old guard among the audience.

2. WFSK-FM's 24/7 presence for jazz on the broadcast airwaves

The gutting of WMOT-FM's weekday programming and demise of Vandy's wonderful WRVU-FM left a huge hole in radio options for jazz fans. WFSK, Fisk University's stalwart station, fills this gap with programming for devotees of both contemporary (smooth jazz) and classic (Jazz From Lincoln Center and Rahsaan Barber's new Generations in Jazz) fare. They present a nice mix of international/worldbeat shows, an array of talk programs from a black community perspective and outstanding specialty presentations covering other neglected areas like funk, dance and blues.

3. Marion James' 30th Anniversary Musicians Reunion benefit

What began as a spontaneous, one-time party to help some struggling musicians has evolved into an annual event that attracted more bands and attention this year than ever before. Besides having known or worked with nearly every major R&B, soul and blues musician who's passed this way since the '60s, Marion James constantly seeks to help aging and forgotten performers get the necessary medical care to make it through their final years with dignity.

4. Local labels issue top recordings

Premier saxophonist and bandleader Rahsaan Barber launched his label Music City Jazz, issuing recordings by his Everyday Magic band and outstanding pianist/composer/arranger Bruce Dudley. Jeff Coffin landed on the cover of Downbeat behind a fantastic release featuring his Mu'Tet, and Victor Wooten issued a pair of fine full-lengths on his own label, Vix Records. In addition, Franklin-based Naxos distributed important releases from foreign and domestic artists and companies.

5. Monica Ramey/Beegie Adair return to Birdland

Being asked to appear once at Birdland — one of New York and the nation's prime jazz spots — is an honor. Getting a second shot, as was the case with vocalist Monica Ramey and pianist Beegie Adair, is even more impressive. The duo's newest recorded collaboration is out shortly, as Adair's releases — which feature her distinctive interpretations of standards — continue to win critical praise, with airtime on such syndicated shows as Jazz After Hours.

6. The Jazz Session comes to town

Jason Crane's popular The Jazz Session podcast made its first Nashville visit this year. Crane's activities included a poetry reading at the Jazz Workshop, appearances on local radio stations and extensive one-on-one interviews with such area performers as Evan Cobb and Jeff Coffin. All his Nashville interviews are available online at thejazzsession.com.

7. The Nashville Jazz Workshop's numerous activities

No local or regional entity combines music activism and education like the Nashville Jazz Workshop, led by the tireless husband-wife duo of bassist Roger Spencer and pianist Lori Mechem. Their menu includes classes, concerts (Snap on 2 & 4, contemporary jazz performers, etc.), radio broadcasts (Live From the Workshop) and tie-in performances and discussions with The Frist Center and Parnassus Books.

8. Nashville Jazz Orchestra live

The Nashville Jazz Orchestra offers listeners the opportunity to hear a great swing unit that isn't a ghost band. Under the leadership of Jim Williamson — also an excellent trumpet and flugelhorn player — the NJO presents entertaining and diversified theme concerts, showing there's still plenty of life in the big band idiom.

9. The Belcourt brings Shirley Clarke's films to town

The late Shirley Clarke's edgy, unusual films weren't commercial smashes, but they were vital portraits. The Belcourt brought two of them to Nashville for short runs: Ornette: Made in America spotlighted one of jazz's last innovators, while The Connection stripped away any pretense regarding drug addiction.

10. Top biographers visit Music City

R.J. Smith's The One: The Life and Music of James Brown and Ben Sandmel's Ernie K-Doe: The R&B Emperor of New Orleans were stunning volumes devoted to R&B greats. Smith and Sandmel enlightened Music City audiences during appearances at Parnassus.

Email music@nashvillescene.com.

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Best Live Performances of 2012

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