Why a Big Band? Why Reno? Why now?
Jazz, in this writer’s humble opinion, is America’s most outstanding cultural achievement. Jazz’s roots can be traced to African and European classical influences which flourished in New Orleans, quickly spread to other American cities, and can now be heard around the world. In my travels, I’ve met foreign musicians who spoke no English at all, and yet, we shared the common language of jazz. As a continually expanding art form, jazz now incorporates elements of the music from diverse cultures, such as Brazilian, Cuban, Turkish, and Indian influences.
Why have a big band in Reno, Nevada, in 2013? The main reason is that all the members of the Reno Jazz Orchestra (Reno’s premier big band) love jazz in general and love playing big band music in particular. Of course, we also love playing other styles of jazz, such as small combo jazz, Latin jazz, fusion-jazz, etc., not to mention classical, rock and roll, and country and western, and other music styles.
Reno, Nevada, is better suited to support a big band than any other American city of comparable size that I know of. Big bands experienced their heyday in the 1930-40’s, at which point big band music was the most popular music style of its time, both for dancing and listening. Big band jazz began to decline in popularity in the 1950’s, with the rise of small combo “bebop” jazz, as well as the advent of rock and roll.
At the peak of casino music culture, every major Reno casino had its own “house orchestra/band” as well as a “relief” band to cover the nights off for the primary house bands. Big name entertainers regularly employed the casinos’ big bands, sometimes augmented by string sections. There were more working musicians in Reno than any other similar-size city in the country.
The advent of synthesizers and drum machines in the 1970’s and 80’s led to a sharp reduction in the number of touring artists who hired Reno’s casino house bands and orchestras. However, the legacy of that previous golden age of big bands continues to benefit Reno, Las Vegas, and other cities because of the relatively large number of retired or semi-retired musicians who continue to live in our community. Thus, Reno is blessed with a relatively large pool of highly skilled musicians, many of whom worked for years as members of the casino ensembles. The Reno Jazz Orchestra is one of the prime beneficiaries of this heritage and is continuously replenished by annual music graduates from the University of Nevada Reno.
At this point in America’s varied musical landscape, in 2013, big bands can be compared with symphony orchestras. Both symphony orchestras and big bands are popular with a relatively small but fiercely loyal segment of the musical public. Both types of ensembles are regarded as important in sustaining “tradition”. Both symphony orchestras and big bands remain the primary vehicles for teaching music students standard repertoire and performance practice. The symphony orchestra music tradition is European-based, while the big band jazz tradition is an almost exclusively American creation.
The Reno Jazz Orchestra is dedicated to performance excellence, presenting traditional big band repertoire as well as featuring more contemporary works, often performed by famous visiting artists. It is the mission of the Reno Jazz Orchestra to serve the community by supporting outstanding live performances while promoting the teaching and performance of big band jazz in the schools. The Reno Jazz Orchestra is proud to celebrate and sustain Reno’s rich musical heritage.
Keep Jazz Alive, Join the Band of 100
Be a part of the band and join the “Band of 100”, friends of the RJO who support our mission through private donations. Our goal is to find 100 jazz enthusiasts who will contribute at least $100.00 annually to the RJO to keep big band jazz alive and introduce it to newer and younger audiences.
Check out our 10 minute Youtube video to see what your donations make happen. Reno Jazz Orchestra 2013
Become a Band of 100 member – $100
Jazz in the Schools Clinic
February 9th, 2013
All That Jazz… that was the 12/09/12 headline of the Reno Gazette Journal that included features of the RJO’s Joe Cadena and Joey Berger. Celebrate keeping jazz young and vibrant by joining us in our annual Jazz in the Schools 2/9/13 in UNR’s Nightingale Hall. Each year the RJO invites all Washoe County School District (WCSD) high school and middle school jazz bands to join us to perform in Nightingale Concert Hall on the University of Nevada, Reno campus. This year we are introducing new component by offering a jazz workshop for local educators (“train the trainer” concept) and, as we did last year, bring two nationally recognized clinicians to critique each student group’s performance and then work with that group immediately after their performance to improve their jazz performance skills. This year’s clinicians are George Stone of Cuesta College San Luis Obispo and Robert Knop of Cal State San Bernardino. A pizza lunch is provided at a nominal fee and afterwards the RJO performs a concert for the students featuring performances by UNR Jazz Studies professors. This event is free and open to the public with no cost to the participating students or schools. This event helps to prepare the school groups to compete in the Reno Jazz Festival and introduces them to UNR and the UNR jazz faculty.
