Face the Music: Rebecca Sayre 

As a teenager Rebecca Sayre started her professional singing career in a swing band in northern California. Soon after, she moved to Nashville and enrolled in Belmont University at age 19. After graduation, feeling musically frustrated, Sayre packed up again and spent a summer with her brother in Europe, where she performed at taverns and festivals and regained her musical drive. Today she's a local jazz mainstay who appears frequently at F. Scott's. Her debut album This is Always was released in July 2003.

Describe your music, please.

Swinging vocal jazz. A straight-ahead approach which honors the melody and lyric of America's greatest composers. Sometimes I call it "Levity Jazz."

Who are your favorite artists?

Aretha Franklin and Frank Sinatra, Luther Vandross and Ella Fitzgerald, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt and Chris Connor, Shawn Colvin and Stan Getz, Count Basie and Rickie Lee Jones. I think one of the things I bring to jazz is my history of musical obsessions. I started out loving country music, then some R&B and Americana, then swing, then jazz. I've played guitar since I was about 10 and I think that gave me my rhythm foundation.

What do you like most about the Nashville music scene?

The musicians...the family and community that they make up. Some of the best musicians in the world make their homes in Nashville, but I think the degree of appreciation for their performances in Nashville is tempered by Nashville's music-business mentality. Maybe because Nashville has been a town of music business for so many years, there is a smaller audience of folks who just plain appreciate and go out to hear great music. Or maybe it's as simple as supply and demand: so many gifted musicians relocating here for so many years has spoiled Nashville audiences in a way. But the best thing about being a performer in Nashville is the opportunity to play and record with a very high caliber of nationally acclaimed musicians like Beegie Adair, Pat Bergeson, Jeff Coffin, the late Charles Dungey and many more. Sometimes I look at the band behind me and i just melt with gratitude. And many of them have become my good friends.

Who are your favorite local artists?

I got the biggest charge of all seeing the late Charles Dungey sing. What a tremendous entertainer he was. I could sit for hours and listen to Beegie Adair sing and play. Trombonist Roy Agee is totally musical and comical. Lori Mechem swings her ass off and so does Liz Johnson. I love the textured voices and great songs of writers Alex Harvey, Fred Knobloch and Don Schlitz. For R&B, Jonell Mosser and Jimmy Hall. I love going down to the Station Inn to hear the Time Jumpers and The Sidemen.

Do you think the Nashville jazz scene is underrated? Or do you think there even is a solid Nashville jazz scene?

In terms of Nashville's national perception, I think the jazz scene is overshadowed by the city's country music reputation. Recently, when Ann Hampton Calloway gave a vocal seminar at the Nashville Jazz Workshop, she admitted having a false perception that she most likely shares with the rest of the country... that Nashville is primarily a country-music town. She was very pleasantly surprised, however, to see the talent and strength of jazz community we had there at the workshop.

But locally, I think it's more an issue of the jazz scene being underexposed by club owners.

In the two places that feature jazz music regularly (other than hotel lounges), the primary motivation of the club owner is to enhance a dining experience, not necessarily to feature brilliant talent and promote a jazz scene. I do acknowledge, however, that this would be a risky undertaking considering a typical Nashvillian's expectation of a club experience-i.e., no cover and lots of talking.

In spite of the club scene, however, there is a very vibrant jazz scene happening at the Nashville Jazz Workshop. Not only do founders Lori Mechem and Roger Spencer educate every level of musician and jazz enthusiast with their classes, but every master series performance I've attended in their Jazz Cave in the last two years has been standing room only. I think it's largely due to the fact that the Jazz Cave is the only small venue in Nashville that offers jazz performances in a concert setting which appeals to a jazz lover's high standard for a listening environment.

Rebecca Sayre performs at F. Scott's Saturday and again Apr. 17.

—Marie Yarbrough


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