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Nashville isn't singing the same old country song anymore

The live music scene in Nashville is not exactly as its reputation would have it. Country music is still the economic foundation of the music business here, of course, but rock, rhythm 'n' blues and, increasingly, jazz, have become the staples of nightlife; country is more of an export commodity.

Part of the reason, said Tony Brown, country music producer and the president of MCA Nashville, is that most country musicians come to town from elsewhere because they are tired of having to play in clubs."They aspire to play sessions," Brown said. "Here if you play in a club you're probably not good enough to play on recordings." On the other hand, he added, "It's a cool thing to see a successful player at a jazz club because you know he's doing it for the music."

At the same time, the success of the music industry here has created a vast pool of talented players, country and otherwise, who are here for the work. With 26 record labels in town, each of which has maybe 15 performers in its stable, there is an enormous amount of recording going on in hundreds of studios. For musicians tired of the itinerant life or unable to make ends meet in places like New York and Los Angeles, Nashville is a natural alternative.

"The technology's here, and the players are as good as anyplace else," said Jim Hoke, a saxophonist with the rock band NRBQ who leads his new nine-piece jazz ensemble, Hoke and the Jump Daddies, into Third and Lindsley's, a roomy honky-tonk on the outskirts of downtown. "Plus, you can park your car."

Many who work sessions in the studios by day or tour with the country stars who live here are interested in their off hours in exercising different, noncountry chops. "I came here to play steel guitar 20 years ago," said Mel Deal, the Jump Daddies' guitarist, "and I just got tired of hanging out with those country guys."

A result has been an expansion in the range of local talent. "We have a wonderful musician pool now," said Cliff Richmond, a guitarist and leader of a popular local jazz band, the CliffNotes. Richmond, who moved here 19 years ago and runs a tutoring business to supplement his income, sees the growing numbers of musicians whet-ting the local appetite for jazz. "It's like that biological soup that made humans," he said.

No one is saying that jazz is about to replace country music as the local industry. But there are signs that the taste of the town is being modified. A light jazz radio station, WJZC-FM, the city's first (a public station, WMOT, devoted to traditional jazz, is in nearby Murfreesboro) began broadcasting last December and has steadily increased its audience, said its program director, Billy Shears. This fall, two concerts, one featuring Chick Corea and Gary Burton and the other Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter are booked at the 2,000-seat Ryman Auditorium.

One recent weekend, in the wake of the city's biggest annual country music extravaganza, jazz was all over town. At the cavernous Ace of Clubs on Second Avenue, El Buho, a trumpeter also known as Gary Gazzaway who has played with the rock band Phish, led his acid, Latin-tinged electric ensemble; a traditional trio, Birdsong, played the tiny lounge of F. Scott's in the southwestern Green Hills section of town, just around the corner from the famous country songwriters' showcase, the Bluebird Cafe, and there were the Wooten Brothers and the Jump Daddies, a band whose sound is like a melding of the Duke Ellington and Lyle Lovett big bands.