Dennis Adams is a man on a mission, working for more than a decade to support the Memphis jazz scene. Starting with the River City Jazz Society in 1998 which hosted Monday night jazz at the River Terrace Yacht Club, his vision has evolved into a nonprofit endeavor called Strictly Jazz Entertainment which brings this variety of music to venues across the city nearly every night of the week.

Jazz at the Westin downtown

Adams, a 23-year FedEx employee spends much of his free time promoting the jazz scene in Memphis. His goal is to increase the awareness and visibility of the jazz scene in Memphis and promote it throughout the community, from East Memphis to Midtown to Downtown.

Other jazz venues in the past have included Café Ole, where Sax on Sundays began before moving to Neil’s on McLean and Madison.

I first encountered Strictly Jazz Entertainment at the twice-monthly jam sessions and open mic segments at Neil’s. This venue has since moved to Club Chill in Peabody Place every second and fourth Sundays. (Doors open at 6:30PM and showtime runs from 7PM until 11PM). Among the regular performers are Sal Crocker (tenor saxophone), Ben Levitt (acoustic bass), Stephen Lee (piano) and Jeramy Warren (drums), along with all of the talented and brave performers who sing and jam during the open mic portion of the evening. I’ve been quite (happily) surprised by the quality of singers and performers who have stepped up. True to Memphis’ history, we are a musically-gifted city.

March 13th marked the 1-year anniversary of jazz at the Westin downtown on Friday evenings. It’s a lovely place to have a beverage and listen to appropriately-amplified music. (Maybe I’m just getting old, but so much of the music these days is painfully loud. You don’t have to worry about that at the Westin where the music is played at enjoyable decibels.)

You can find Strictly Jazz Entertainment on Facebook, and they also have a website with information about upcoming events.

Sax on Sundays

WUMR is the University of Memphis jazz radio station, at 92FM. Their daily listening is here:

Broadcasting in stereo with 25,000 watts of power, WUMR is the only exclusive jazz outlet in the Memphis metro area. The station offers a mix of contemporary and traditional jazz, as well as a sampling of fusion, Blues, Latin, and new age Jazz. The station also serves the Mid-South community with unique educational, sports, and community service programming.

For alternate Sundays (when you’re not at Club Chill), you can find the Memphis Jazz Orchestra at Alfred’s on Beale Street. This is tremendous fun. Couples often enjoy swing dancing to the music, as well as listening to Tom Prestigiacomo singing (his voice is B*I*G and amazing). There’s also the occasional Jazz in the Box at GPAC.

On Sundays, jazz students from The University of Memphis can be heard playing at Earnestine & Hazel’s.

One of the great things about jazz in Memphis is that it is intergenerational and multiracial. People of all backgrounds and levels of appreciation can enjoy this music. Some people refrain from jazz because it seems like an inaccessible genre exclusively for aficionados with refined tastes, or people who can name every Miles Davis tune. Trust me: it’s not like that at all. Many of the musicians that play at these various venues may be sitting at the table nearest to you one moment, and up on stage the next song. You’ll be having a conversation with an incredibly cool person and then all of a sudden they’re performing.

This unassuming jazz scene is one of Memphis’ great treasures that adds to the already-known rich musical history of our city.

WUMR: The Jazz Lover