Beegie Adair, a Jazz Master in Country Music’s Capital, Dies at 84

Beegie Adair, whose status as a renowned jazz pianist was all the more noteworthy for the place where she built her career — Nashville, the home of country music — died on Jan. 23 at her residence in Franklin, Tenn. She was 84.

Monica Ramey, her manager and frequent vocal partner, confirmed the death. She did not provide a cause but said Ms. Adair had been in failing health.

If you happened to live in Nashville and found yourself more a fan of Cole Porter than Porter Waggoner, chances are you came across Ms. Adair at some point in her six-decade career. Starting in the early 1960s, she could be found at least once a week playing at the Carousel, a downtown nightclub, or later at F. Scott’s, a restaurant in the Green Hills neighborhood.

Being a jazz musician in Nashville is something like being a surfer in Las Vegas, and those who make it need flexibility and hustle — qualities Ms. Adair possessed in surplus.

She played hotel lobbies and retirement homes. She and her husband, Billy Adair, wrote jingles for television commercials. And she was in constant demand as a session musician, appearing on more than 100 albums by a wide range of artists, including Dolly Parton, Henry Mancini, and Mama Cass Elliot.

“She was omnipresent,” Roger Spencer, who played bass in the Beegie Adair Trio, said in an interview. “If there was an opportunity to play, she was there.”

Ms. Adair mostly played American songbook standards, with a restrained, relaxed technique. She adapted to the venue: If it was a restaurant, she receded to the background; in a club, she could dominate the room.

“I’ve played with her in just about every kind of musical setting you can play in Nashville over the years,” George Tidwell, a veteran Nashville jazz trumpeter, said in an interview. “And I never played anything where I didn’t think she was the right person to do it.”

She released her first album, “Escape to New York,” in 1991. A few years later she formed her trio, with Mr. Spencer on bass and Chris Brown on drums. They toured frequently, including trips to Tokyo and London. Starting in 2011, they played annual gigs at Birdland, in Midtown Manhattan, and later added regular shows at Feinstein’s/54 Below, also in Midtown. They recorded 35 albums and, according to Ms. Ramey, sold some two million copies over the last four decades.

Back home, Ms. Adair was the de facto leader of Nashville’s jazz scene, especially during a rough stretch in the 1970s and ’80s when venues closed and gigs were few. What kept her going was the knowledge, not always obvious to the outside observer, that the scene was larger than it seemed, with musicians playing country for the money and jazz for themselves, even if it meant nothing more than jam sessions in someone’s basement.

“There are a lot of wonderful jazz players here that don’t get heard often because they’re doing studio work all of the time,” she told The Nashville Banner in 1997. “Every horn player that does studio work is probably a jazz player underneath their skin.”

Bobbe Gorin Long was born on Dec. 11, 1937, in Cave City, Ky., a small town about halfway between Nashville and Louisville. She began taking piano lessons at 5 and by her teenage years was playing in clubs in Tennessee and Kentucky.

Her parents, Bobbe (Martin) Long and Arthur Long, ran a gas station, where young Bobbe also worked when she wasn’t playing piano. To differentiate her from her mother, her father called her “B.G.,” after her first two initials, and the nickname stuck.

Ms. Adair graduated with a degree in music education from Western Kentucky University in 1958. After teaching music for three years in Owensboro, Ky., she moved to Nashville for graduate studies in education at Peabody College, now a part of Vanderbilt University.

But she was already building a career as a musician in the city’s downtown clubs, especially along Printers Alley, then and now a center of Nashville nightlife. By 1963 she had dropped out of Peabody to play music full time.

Ms. Adair came under the wing of the saxophonist Boots Randolph, a resident musician at the Carousel best known for his 1963 hit “Yakety Sax.” He got her gigs and introduced her to the city’s many producers and studio managers, who, though they mostly recorded country and rock ’n’ roll, were always looking for talented, dependable session musicians.

Another local music luminary, the guitarist and producer Chet Atkins, was the first to bring her on as a regular at his recording sessions, and his recommendations brought her a steady stream of work in and out of the studio. She played in the house band for “The Johnny Cash Show” and for the local TV host Ralph Emery (who also died this month).

She married Mr. Adair in 1974. He died in 2014. No immediate family members survive.

Mr. Adair was a prolific musician in his own right, and he built a career as an instructor, eventually becoming a professor at Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music. In 1995, the couple joined Mr. Spencer and his wife, Lori Mechem, to start the Nashville Jazz Workshop.

The workshop trained a new generation of jazz musicians in Nashville, and in recent decades the scene there has started to make a comeback, with its former students starting to win national recognition. In 2016, Ms. Adair and her trio were invited to play Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York.

“The best thing of all for us was that there were a lot of our fans from Nashville in attendance,” she told The Nashville Scene in 2016, a few days after the show. “I think our appearance there is another indicator that people all over the country recognize that there are great jazz musicians here, and that there is an audience for the music.”