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106.1 The River

Jazz… Alive and Well in Knoxville

By Cindi Alpert

Growing up in a small town in Northern New Jersey as the youngest of four kids, music was a big part of our lives.  My musical influences ranged from Frank Sinatra to Neil Diamond to Todd Rundgren and everything in between.  I have such wonderful memories of my father playing his favorite Mahalia Jackson album.  I would get chills just listening to her soulful tone, and I was amazed at how that woman could sound so sad, so strong at the same time. It is no wonder I ended up in the music business; not only in the radio station business, but also as a performer myself.

I’ve always been drawn to Jazz and Standards from an early age.  I love Julie London, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, and so many of the old great classic artists that have influenced so many musicians.  I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to play around the Knoxville area with three amazingly talented Jazz musicians.  My core group includes Wes Lunsford on guitar, Daniel Brown on bass, and Martin Hodge on drums.  All three of them are graduates of the University of Tennessee Jazz Program.  I have also had the pleasure of playing shows with about a dozen other musicians who have come out of that program.

I’ve been told the University of Tennessee’s Jazz Studies Program has long been one of Knoxville’s best kept secrets.  The degree program was founded in 1976 by Jazz Ed pioneer Jerry Coker.  Top notch faculty and a wide variety of performance opportunities make the Jazz Studies Program one of the country’s most attractive programs for aspiring musicians.  From what I have witnessed, the program goes way beyond just musical theory and learning to master the instrument.  The young people I work with are always on time, courteous, and prepared, which says a lot for the program and faculty. Just think of how many 20-something-year-olds you know who are still living at home, mooching off their parents and can’t seem to wake up before noon.

My drummer, Martin Hodge, is also a teacher of music.  He volunteers his time at The Joy of Music School, a not-for-profit organization with a mission to help children learn music who otherwise would not be able to afford lessons or instruments.  According to Martin, music study, without a doubt, positively affects other areas of development. Frank Graffeo, director of the school, explained to me that the kids learn more than just music.  It is about showing up on time, being prepared, being respectful to the teacher, and so on.  The kids are rewarded for their good behavior in addition to their achievements in music. Many of their students have gone on to study music at the university level.

If you have not checked out the Knoxville Jazz scene, it is going on all around us.  Some of my favorite places to hear live Jazz include The Orangery, Cru, Crown and Goose, Peter Peters, and Chez Liberty, to name a few. I welcome you to join me and The Corduroy Jazz Trio for a fun mix of Jazz, Blues, Standards, and Funk on Thursday, April 4th, at The Orangery in the courtyard area from 6 to 9 pm.  The Knoxville Jazz Orchestra also performs regularly, with an upcoming event at the Bijou Theatre called Dizzy Atmosphere, featuring trumpet player Sean Jones. Treat yourself to one of their shows and know what I’m talking about.

Like fashion, music trends come and go and come back again.  I know that all too well in the radio business.  But one thing remains constant.  Good music is good music, and some things are timeless. Whether you are from a small town like me or from the big city, you can enjoy world-class entertainment right here in Knoxville. All you have to do is open your eyes and your ears, and it is right there in front of you.

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