A New Home
The Nashville Jazz Workshop received nonprofit status in 2000, after three years as the Nashville Jazz Institute, a small school that in its short time had amassed a rabid following of students. The Institute offered what was then a revolutionary approach to learning to play and sing jazz: instead of just studying scales and patterns, students played alongside seasoned professionals, absorbing skills firsthand. Student after student had an “aha” experience: “so this is what it’s like to be a jazz musician!”
In the Fall of 2000, though there was just one problem . . . the Institute was losing its home in a cozy brick building just off Church Street and needed to find new space. Tony Kerr, a Workshop student and accomplished songwriter, had an idea. His friend Stephen McRedmond was in the process of rehabilitating the Neuhoff, a huge factory complex in Germantown that his family had inherited. The complex, a former meat-packing plant, had been abandoned for many years and resembled bombed-out buildings from WWII. Stephen had a vision, however, hoping to turn the property into a model for urban redevelopment that would house arts, residential, and commercial activities. Architects from all over the world came to the Neuhoff to study and explore the many possibilities offered by this vast urban canvas.
Nashville Jazz Workshop co-founder Lori Mechem also saw the possibilities in the Neuhoff, even before most of her colleagues and students. She and husband and co-founder Roger Spencer set about transforming one of the complex’s many spaces into a world-class jazz education and performance facility. With the help of gifted designer and builder Richard Peden, a $20,000 loan from family members, and a corps of enthusiastic supporters who pitched in to help frame, paint, and finish the space, the Nashville Jazz Workshop now had a home.
20 Years On...
Fast forward 20 years and the Jazz Workshop was about to become homeless once again. The Neuhoff had been sold to New City, and Atlanta development company with an ambitious plan for the riverfront complex. Unfortunately, that plan called for demolition of the Workshop’s space and a three-year construction schedule, during which time the complex would be uninhabitable. With generous support from New City and the McRedmond family, the Workshop prepared to locate once more.
For many reasons, the Nashville Jazz Workshop wanted to remain in the North Nashville area. For one thing, there was the hope of eventually finding and building a location on Jefferson Street, a onetime mecca for the city’s blues and jazz scene. While Jefferson Street was not a realistic option in the immediate term, a suitable property was available to rent on nearby Buchanan Street, a burgeoning district that was home to Slim & Husky’s Pizza, The Southern V restaurant, and a number of arts-related businesses. The Buchanan Street building had recently been a church, with a large room in the center for a performance space, and spaces along the periphery for classrooms.
A New Home
The new location has a bigger stage, ample parking, and a larger venue capacity – something Nashville Jazz fans have wanted for a long time. Like the Neuhoff complex, the Buchanan Street venue offers three rooms for in-person classes, a larger performance venue, and greater visibility in the community.
At last year’s Jazzmania fundraiser, NJW supporters stepped up and raised over $50,000 specifically for needs at the new facility, such as the new stage, sound and lighting, and tables and chairs for the performance space.
As in the previous move, volunteers and donors have pitched in to help. An NJW student and fervent supporter, drummer Gus Duffy, is also a gifted architect. Gus drew up the plans for renovating the space and is serving as liaison to the contractor and construction crew.
The Workshop headed into 2020 with a sound plan to relocate when reality, in the form of COVID-19, intervened. Suddenly, we were facing increased expenses combined with the loss of income from in-person performances and classes.
Over the summer, we learned of additional expenses needed to renovate the new facility in line with labrynthian codes requirements, compounded by lengthy delays in securing construction approvals during a pandemic. The renovation twenty years ago was accomplished with $20,000 and an army of volunteers. This one would require many times that amount, with work that could only be done by professionals.
Thankfully, work is now underway at the Buchanan Street property. The building will be ready in early 2021, though we still don’t know when public health considerations will make it possible to actually gather there.
There has been a silver lining to the pandemic. The NJW staff pivoted to online classes and streaming performances, drawing students, instructors, and patrons from all over the county and the world. Virtual programs will continue even after the pandemic, increasing the reach of the Workshop. The new, larger stage is already beginning to take shape, and will allow us to stream performances from the new Jazz Cave until it’s safe for audiences to gather there.
Your Support Is Needed
In the meantime, however, there’s an urgent need for support that we could not foresee in Fall 2019, and we’re asking supporters to step up once again. Even Jazzmania’s current fundraising goal of $100,000 is conservative; we know it will take much more to complete renovations and continue operating with the pandemic continuing longer than most of us expected.
We know this is a difficult time for many of our supporters, just as it is for the Workshop. Therefore, we are asking everyone who is in a position to step up and contribute to please do what you can. If everyone chips in, many hands can make light work!
- If you’re just discovering the Nashville Jazz Workshop but love great music and want to continue teaching jazz to the next generation, please make a donation.
- If you’re a student or fan who has enjoyed NJW classes or performances but has never made a donation, please do so now.
- If you’re one of the “angels” who contributed last year to outfit the new facility, please make a donation again this year if you can!
The Nashville Jazz Workshop kicks off its 20th Anniversary celebration with Jazzmania 2020, a virtual jazz party and fundraiser featuring an evening of world-class performances for Nashville and the rest of the world to enjoy. In doing so, we celebrate the mission of expanding and enriching people’s lives through world class jazz education and performance
Through collaboration, communication, and creativity – the building blocks of jazz – we can celebrate the accomplishments of the past 20 years and meet the challenges of today.