Love/Hate Mail, Jan. 16, 2014 

[Editor's note: Rhio Hirsch's letter disparaging the state of local jazz and the Nashville Jazz Workshop ("Love/Hate Mail," Dec. 19) brought an outpouring of responses.

A Love Supreme

I must take exception to Rhio Hirsch's response to Ron Wynn's article of Dec. 5, "2013 Year In Music," regarding the Nashville Jazz Workshop.

NJW is one of the finest resources for jazz education, community, live music and research that any city could offer and I am extremely proud that it's here in Nashville. One look at their website,, begins to tell the story. From live shows at their on-site club featuring nationally renowned artists as well as students, a NJW Radio stream, to the many and varied classes offered and biographies of their world-class faculty ... it's all there.

A young jazz-drummer friend from Chicago asked me about relocating to Nashville and the very first thing I suggested he do was drop in at the Workshop to meet Lori Mechem and Roger Spencer, who will be conduits to the jazz community, other musicians and what's going on in Nashville.

As a professional studio musician, I've played on thousands of records beginning in 1968 in Los Angeles and since 1985 here in Nashville to the present. I've also logged 17 years of touring and recording with Neil Diamond and for the last 20 years have filled those same duties with Mark Knopfler. I mention this not for self-aggrandizement but to identify myself as a professional musician, one that has been a fan, supporter as well as a student of The Nashville Jazz Workshop. I attend live music events, have contributed financially and have benefited greatly from my studies of guitar there. It's a welcoming, nonjudgmental environment in which beginners, intermediate and professional musicians can learn and improve themselves. There are classes too for non-musicians in listening and jazz appreciation.

The Nashville Jazz Workshop offers something for anybody who is interested in music and gets my thumbs-up all the way.

Richard Bennett


Where to start? Rhio Hirsch's letter commenting on Ron Wynn's recent "Best In Jazz and Blues" column is so full of misinformation it might be best to simply invert it as a way to correct its almost complete set of inaccuracies and slanders. But indulge me ...

Like any music fan I would love to have, say, John Scofield or Chick Corea decide to call Nashville home and perform regularly at even more fabulous venues than we already have here, but to bemoan a jazz scene that includes Larry Carlton, Jeff Coffin, Bela Fleck/Vic and Futureman Wooten, Danny Gottlieb, Beegie Adair, Jack Pearson, Duffy Jackson, Chester Thompson, Tommy Emmanuel and a host of only slightly less well-known but certainly no less capable jazz masters such as Denis Solee, Pat Bergeson, Bruce Dudley, Jim Ferguson, the members of the Nashville Jazz Orchestra and, yes, Lori Mechem and Roger Spencer, strikes me as a touch picky. These folks can be heard regularly at great Nashville haunts like Blair, MTSU, Nashville Jazz Workshop, F. Scott's, Family Wash, 3rd and Lindsley, Station Inn, Nine48Jazz, Bosco's, Sambuca ... I could go on but I think the point has been made.

Speaking of the NJW and its founders and directors, Lori and Roger, Mr. Hirsch is just factually wrong in his criticisms. What "The Workshop" is, is a place that welcomes musicians of all levels as well as non-musicians to further their knowledge and appreciation of jazz. What it is not, is a place that hustles people for money with promises, or even inferences, of future professional success.

So my suggestion to Mr. Hirsch is to lighten up a little, get out to some of the places I've mentioned and start appreciating, and supporting, what we've got. Oh, and get off the backs of the very people who have taken the initiative to establish what you seem to want, a focal point for Nashville's jazz community.

Brendan Harkin

Free-jazz party at Rhio's house!

First the NJW has brought Jazz, BAM, modern improvised classical music or whatever label you choose to put on it to a community that has had no other venue or institution committed solely to the music. Simply put, the Workshop has worked tirelessly to serve the ENTIRE community including, jazz fans, students, professionals, hobbyists and children and has created an audience for the music, all as a result of two folks (Lori Mechem and Roger Spencer) with a genuine love for the music.

As a musician in my 50s I have lived in Boston and Pittsburgh and spent enough time in New York to have heard criticism of local jazz scenes many times. In fact, I have been guilty of it myself. In short: No scene is diverse enough, political enough, modern enough, has enough venues, audience commitment, blah, blah, blah.

Many of us get together and play original, freer music on our own and the talent and desire is there to present it. Keep in mind jazz artists spend countless hours and dollars practicing, composing, playing, booking gigs, recording, getting educated, etc. It is simply not an option to play for minimal or no compensation as is expected in many venues.

Rhio, please book us a gig where we can play avant-garde jazz and get adequately compensated! How about a house concert at your place? I have a lot of open dates in January!

Don Aliquo

More Support for NJW

This letter seems to be more of a reflection of personal dissatisfaction than any kind of objective commentary. Having been involved with NJW for several years I can say that it is a real asset for Music City and that it not only champions a truly unique American art form but also serves as an effective musical community builder for professionals and non-professionals alike.