Here are this year’s participating bands:
- Billinghurst MS
- Carson MS
- Cold Springs MS
- Damonte Ranch HS
- Depoali MS
- Galena HS
- McQueen HS
- Reno Youth Jazz Orchestra I
- Reno Youth Jazz Orchestra II
- Wooster HS I
- Wooster HS II
Our Education Program Coordinator (and Professor of Percussion at UNR) Andy Heglund has organized this great event funded this year by:
- E.L. Cord Foundation
- Nevada Arts Council
- RJO’s Band of 100
A Note-Able Evening of Romance: Broadway Lights
Atlantis Casino Resort Spa / February 2nd 2013 / 7:30 p.m.
Our newest CD, Jazz Alive is available.
It was a beautiful summer evening
300 people attended the annual Jazz On The Roof concert. Knowing that last year’s “Such Sweet Thunder” would be a hard event to follow, the RJO created an inspiring and outstanding artistic rendition of the traditional operatic version of Porgy and Bess. Keeping with their creativity, the RJO crafted a jazzy soul version of favorites such as “Summertime”, “Bess You Is My Woman” and “I Got Plenty of Nuttin”.
Accompanied by the musically gifted talents of RJO performers, Bill Hecht, Hans Halt and Jim Garaventa’s arrangements were magnificent. The gospel ensemble that Pat Esters compiled was to say nothing short of motivational and awe inspiring. Truly, these talented musicians led the audience into a unique place in time that will truly be a night to remember. The topping on the cake was Bill Hecht’s climatic rendition of “O Lawd I’m On My Way”. The sold out crowd was on their feet dancing and clapping to this wonderful and motivating gospel rendition of this classic song and tale of life’s lessons.
What a fitting tribute to George Gershwin, Bill Potts and Frank Foster, and a true testament to the talents of the Reno Jazz Orchestra!
RJO Events Coordinator
Reno Jazz Orchestra – Jazz Alive at John Ascuaga’s Nugget
Steve Falcone: When showtime meant something
The display offers a nostalgic look at a slice of Nevada history, when a trip to Reno-Sparks had to include a dinner show (or a late-night cocktail show) in one of the many area showrooms featuring stars visitors could never see at home. Many were from the B list (Frank Fontaine, “Crazy” Guggenheim on Jackie Gleason’s TV show), but there were plenty of A-listers, too.
One of the things you’ll notice looking over the display is that the lights rarely went out in those showrooms. Stars once were willing to do two shows a day for six or seven days a week, and there were enough visitors to to make it worth their while.
Importantly, every showroom had an orchestra to provide an overture and backup for singers and dancers, which made this area a Mecca for musicians, a place where they could find that rarest of commodities in the music business: steady work.
Those days are long gone in Northern Nevada. We get stars, of course, but most for one-night stands, never more than two. For musicians, that means occasional pick-up work, but long-term gigs are few and far between. The result: fewer musicians calling the Truckee Meadows home.
Change was probably inevitable. The stars are partly to blame. They priced themselves out of the market.
But casino execs haven’t helped matters either. The attitude seems to be: Why hire a quartet when a trio or even a duo would suffice? Better yet, why not hire a musician whose only sideman is an iPod?
So, it was appropriate that in February, the Reno Jazz Orchestra took to the Nugget showroom stage to record its latest CD.
The RJO is one of a handful of Northern Nevada musical organizations, along with the Reno Philharmonic, Reno Chamber Orchestra and others, that benefited from all those musicians who called Reno home. The musicians were happy to have an opportunity to stretch their chops with classical music or jazz, and we got to enjoy it with them. Cities of comparable size around the country would be hard-pressed to duplicate the musical community that Reno once boasted about, and we’re fortunate that the torch has been passed down to today.
How long these groups will be able to sustain is a big question. The University of Nevada, Reno has become a primary source of musicians today, both faculty and students. And the Washoe County School District has an outstanding, if underappreciated, band program. But the steady work has gone elsewhere.
An evening in a showroom is a sad reminder of what’s been lost, and probably won’t ever come back. The RJO’s CD, on the other hand, will be out later this spring.
