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September 10, 2019·No Comments

by Chuck Reider, RJO Music Director

It is my pleasure to introduce you to two members of the Reno Jazz Orchestra (RJO) family, Andy and Nichole Heglund. Andy has been the RJO’s drummer for over ten years and a past president.  Nichole joined us this spring to head our jazz education programs. 

Andy recently recorded and released “Blue Trapezoid”, a recording of his compositions, and I thought you would be interested in a behind the scenes look at the making of a jazz CD.  After reading this article you can meet Andy and the band at the CD release party October 30th 7:30, at the Laughing Planet on Virginia Street right by UNR.  He is a long-time member of the UNR music faculty and he wishes to thank UNR for granting him a sabbatical for the 2018 fall semester.  Some may think a sabbatical is a just another word for vacation, but it is time given to a faculty member to further their knowledge and skills of their discipline. Andy took full advantage of this time and the result is “Blue Trapezoid”.  His goal was to record original compositions highlighting an interactive “conversation” among the musicians (more on that later).  He prepared for the recording by composing the music, practicing, and traveling to New Your City to study with four exceptional jazz drummers.     

I am always curious about the origins of a new song and the name the composer gave that song, so I asked Andy.  The CD opener, “Bata’ Boom”, is based on rhythms used in Santeria ceremonies.  Jazz musicians draw rhythmic inspiration from Cuba and Cuba is the home of the Santeria religion. It is a synthesis of the Yoruba religion from Africa, Christianity, and the local religions dating back to the 1500s.  Andy incorporated those rhythms into a thirty-five beat form.  Most songs are based on four beats (think “Respect”), or three beats (a waltz) and maybe five (Dave Brubeck’s Take Five).  Thirty-five beats can be grouped into seven bars of five or five bars of seven.  Sounds confusing, but listen to the recording and it sounds great!  Next is “Blue Trapezoid”, a rhythmic play on a simple melody.  The title comes from, of all places, Andy’s new office at UNR.  It is a trapezoidal shape that came with a blue carpet.  Hence, “Blue Trapezoid”. “Echoes of Ensign” is a free improvisation among Andy, Hans Halt, and guitarist Ed Corey.  After the recording session Andy reflected on the melancholy feel.  Ensign is a lake in Minnesota where Andy and his father would go on an annual canoe fishing/camping trip.  Shortly after the recording session Andy’s father passed away and memories of his trips with his father prompted the title.

At it’s the core, jazz is about improvisation.  Watching a jazz performance, it is easy to see who is soloing, but that doesn’t mean the other members are not improvising.  To many the soloist is the only one improvising, but gifted jazz musicians are always improvising by responding to the soloist with accents, or a musical line, or a different chord.  This “conversation” among all the musicians during a performance is the true beauty of jazz improvisation.  Andy has been fortunate to be a member of UNR’s jazz faculty group named the Collective since its inception.  Working with a regular group over a long period of time provides a familiarity, or group language, that can inspire new directions instantaneously.  At the time of the recording the Collective consisted of Andy Heglund on drums, saxophonist Peter Epstein, bassist Hans Halt, pianist Adam Benjamin and trumpeter Ralph Alessi.  This CD was recorded in two days, one day with the quintet, and the second with guitarist Ed Corey joining Halt and Heglund.  “Echoes of Ensign” is a free improvisation.  There was no discussion on what to play before the red light came on.  Your first impression may be that chaos will ensue and to lesser musicians that may be the result, but with this trio it is anything but.  A beautiful reflective piece created on the spot.

Let’s give a quick shout out to Michael Eardley of Tanglewood Productions who produced, recorded, mixed the CD and is distributed through his Tonegold label. Job well done Michael.

Nichole Heglund is one of our newest RJO members, taking on the leadership of our education program this spring.  Over the years our program has been growing and we are pleased Nichole has joined us.  She has a deep understanding of the Washoe County School District (WCSD) music programs as she has taught music here for seventeen years.  First at Swope, then Wooster, and now teaching choir at Billinghurst middle school.  Nichole is also the past Nevada Music Educators Association President where she got to connect with music educators across the country.  At Billinghurst she leads a jazz choir of between thirty and forty students!  Her choir has won awards at the Folsom Jazz Festival and the Reno Jazz Festival where they were invited to perform at the Saturday showcase beating out high school jazz choirs.  She teaches the “heads” (jazz term for the melody) and starts them learning to improvise using the call and response technique.  In blues many times there is a lead singer who will sing a solo line and the choir sings back a response.  She asks every student to improvise and by the end of the year there is a good handful that excel. 

The RJO education program starts every fall with our Mentor Program and Jazz Workshop.  This fall, for the Mentor Program, Nichole will be working with eight schools, to bring RJO musicians out to work with the student jazz ensembles and assist the band directors. The mentors will visit each school from five to eight times this fall.  She is also overseeing our Saturday morning jazz workshops that focus on improvisation.  The first session begins on 9/7.  Each Saturday the entry level improvisers meet from 9am to 11am and the advanced students 11:30am to 1:30pm.  Here the workshop director, Dylan Coleman-Tunstall, will teach the “heads” by ear, provide music theory and improvisation sessions, and give them all a lot of time to play!  After the eight sessions students open the RJO’s November 9th and 10th concerts at the Hall, 124 West Taylor Street, where they get to display what they learned at the workshops.  She is working on a new education project that will bring middle school students to the one hundred seat hall to hear jazz up close and be introduced to America’s original artform… jazz!  Nichole met with the band directors to discuss all of the above and to get valuable feedback from them.  As a WCSD choir director she understands the challenges of WCSD band directors to bring jazz to their students, but she thinks that the WCSD is heading in a good direction with several new jazz ensembles starting up this year.

The Heglunds are truly a musical family. They met at the University of Colorado, Greeley when she was an undergrad music major and he was working on his doctorate.  Andy moved to Reno in 1996 and after graduation she moved to Reno for her internship.  In 2003 they married in Breckenridge, CO and have two sons, Isaiah and Mathew.  They have inspired countless music students at WCSD and UNR and the RJO is proud to have them as part of our family.

Tags: Jazz Around Town · Jazz in the Schools · RJO History

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