Lori Mechem

Lori Mechem is the co-founder of Nashville Jazz Workshop.

Lori, please tell us a little about yourself. Where were you born, raised and where you live now. Current career position?

I was born in Anderson, Indiana and lived there until I was 21. I have been living in Nashville for 34 years. I am the Education Director and Founder of the Nashville Jazz Workshop.

Family? Married? Children?

No children… I have plenty of students that are my children. I am the youngest of three children. I have two older brothers.

You are a famous jazz pianist.

Please tell us your early roots in

the musical realm.

I have always played an instrument…several to be exact. My father owned a full line music store in central Indiana for nearly 35 years, so I got the chance to try out lots of great instruments. My father also had a big band, which my brothers and I played in. I actually played drums in his band. My mother was a piano teacher for over 40 years and I played piano for the choir. In high school, I was able to play drumset in the swing choir for four years. I still played piano, but mostly arranged choral arrangements for the swing choir.

What’s your favorite instrument?

Piano would be #1 for me. However, I still love to play drums when I get a chance in my classes. I also play a little guitar. In fact, I composed all the tunes on my first album project, Welcome to Brazil, on nylon string guitar. My mom always had me at the piano learning simple songs by the age of 3. I started piano lessons at 5 and was mostly playing by ear. I was faking my teachers out by watching them play something and then playing it back to them. My mom realized I wasn’t reading music, so she switched me to a different teacher who really kicked my butt.

What led you to this musical career?

Honestly, I knew I wanted to do this when I was a little girl. My first professional gig was with my dad’s band at the age of 13. From that point, I was hooked. By the time I got to college, I was playing five nights a week in Indianapolis in various clubs as well as tons of work with the Ball State University Jazz Band, University Singers, musical directing theater shows and small groups. I was super busy and was a big fish in a small pond. This led to more professional gigs at an Equity theater, theme parks and resorts where I musically directed the shows.

You write, compose and

play your own pieces?

Yes. I have been composing since high school. But, not as serious until my late 20’s and 30’s. I have several album projects that are just original material.

How did you get into conducting musical theatre?

When I was in college, I had a very influential teacher that gave me incredible opportunities to step in the role of musical directing shows. It would excite me to no end to get to do something I had no earthly idea of how to do. When people would ask me to do these things I never said no, even though I didn’t know how to do it. I knew I could figure it out, and I did. I mostly directed theater shows in Indiana, such as “Sweeny Todd,” “Anything Goes,” “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Chorus Line.” I also directed lots of production variety shows.

Who are some artists you have

performed with?

I played piano with Kirk Whalum, Pete Christlieb, Eydie Gorme, McGuire Sisters, Oscar Castro Neves, Ed Thigpen, Houston Person, Dizzy Gillespie, Terry Gibbs and Jimmy Smith.

One of my favorite memories was with Brazilian artist, Oscar Castro Neves. I had been listening to him for many many years, and I got to play his originals along with Antonio Carlos Jobim songs for two nights. I had to pinch myself, it was unreal.

Tell us about co-founding Nashville Jazz Workshop with your husband.

We started the NJW 24 years ago. I was teaching at Belmont University at the time and had several students who wanted to really dig into “real life” gig stuff. So, they came into my office once a week and I taught them how to play out of a real book, intros, endings, modulations, stylistic considerations and chord substitutions. They just loved it so much that they came to my house during the summer 30 minutes out of town because they were learning so much. That gave Roger and me the idea of starting a workshop type of idea. We started small with two classes and 11 people. Currently, we have anywhere from 15 to 20 classes a session with 75 to 100 students per six-week session. We have classes for professionals, amateurs and for folks who really just love the art form who aren’t musicians but want to learn. NJW is for everyone.

What is your philosophy

teaching students?

My philosophy is simple — take it slow, don’t rush it. Jazz is not a beginning subject. It is difficult, so I teach with encouragement and love. My average age ranges from 12 to 90. I love that.

What type of music do you like?

Jazz is what I grew up with. It is what was played in our household every day and my dad had a big band. I loved other kinds of music and still do. Love the B52’s, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire, Parliament and Prince.

Favorite jazz musician?

I have a lot of favorites. Here are my most influential pianists: Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Gene Harris, Oscar Peterson, Red Garland, Ahmad Jamal and Wynton Kelly. I was very influenced by big bands because of my father. Such as Count Basie, Stan Kenton, Woody Herman. Also…I love so many singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughn, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Johnny Hartman and more.

Where can we see you perform?

Currently you can see me on various Thursdays at Char Nashville and the Nashville Jazz Workshop.

Best piece of advice you’ve received?

Never say you can’t do something. Figure it out….you really can.

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