Carlos Ruiz

A Contributor Speaks

I read with interest the letter written by Rhio Hirsch regarding the Nashville Jazz Workshop. I would like to take issue with several of his assertions. I have been a significant contributor to the NJW and in fact provided a donation which allowed the directors to pay off the original build-out loan. Thus, I believe that I am in a position to express my opinion.

First, there are a number of individuals who have been students at the NJW and have gone on to perform professionally. These include Annie Sellick, Liz Johnson, Chris West, Roland Barber, Rahsaan Barber, Rachel Price, Josh Jessen, Monica Ramey, Christina Watson, Oscar Uttertrom, Roy Agee, James DaSilva and Jerry Navarro. While it may well be that these individuals did not receive all of their training at the NJW, I'm sure that each of them would verify that what they learned at the NJW was significant in preparing them for their careers.

Second, the NJW is many things to many people. For some of us, it is a place to learn to perform jazz, even though we never expect or plan to perform professionally. I fall into this category. For others it is a place to hone skills for a professional career. For some people it is a place to come hear jazz and learn and enjoy music to which they would otherwise not be exposed. It is a place to learn jazz history through some of the "listening" classes. For some it is simply a place to enjoy the fellowship of others who are jazz enthusiasts. And for others it is a place to record CDs. A few years ago, impressed with all of these facets of the organization, I commented that the NJW is a "Community Center for Jazz." And that's what it is.

Third, Hirsch criticizes the NJW, referring to it as a "business." I am a member of a number of non-profit organizations. I expect them to be run like businesses. Should the directors and other employees be paid a salary for their efforts? Absolutely. Is it reasonable to combine earnings from classes, performances, and also to receive grants and government funds? Of course. All non-profit organizations survive by combining revenue from various sources.

As I said, I have contributed a significant amount to the NJW. I continue to believe in the institution and I feel that my funds have been well spent.

Alan F. Bachrach, M.D.

Getting Work From the Workshop

In regards to Rhio Hirsch's response I have to speak up as a student of the Nashville Jazz Workshop. As a direct result of NJW and Lori Mechem in particular, I have gone on to bigger and better things. Being a better jazz musician means being a better musician in general, and as a result of the education and confidence I got from NJW I went on to play piano for Kenny Chesney, Jo Dee Messina, Laura Bell Bundy, Andy Griggs, Chad Brock and Steve Holy. I was also bandleader for The Conway Twitty Musical and Blake Shelton. I've played jazz at Sambuca, Fontanella Cafe, what used to be Cafe 1,2,3. I've played rock and alternative music at all the clubs on Broadway. I could go on but is that enough to call myself a professional musician?

I have a Bachelor of Music degree from Belmont University that did not prepare me as well to be a pro musician as NJW did. Thanks to Lori and Roger and their school, I am the musician I am. In regards to Mr. Hirsch's assertion that NJW never uses their students in their professional work I have to say that's wrong too. They have referred me on many gigs, jazz and otherwise. They also hire me on occasion to accompany vocal students at NJW. I would say NJW is more than a "jumpstarter for young jazz musicians." It's also a place where a musician of intermediate-to-advanced level can become better. Being a better musician means more opportunities.

Mr. Hirsch also said that, just like the Tennessee school system, NJW has no product. I am their product! Are these really your enemies? Neither is more of an enemy than Mr. Hirsch's real battle with his own ignorance.

Scott Joyce

All this jazz

I read with interest (and some concern) Rhio Hirsch's letter regarding the Nashville Jazz Workshop. As someone who has been involved with jazz as a musician, artist, educator (including teaching at Nashville Jazz Workshop) and now a member of the Tennessee Jazz and Blues Society's Advisory Board, I feel I can offer the perspective of someone who has been playing and teaching jazz for 30-plus years here and been involved with the NJW since its inception.

Mr. Hirsch expressed some skepticism at any artists or musicians who started their careers with classes at Nashville Jazz Workshop. I can think of several, including Monica Ramey, Jerry Navarro, Christina Watson, The Barber Brothers (Rahsaan and Roland), James DaSilva and Chris West, who have all gone on to release albums and have careers in music thanks in part to the combination or nurturing and education that Roger Spencer and Lori Mechem provide with this rare resource.

As a working musician, I have enjoyed the opportunity of performing with my own band at their Contemporary Jazz Sundays and playing as a sideman on the Snap on 2 and 4 Concert Series. Roger and Lori have created an environment and performance venue (The Jazz Cave) that has consistently treated the musicians with respect (too rare in any city but especially for jazz in Nashville) and given a great outlet for performing.

If you add to that the world-class jazz artists that the Nashville Jazz Workshop brings in to Nashville, it's a clear asset. As someone who has been playing and teaching in Nashville since 1980, I can attest to the difference the NJW has made in the lives of many, many jazz musicians, including myself. Nashville is a better place because of it.

I will agree that Nashville is in sore need of more jazz venues, especially those that are outside the straight-ahead wheelhouse. Avant-garde, contemporary jazz and fusion have a hard time finding a home here. With the unfortunate hiatus of Kandes Dungey's Nine48Jazz we have lost another venue. The musicians are here. The audience is here. We just need a few more far-sighted venue owners and promoters who will come to the realization that jazz can be good business for Nashville.

Roy Vogt

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