Passages: William “Billy” Adair, ’69

All That Jazz


On Feb. 18 the Blair School of Music lost beloved Big Band director and jazz instructor Billy Adair. A teacher, arranger, multi-instrumentalist and backbone of Blair’s jazz program, Adair died of cancer at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He was 66.

His impact and influence on students, faculty and community were enormous, and his long career in the music industry included work with stars like Chet Atkins, Merle Haggard, Alabama, The Ink Spots, Greg Allman, the Oak Ridge Boys, Willie Nelson and many more.

“Billy had a deep, lasting effect on countless lives throughout the community,” says Mark Wait, dean of the Blair School of Music. “He gave of himself generously and genuinely, and he had an amazing gift for bringing people together.”

Born in Franklin, Tenn., Adair studied history at George Peabody College for Teachers. Adept at electric and acoustic bass and guitar, he recorded and toured with many country music and rock ’n’ roll stars during the 1970s. He branched out the following decade into producing, composing and arranging music for radio, television and commercials.

In 1998, Adair became music director and arranger for The Establishment, a 22-piece nonprofit jazz orchestra. In 2002 he began teaching at Blair, where he rose to chair of the Department of Jazz and Folk Music.

“I’m a professional touring and studio musician in Nashville, and I couldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for Billy,” says Michael Rinne, a former student of Adair. “Billy taught me that you could have all the chops in the world and it didn’t mean much. If you weren’t a great person, you weren’t a great musician.”

Survivors include his wife of 38 years, Beegie Adair, a jazz pianist; brother Tommy Adair; and sister-in-law Kimberly Adair. Memorial contributions may be made to the Billy Adair Fund for Jazz at the Blair School of Music, c/o Office of Gift Processing, PMB 407727, 2301 Vanderbilt Place, Nashville, TN 37240-7727.

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