Steve Falcone is the Reno Gazette-Journal’s opinion editor. This article was originally published in the Reno Gazette Journal.
A Good Time Was Had By All…
The title of Thad Jones’ final piece on his Suite For Pops tribute to Louis Armstrong captures the RJO’s three great days of jazz, February 16th, 17th, and 18th. The band and guest artists shone in the Nugget’s Celebrity Showroom the first two nights and Washoe County jazz bands demonstrated the bright future of jazz on the 18th.
Let’s start with the RJO recording our new CD live at the Nugget. The Celebrity Showroom was the perfect venue and thanks to Entertainment Director Rob Brooks for offering the room, John Legg and his showroom staff to make us feel right at home. Recording Engineer Tom Gordon and his staff got all the equipment (more on that later) in place and made their contribution transparent to the two evenings of recording. There were no (none!) technical glitches requiring a stop or second take. The wizard behind the curtain (Tom) captured it all.
My concept for the CD was to highlight not only the band but northern Nevada’s very talented jazz community and I could not have asked for more gifted guest artists. Cami Thompson gave a memorable performance of “I Concentrate on You” both nights and then joined the band on Thad’s blues romp “The Second Race”. She was truly amazing trading fours with Joey Berger and then Joe Cadena. Tony Savage joined us on a Hans Halt original “Brazilian Dreams” and stayed on to back Cami on “I Concentrate”. It was a joy to have the former RJO leader/co-founder (who by the way produced our previous CD) sitting in. UNR Professor of Jazz Studies, Peter Epstein, joined us on his original composition “In Your Voice” and if you are not familiar with Peter’s jazz improvisation you are in for a real treat. Ron Legg sat in on Roger Hogan’s “Blues Ballad”. If you do not know Ron, he was the band leader at the Nugget for many years, former Sparks HS Band Director, and has led a big band in our area for many years. Also on tap were percussionist Cody Remaklus who added fire to our Latin charts and Leonard Neidhold, featured on “The Time is Now” and sitting in with the bone section on a couple of other charts.
But how about that band… it was a real joy to have the best seat in the house to hear the RJO tear it up. The rhythm section highlights were too numerous to mention them all but how about Bill Hecht’s solos, Andy and Cody’s percussion fire, Han’s rock solid bass (charts and solos!), and Joey Berger’s guitar duet with Cami. Now the horn section- Larry Engstrom, Andrew Woodard, and Rich Lewis got things going right from the get go with their solos on “Boom Boom”. Larry Engstrom’s interpretation of “My Ideal” with the band’s backing was stellar. I am looking forward to sending that performance onto arranger Maria Schneider. Joe Cadena, Doug Coomler and Roger Hogan all took turns on the “Second Race” and the audience couldn’t hold back. All the charts were memorable, but if I had to pick one it would be “The Time is Now”. Andy turned up the heat right from the start and Cody stayed right with him, the band took it to heart and solos by Leonard Neidhold, Bill Hecht, Hans Halt, and Andy Heglund set the stage for the ending. Wow.
And what about our great support team. Jennifer Mannix took care of all the logistics and marketing for the event with Bernie Bronov and Phil Shalitt at the merchandise table. My brother Dave sent some photos (included here), but David Rocco also took photos on Thursday and Dallas Smith’s video crew shot a mini-documentary on Wednesday and Friday. So there is much more to come…
The RJO’s annual Jazz in the Schools has become a high point on the calendar for me. I used to be worried that live music was coming to an end with all the recording and synths in this world, but I worry no more. Twelve high school and middle school bands came and performed on stage at UNR’s Nightingale Hall. This year Andy Heglund contacted Craig Faniani from Sacramento and John Davis from Colorado to be our clinicians, something new this year. Also new was the two jazz improvisation workshops by UNR’s by the Collective (UNR professors- Andy Heglund, Hans Halt, Larry Engstrom, Peter Epstein, and David Ake). RYJO has two bands now and both performed and of course the RJO performed at lunchtime.
Thanks to Board Members Bernie Bronov, Phil Shalitt, and Linda Newberg for rounding of the food and drinks!
Jazz is Alive!
Chuck Reider- RJO Music Director
Our live CD recording is this week and I wanted to give everyone an update:
My dear friend Cami Thompson is joining us on I Concentrate On You, a very creative arrangement of a jazz standard by the Bay Area’s Rolf Johnson. Sitting in on drums is Tony Savage. Tony was co-founder of the RJO with Jack Caudil and it will be great to hear him play with us again.
