Jazzmania Through the Years

A bright light in this difficult year is that 2020 marks the 20th anniversary of the Nashville Jazz Workshop. The Workshop pivoted to virtual in March and has been able to celebrate with ongoing classes and live streamed concerts. Needless to say, jazz remains strong in Music City thanks in large part to the education, performances, and community events hosted by the Nashville Jazz Workshop.

Jazzmania 2020 is the culmination of the Workshop’s 20th anniversary celebration and also marks the 20th anniversary of the Workshop’s annual fundraiser.

The event has been called different names over the years and featured many “firsts,” but it’s never been fully virtual before…until 2020. Nonetheless, Jazzmania 2020 promises to be a fun and fantastic fundraising event that the Workshop and its community are uniquely positioned to share across the country and around the globe.

Get an invite, donate, and celebrate jazz with us wherever you are on October 24 at 7pm CDT.

We’ve been reminiscing about how far the fundraiser has come and wanted to share a brief history on the origins of Jazzmania. Continue reading to learn more about the evolution of our annual fundraising event and see some images of the Workshop in action over the years.

Nashville Jazz Workshop Early Year Fundraisers

The first Workshop fundraiser took place in the Gulch before the Gulch was “the Gulch”. And it was called “Pennies from Heaven.”

Lori Mechem, Nashville Jazz Workshop co-founder and director with her husband Roger Spencer, says, “The first fundraiser was at a venue called Cafe 123. It’s where Chauhan Ale and Masala House is now located, across from 12th and Porter.”

Lori remembers that “Jody Faison was the owner, and donated the space along with delicious food. He also welcomed the Workshop back for four more annual fundraisers.”

“We were on top of the world because we raised $1,500 during that first event,” Lori says. “So you could imagine how happy we were in the second year when we doubled our donations to $3,000.”

Early fundraiser performances involved many artists playing during Jazzmania 2020, including Kirk Whalum, Beegie Adair, Jeff Coffin, Rod McGaha, and many more. Even Rachael Price performed as a student at an early fundraiser.

An early fundraiser performance featuring (L-R) Rod McGaha, Kirk Whalum, Don Aliquo, and Denis Solee.

The Workshop is grateful and fortunate that the annual fundraiser grew year after year. Not only did the attendance increase year after year, donations and support continued to grow as well.

After the first few years at Jody’s venues, the event moved to the University Club of Nashville for three straight years. The Vanderbilty Blair School of Music followed after that.

A snapshot of one of the many rows of great silent auction items from the fundraiser.

A Fundraiser Finds a Home…And a Name

After 10 years on the move, the annual fundraiser for the Nashville Jazz Workshop found a home at The Factory at Franklin. The event landed first at the smaller Jamison Hall from 2011-2013. Then it graduated to Liberty Hall, where it’s been held since 2014.

Larry Seeman has served as communications director (and nearly everything else) since the inception of the Nashville Jazz Workshop. He recalls the birth of the “Jazzmania” event title.

“The concept developed out of a creative meeting with Board members Elyse Adler and Scott Chambers and designer Brian Parker. The idea was that Jazzmania was a mythical country; an island that serves as the republic of jazz, if you will,” Larry says. “We brought in food that represented countries around the world to match the world-class music.”

Whether or not they ever got around to filing the official paperwork for sovereignty, the moniker stuck, and Jazzmania was born.

“That move to Liberty Hall really set the stage for a new, more mature era of the fundraiser,” Lori says. “I remember that first year there looking out at the audience from the stage and not knowing half of the people. I always seemed to know all the guests who came to this event year after year, and then all of a sudden I didn’t!”

The event “growing up” didn’t dampen the spirit of fun and community that was there since the beginning. Larry recalls the comments of several socially-connected patrons who noted that “of all the charity events they attended, this one was the most fun.”

Along with the new name and larger hall, Jazzmania moved from Sunday afternoons to the Saturday night “jazz party of the year.” The move to Saturday brought in national acts to headline the show, such as Jazzmania 2020 artists Jeff Coffin, Donna McElroy, and Jeff Hamilton. But the fundraiser has always made it a point to feature local Nashville artists and Workshop students.

Nashville Jazz Workshop students performing at Jazzmania 2018 on stage at Liberty Hall at The Factory in Franklin, TN.

The Show Goes On and The Music Never Stops

And now here we are in the midst of a global pandemic. The daily stream of news is as bleak as it is never-ending. Yet through it all, the Workshop keeps playing on.

The Nashville Jazz Workshop pivoted to virtual classes in April and enrollments are actually the highest they’ve been in 10 years! The online classes and streams have been drawing a more national and international audience, which is an unthinkable best case scenario.

So we’re thrilled that through it all, we’re still able to come together with our students, teachers, volunteers, patrons, artists, sponsors, and jazz fans around Nashville, the country, and the world. Jazzmania 2020 will be an online jazz party and fundraiser for the ages. Be sure to register to get your invite for the show, take the time to donate if you’re able, share it with your friends and family, and tune in on October 24 at 7pm CDT to celebrate jazz wherever you are.