Nashville jazz icon William “Billy” Adair dies at 66

adairNashville’s jazz scene suffered a tremendous loss today.

William “Billy” Adair, the founder of the Blair Big Band and a fixture in the city’s jazz community, died this morning at Vanderbilt Medical Center. He was 66 years old and had been suffering from melanoma cancer.

Adair boasted a musical resume that was second-to-none. A multi-instrumentalist, he performed onstage and in the studio with some of Nashville’s most prominent artists, including Alabama, Waylon Jennings, Brenda Lee, the Oak Ridge Boys and George Strait. He was also a successful producer and arranger of commercial music.

But Adair arguably had his biggest impact on his many students. He taught jazz at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music for more than a decade and served as chair of the jazz and folk music departments.

“I can’t begin to express the impact that Billy Adair had on my life,” says says Michael Rinne, a former student, longtime Adair friend and noted Nashville bass player. “I would not be a professional musician if it weren’t for Billy’s constant support, enthusiasm, and his guidance. He taught me that to be a good musician, you really had to be a great person first. This is a characteristic I find true of almost all of the amazing musicians in our Nashville music community. Billy embodied the generous and humble spirit that makes Nashville home of the greatest musicians on the planet. He will be missed.”

The influence he had on the young musicians of the Blair Big Band was apparent the moment they sounded their first notes. During last December’s winter concert, the band played with precision and, in the words of critic Ron Wynn, with a maturity that belied their young age. No doubt, Adair had already molded these young artists into great people.

Adair is survived by his wife, the noted jazz pianist Beegie Adair, and by countless friends and students, who today left reminiscences about the great man on his Facebook page. Peter Cooper has more on Adair in his article in today’s Tennessean. To see Adair’s fantastic big band in action, click here.

In lieu of flowers, the family recommends gifts be made to The Billy Adair Fund for Jazz at the Blair School of Music, c/o Gift Processing, PMB 407727, 2301 Vanderbilt Place, Nashville, TN 37240-7727.

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About John Pitcher

John Pitcher is the chief classical music, jazz and dance critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He has been a classical music critic for the Washington Post, the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, National Public Radio’s Performance Today (NPR), and the Nashville Scene. His writings about music and the arts have also appeared in Symphony Magazine, American Record Guide and Stagebill Magazine, among other publications. Pitcher earned his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied arts writing with Judith Crist and Phyllis Garland. His work has received the New York State Associated Press award for outstanding classical music criticism.


  1. christie lovell says:

    As a friend of Billy’s for twenty something years, I feel a very deep loss. I met Billy
    through his wife Beegie Adair who was a friend of my mothers, a Jazz singer now deceased named Carolyn Malone. She too knew Billy and cared for him as well. It’s the break up of a great couple and the loss of a great guy and musician. We love you Billy.
    Christie L.