Lori Mechem graduated from Ball State in 1986 with a bachelor degree in Jazz Performance. Lori and her husband, Roger Spencer founded the Nashville Jazz Institute in 1998 with very little money and a handful of students. Lori is currently the Founder and Education Director of The Nashville Jazz Workshop; one of the leading non-profit arts organizations in the city
“Most of them were students of mine from Belmont University, where I had taught commercial piano for 9 years. We started with only 11 students, and 2 classes. Currently, we offer 16 to 20 classes with 100 students per 6-week session. The workshop model is based on a journeyman/apprentice approach. Students have the chance to play with faculty and perform in different settings. The school attracted a loyal and growing following of students. It also became clear that besides helping the students and instructors, the workshop format was a unique approach to jazz education that could benefit the entire community.”
“We incorporated as a nonprofit in 2000, changed the name to the Nashville Jazz Workshop. We started new projects: visual art exhibits, student/faculty performances, a twice-monthly performance series – Snap on 2 and 4, and many other educational and performance events for the community. Along with income from tuition and events, we receive individual and corporate contributions, and public and private grant support. We also work together with local and regional jazz organizations, radio stations, schools, festivals, and partner with other arts groups. The NJW has become, in the words of one student, Nashville’s “community center for jazz.”
We had the chance to ask Lori Mechem a few questions about her time at Ball State.
1. What opportunities attracted you to Ball State?
The first thing that attracted me was an audition with University Singers with Larry Boye. I played piano, wrote arrangements and traveled with them for 3 years, but was mostly involved with the Jazz Ensemble. I had my own jazz quartet and Musical Directed many theater shows. After my first semester in 1982, it was Beth Turcotte who took me under her wing. She gave me the most playing opportunities throughout my college career.
2. What are your fondest memories at Ball State? Any teachers at Ball State who influenced your career path?
I loved one particular class the most: Pop Vocal Styles taught by Beth Turcotte. It was the most challenging class I had at BSU. The class became a performing group in the community, which really helped me develop my piano skills for accompanying vocalists. Beth was the biggest influence on my life and career. I can honestly say that because of her…. I have been successful of starting my own jazz school. My piano teacher, Frank Puzzullo gave me many opportunities to play outside of university ensembles. During my Junior and Senior year, I had a 5 night a week job in Indianapolis playing solo piano at the Hyatt Regency. Playing out professionally helped me tremendously to get other gigs and opportunities.
3. What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I love to go to restaurants…. I am a big foodie! We have so many great restaurants in Nashville! I also love to cook. It is very relaxing for me.
4. What advice would you like to share with future graduates Ball State?
I would say to ALWAYS have your fingers in as many pies as you can! Meaning…be flexible with being able to play ALL styles of music! Learn to be a chameleon! I was able to work a lot because I had commercial music chops, theater chops, jazz chops and studio chops! The music business is not the same it was 20 years ago! Living in Nashville TN….Music City USA….you have to work VERY hard to be a performing and recording artist/musician. If you get a tour, that’s great, but then you run the risk of not doing studio work because you are out of town so much! Out of sight, out of mind! Be involved, be seen, support your musician friends and work hard on YOU! If you have that “Fire in your belly”….you will be a success! I never said no to ANYTHING. Even gigs I really didn’t want to do. They all led to better opportunities, many that led me to incredible experiences that I will never forget.