In tribute to one America’s great jazz composer/arrangers, Bob Brookmeyer, we are performing two of his contemporary pieces (1) Boom Boom, a joyous romp featuring Rich Lewis, Larry Engstrom, and Andrew Woodard and (2) The Time is Now, a mix of latin and swing featuring Andy Heglund and Cody Remaklus on drums and percussion, Bill Hecht on piano, and Leonard Neidhold on Trombone.
The RJO is honored to record Maria Schneider’s arrangement of My Ideal featuring Larry Engstrom on the trumpet. This is one of Maria’s early arrangements that has not yet been recorded and she has given us permission to perform it for our CD.
It is a special privilege for me to record Bennett Friedman’s Variations on a Brazilian Song as he was the director of the San Francisco State jazz band in 70’s (hate to date myself but…) and as his student we performed this at the Reno Jazz Festival. It is a gorgeous arrangement that features our percussion section and Doug Coomler on tenor sax. I do not believe this has been recorded either, so we are correcting that now!
The RJO is blessed with composer/arrangers of our own so you cannot miss the premier recording of Hans Halt’s Sophisticated Lady and original composition Brazilian Dreams. We are also recording Roger Hogan’s beautiful Blues Ballad featuring guitarist Joey Berger and pianist Bill Hecht.
We have a lot more in store on this Thursday and Friday so I encourage to purchase your tickets now at:
and be a part of Jazz Alive!
Chuck Reider- RJO Music Director
Reno Jazz Orchestra – Jazz Alive
Feb. 16th and 17th, John Ascuaga’s Celebrity Showroom
Northern Nevada’s jazz community is a vibrant part of the cultural fabric of our area and the RJO is proud to be a part of it. It really came to mind last Wednesday (1/18/12) at the Ron Legg Big Band tribute to Gerry Genurio. Gerry has been a strong voice in jazz as long as I have lived here and it was a wonderful sight to see old friends I have not seen in some time.
RJO’s core members worked in the showrooms backing all the great entertainers that came through town. These showrooms were a magnet that drew gifted musicians from across the country as a place to make a living in music. They were a great resource for the Reno Philharmonic and Nevada Opera’s orchestras. The jazz guys would play the show and afterwards get together and play in “kicks bands” until the sun came up. I played many gigs with current RJO members Dean Carter, Joe Cadena, Rich Lewis, Mark Curry, John Beckman, Larry Engstrom, Jim Garaventa, Bill Hecht, and Hans Halt.
When making a living playing in the showroom orchestras came to an end our community lost a magnet to attract musicians. Fortunately about that same time, Larry Engstrom came to town and started building the jazz studies program at UNR. It did two things, provided teaching positions in our community to great jazz artists (UNR’s jazz quintet the Collective) and in turn these artist’s reputation drew gifted students. It thrills me to have UNR jazz studies students sit in with the RJO. They are the future of jazz and their energy is infectious. Some end up staying in town, RJO musicians Doug Coomler and Joey Berger are just two examples.
With community in mind, the RJO is recording a new CD in John Ascuaga’s Celebrity Showroom. We have been looking for just the right venue to record a new live CD and the Nugget was generous enough to provide that venue. The Celebrity Showroom has been host to decades of live entertainment and we are proud to be a small part of that history. The recording will, of course, feature the band, but it will also feature the writing skills of band members Hans Halt and Roger Hogan. I have also asked some area jazz greats to come join us. Good friend Cami Thompson will join us on a tune or two and RJO co-founder Tony Savage as well. Reno Phil Principal Trombonist Leonard Neidhold will be featured and Cody Remaklus will be adding his percussion skills to our Latin arrangements. UNR professor Peter Epstein will be featured on an original composition “In Your Voice” and special guest, Ron Legg, the Nugget’s bandleader for many years will be on hand as well.
Join us in celebrating a vibrant jazz community and experience great big band jazz in a classic showroom. The show starts at 8pm each night and tickets can be purchased at http://www.janugget.com/entertainment/reno-jazz-orchestra.asp
Chuck Reider- RJO Music Director
is a contemporary jazz big band based in Reno, Nevada. It is organized as a non-profit corporation in the State of Nevada and qualified as such under Sec. 503(c) of the Internal Revenue Code.