Beegie Adair: Celebrating Her Life & Piano Legacy

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Irina Costei
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In honor of some of the great contributors to jazz as an art form, we are featuring a blog this month in recognition of Beegie Adair, an American jazz pianist and bandleader whose influence and talent resonated among jazz enthusiasts and piano students all over the world.

“Pianist Beegie Adair will take you back to the days when songs were judged by the beauty of the melody.”

-JazzReview

 (December 11, 1937 – January 23, 2022)

Bobbe Gorin was born on December 11, 1937, in Cave City, Kentucky. She started taking piano lessons at age five and was playing in clubs in Tennessee and Kentucky as a teenager. She continued to study piano throughout college, earning a B.S. in Music Education at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Beegie Adair worked as a session musician, and contributed piano performances to recordings by various artists including Dolly Parton, Chet Atkins, Vince Gill, Lucille Ball, Steve Allen and Henry Mancini. She also appeared on different TV shows such as “The Johnny Cash Show” and “The Ralph Emery Show.”

She appeared on over 100 albums, with more than 35 studio albums recorded with her trio, along with bassist Roger Spencer and drummer Chris Brown. Her repertoire ranged from Cole Porter standards to Frank Sinatra classics and romantic World War II ballads.

Beegie’s 6-CD Centennial Composers Collection of tunes by Rodgers, Gershwin, Kern, Ellington, Carmichael and Berlin became an instant collectible classic upon its release. Her first live album was called “The Real Thing,” and it spent over 12 weeks in the Top 20 on the JazzWeek charts. Not surprisingly, it was named one of the “Top 100 Best Jazz Albums.” Her discography demonstrated great versatility throughout her career which stretched over six decades. 

Play Piano Like Beegie Adair

Michael LaDisa: Would you like learn to play jazz piano like Beegie Adair? Here are some excerpts from her trio performance of “Autumn Leaves” at the Nashville Jazz Workshop. Specifically, we’ll examine Beegie’s treatment of the minor 1-chord (G minor). This is the only chord in the form of “Autumn Leaves” that lasts for two measures. As such, it can provide a challenge for aspiring jazz piano students regarding what to play in that space. However, it also presents a great opportunity for creativity. In fact, we can learn a lot from Beegie in this context. Many lead sheets for “Autumn Leaves” simply indicate G minor for these two bars. However, that does not necessarily imply that you should play a G minor triad. Rather, it leaves the door open for the performer to choose how they would like to express G minor with various minor scale formations.

In the following 5 examples, we’ll see how Beegie approaches the minor 1-chord harmonically and melodically using both Dorian and Melodic Minor scales.

Example 1: Block Chords

In our first example, Beegie punctuates the 1st ending using a block chords motif over G Dorian. Notice that this approach combines Gm7 and Gm6 sounds.

Beegie Adiar Jazz Piano Example 1 (Block Chords) Autumn Leaves
Example 1: In the 1st ending, Beegie plays a dynamic swell over a G Dorian block chords motif to punctuate the melody like a crashing wave.

Example 2: Left Hand Countermelody

In our second example, Beegie brilliantly responds to her right hand statement of the melody by inserting a left hand countermelody in the 2nd ending using G Dorian.

Beegie Adiar Jazz Example 2 (Left Hand Countermelody)
Example 2: In the 2nd ending, Beegie uses a countermelody in the left hand to respond to her statement of the melody in the right hand.

Example 3: Melodic Minor Flourish

In example 3, Beegie repeats a melodic flourish on G Melodic Minor at the completion of the head to lead into her solo.

Beegie Adair Piano Example 3 (Melodic Minor Flourishes)
Example 3: Beegie uses a pair of melodic minor flourishes at the completion of the head to segue into improvisation.

Example 4: Triad Pairs

Our fourth example occurs in the 2nd ending of Beegie’s solo. This lick uses an improv technique called triad pairsNotice that Beegie’s line alternates between Gm and Am triad shapes. Both triads are contained in the G Dorian scale and can be used together to inspire interesting melodic ideas like Beegie presents here.

Beegie Adair Piano Example 4 (Triad Pairs)
Example 4: Beegie improvises with a G minor and A minor triad pair from the G Dorian scale to create tasteful jazz piano phrasing.

Example 5: Minor-Major Tonic Chord

In example 5, Beegie draws on the dark and exotic sound of the minor-major tonic chord. This chord is G–▵, pronounced “G minor-major,” and may also be expressed with any of the following chord symbols: G⧋, G–⁺⁷, Gm (maj7), or Gm(#7).

This chord (G-B♭-D-F♯) features a minor 3rd and a major 7th and comes from the G Melodic Minor scale: G-A-B♭-C-D-E-F♯. In this example, notice that Beegie voices G–▵ with the 9th (G-B♭-D-F♯-A) for a super hip sound. It is also interesting to note that the upper four notes of this voicing form a B♭▵#5 shape.

Beegie Adiar Piano Example 5 (Minor-Major Tonic Chord)
Example 5: Beegie uses the exotic minor-major sound in block chord phrasing complete with tremelo and a left hand scoop.

For a deep dive on “Autumn Leaves,” check out our course Autumn Leaves Jazz Swing 1 where you’ll learn:

  • Melody & Chords
  • Harmony & Fills
  • Walking Bass Lines
  • Chord Pops
  • Soloing Techniques
  • Intros & Outros

Interesting Facts about Beegie Adair

  • Beegie Adair cites George Shearing, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner among her piano influences.
  • Beegie’s sophisticated jazz piano performances have made her recordings among the biggest sellers in the jazz genre, selling over 2 million albums.
  • Beegie Adair received many awards and honors over the course of her career, including being honored “International Jazz Hero” by the Jazz Journalist Association in 2013.
  • In 2002, Beegie became a Steinway Artist, an honor only bestowed upon 1,600 pianists over the globe. Beegie also has thousands of followers on social media, all which deeply appreciate her style representing elegance, liveliness, intelligence and delicateness.

Beegie Adair at the piano

Beegie’s smooth and honest style connected to millions of hearts around the world. When playing the piano, her fingers effortlessly danced across the keyboard while executing melodic embellishments with impeccable technique. She will always be an inspiration to aspiring jazz pianists. 

On January 23, 2022, Beegie Adair passed away at her home in Franklin, Tennessee. She was 84 years old.

“The world has lost a true American treasure, but how tremendously fortunate we all are to have entered her sphere and to experience the joy of the music she created. Her entire life was spent using her exquisite talents to teach, entertain and inspire.’’

– Official Beegie Adair website

This video “From Beegie- Thank you” posted by Adair Music Group, demonstrated the ease and joy with which Beegie Adair played the piano. In this video, Beegie expresses her gratitude towards her fans and shows determination and strength in planning for next performances.

Sources:

https://www.beegieadair.com/bio

https://www.beegieadair.com/media

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