|Count Rebecca Sayre among the ranks of impressive Music City jazz and blues singers. But in addition to growing her audience and polishing her technique over the past few years, Sayre has also gotten involved in helping find a spot for other jazz acts, and a venue to grow the music. In our spotlight interview she talks about the new Sunday Night Jazz series she helped start at the City Winery, as well as her hopes for the future and her view of the Nashville jazz scene.What was the origin of this series?“Sometime in 2015, my friend Brad Cole was doing an Americana series in the City Winery lounge, and he said “Hey Rebecca, you should do a show up there and why don’t you see if they would do a jazz series?!” I was feeling the pull back to jazz performance after touring as a solo performing songwriter for a few years.””The lounge at the City Winery seemed perfect for a jazz concert series and I sensed the town was ripe for it, especially with the recent closing of F. Scott’s, where a lot of Nashville jazz musicians played regularly. So, with Brad’s introduction, I talked with City Winery Venue Manager, Mike Simon, who came from their Chicago store and was very enthusiastic about booking great local music in the lounge. He was pleasantly surprised and delighted to hear that our Nashville Jazz community was very robust and the jazz talent pool was very deep.”The success of the Nashville Jazz Workshop concerts confirmed that there was definitely an audience for jazz and I believed this audience would embrace a club that offered a jazz performance and fine dining in a concert setting. This was something that was conspicuously absent in Nashville. Mike and I both agreed that the Nashville Jazz Workshop would be a perfect partner for a jazz series, so I invited Roger Spencer & Lori Mechem to meet with Mike and me and within a few weeks, Jody Nardone and his trio sold out our first Sunday Night Jazz in January of 2016.”
Why did you choose the City Winery?
“Because the lounge is such a great room… cozy, and the perfect size, with a capacity of 110. Also, because of Mike Simon championing the series with his corporate higher-ups and his always being open to new ideas, improvements and excellent music.”After the first year, how do you assess its success?“We’ve had consistently good audiences… several sell-outs and we actually increased the ticket price from $10 when we first started, to $15, to give the musicians a raise.”
Do you anticipate it becoming even bigger?
“Yes, now that they are doing a regular night, Last Sundays, I believe that will make Sunday Night Jazz a regular thing in the minds of for jazz concert-goers. The City Winery has also talked about adding an additional jazz series in 2017, so we are very excited to offer even more concerts to Nashville’s musicians and their fans.”
What problems, if any, have occurred?
“The only “problem” we ever had was not enough chairs on one of the Rod McGaha shows that sold out… The staff at the City Winery got creative and discovered the room capacity could actually reach 110!”
Who is scheduled for the next show on Feb. 26th?
“That show will feature Ryan Middagh’s Quartet with special guest Christina Watson. Middagh is composer and director of Jazz Studies at Vanderbilt University. He’s featured on saxophone, with Bruce Dudley on piano, Patrick Atwater on bass and Jeffrey Lien on drums.”
Over your time performing in Nashville how have things gotten better for jazz vocalists?
“The Nashville Jazz Workshop certainly made it better for me. When I was singing with BadaBing in the early 2000s, occasionally, people would suggest I put my own jazz band together and sing standards. “Huh? Oh, I don’t know if I could do that!”
“I couldn’t imagine leading a band and learning all that music. But when I started to actually consider singing jazz, Annie Sellick suggested I check out the NJW. I took a bunch of classes from repertoire, ear training, rhythm guitar, vocal transcription and improvisation. These classes allowed me to play with a trio, to test my charts, and my ear which dramatically changed… I heard things on some of my favorite recordings that I hadn’t heard, a few years prior.”
“And, of course, I attended some brilliant concerts at the NJW, which was very inspiring. It became a hub for a growing jazz community. As for venues, I sense that with Nashville’s recent boom, and the influx of people from out of state, there are and will be more venues to play jazz. As musicians, we can create venues, as is the case at City Winery. We can ask “Where could a concert work for both venue and musician… and, of course the audience?”
What other improvements would you like to see?
“I would like to see a couple more concert venues, and I’d like to see the paradigm begin to shift… where, as in many other cities where jazz has a long tradition, concert tickets are higher priced, the musicians can earn a good fee for their gifts and they can afford to continue to be musicians. Nashville has had a problem with supply and demand, driving down the price of live music. But I believe now, Nashville is ripe for more excellent music and concerts of all genres. As musicians, our challenge, if we want this paradigm to shift, is to be willing to ask for more than status quo that has been in place for the last 15 years or so.”
What was about it jazz singing that initially interested you?
“When I first heard Ella Fitzgerald scat on her Live in Rome version of “St. Louis Blues”… I loved the melodies and especially the harmonies underneath them. I was a harmony singer for many years and as a composer have always been drawn toward beautiful melodies… And I’m a romantic, so I love the poetic, singable and humorous lyrics of a Cole Porter .”
Who would you consider influences?
“Ella Fitzgerald, Chris Connor, Mel Torme, Carmen McCrae, Aretha Franklin, Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, Stan Getz…. I could go on.”
Aside from the City Winery, what other spots have you enjoyed playing over the years?
“Like most jazz musicians in town, I played regularly at F. Scott’s. It was a rather noisy bar at times, but we had a good time. Watertown Jazz Festival, Franklin Jazz Festival, Mere Bulles, Boscos… Many places that don’t exist anymore, which is one of the reasons I think we are in a good position to re-build the jazz scene, but with venues that really feature the music.”
Do you think the publicity regarding Nashville as an “It” city has also helped the cause of jazz here, or helped jazz artists?
“Yes… I think it brings folks to Nashville who move from cities where concert tickets are a little pricier, or even where they may have been perfectly willing to buy a ticket for music that has historically been offered here, for free, with the “free” coming out of the musicians’ pockets. It’s nobody’s fault. Again, it’s just the supply and demand over the many years of being “Music City” has driven the concert ticket price down. But it’s my sense that this influx of new Nashvillians has created an opportunity. It’s the opportunity to meet that expectation of a higher ticket price for excellent music, in fine venues. Nashville’s High Art warrants and, I believe, has an audience.”
What advice would you give to aspiring jazz singers?
“Take classes at the Nashville Jazz workshop, go hear a lot of live music and note what it is about the concert or the performer that makes the show entertaining to you. You can sing for yourself but you may not see your audience grow. Connecting with your audience, making them feel welcome is more important than I ever realized, when I first started performing jazz. Listen to several versions of a song you might be learning… vocal and especially instrumental.”
Who are some emerging singers you enjoy?
“Kate McGarryhas been singing beautifully for years, but she was recently given the 2016 DOWNBEAT Rising Female Vocalist Award. I’ve studied with her and hung with her. And another wonderful person and beautiful singer and composer, Ashley Daneman.”