In the 1960s and 70s business was booming for musicians in Reno, NV. Musicians were flocking to the ‘Biggest Little City” with the goal of backing show business icons like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. By 1980 however, these live casino showroom orchestras would be rendered obsolete, favored instead by cost effective pre-tracked recordings. This shift in the industry left a large number of musicians in the Reno area out of work, unsure of continuing a career in music.
Despite the decline of the live casino showroom orchestras, a group of musicians who played in these bands decided they were not going to let live music performance wither away. They started the Reno Jazz Orchestra in 1997 with the goal of sharing the great live jazz they loved while inspiring the next generation of talented musicians.
As the RJO grew in influence, the organization became more and more oriented toward education. The musicians began to realize the importance of sharing their love of live jazz with the younger generation. The goals of the RJO’s musicians began to change, orienting themselves now with the mission of providing educational opportunities to expose younger musicians to the jazz tradition that they revered so highly. Organizations like the Reno Youth Jazz Orchestra, and outreach events like Jazz In The Schools began to foster a thriving young jazz music community in Reno, NV.
In the modern day, the efforts of the RJO and their partner organizations have begun to create a thriving music community in Reno. Many young jazz artists who were inspired by the efforts of the RJO have taken the tradition in new directions, creating unique and exciting music. Through the examination of these musicians' creative efforts, it is clear that jazz provides an incredibly important backbone to musical expression in a large variety of musical genres. It is clear that jazz is relevant in the music it informs.
The RJO’s efforts to keep jazz and live music relevant in the community have proven successful as younger musicians are adopting the jazz tradition as a part of their identity. Many of them even joining the ranks of their RJO peers in live performance.
ABOUT THE DIRECTOR
by Chuck Reider
Chris Casaceli grew up in Reno and found jazz at a “Zone Concert” where elementary, middle, and high school bands of that zone perform. As a 6th grader he heard the Swope Middle School jazz band, under the direction of Nichole Heglund, and the Reno High School jazz band, under the direction of Cody Forcier. He was immediately taken by improvisation, the idea that you don’t have to play the notes on the page. Music on the page can be daunting as you need to be very precise to play with the ensemble. The thought of having a “clean slate” for every solo and by being surprised by the outcome excited him. Under the tutelage of private instructor Jonathan Phillips his jazz world blossomed. When Phillips introduced him to Michael Brecker’s recording of “Midnight Voyage” he listened to it repeatedly to learn it by ear, no pages required! From there it was listening to and learning about other greats such as Sonny Rollins and Charlie Parker. As a high school freshman, he auditioned and won a sax chair with the Reno Youth Jazz Orchestra (RYJO), which was one of his goals. The other was to win a chair in the All State Jazz Band, which he did twice. He also was thrilled to be in the Wooster High School music program under the direction of Phillips. Playing both in the full jazz band and small Wooster jazz combo was great fun collaborating with friends and composing original songs. Casaceli performed at the Reno Jazz Festival six years as a part of his school’s ensembles. He and his friends would plan for a whole day of jazz and arrive early to hear the 7am concerts.
College was the next part of the plan, but Casaceli had not considered jazz studies. Instead he was thinking film and video arts, his other passion, until UNR jazz studies instructors Larry Engstrom and Peter Epstein suggested jazz. A great suggestion it was as Casaceli received a full scholarship to study jazz at the University of Oregon. He chose Oregon as director Steve Owen really impressed him with his jazz knowledge and his ability to bring out the best in student musicians. At Oregon his jazz development expanded exponentially. He began fastidiously transcribing solos from the likes of bebopper Sonny Stitt to Dixieland great Louis Armstrong. It was his dorm roommate that opened up a whole new music world to him, hip hop. His roommate was studying hip hop and when they began to share music they discovered some very interesting connections. Jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove produced a Qtip CD and NAS sampled beats from jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal. His capstone event at Oregon was a European tour with the big band playing at the Montreux Jazz Festival, the Umbria Jazz Festival along with several other venues.
After graduation Casaceli came back home to Reno to play jazz with friends in a thriving jazz community. He loves opportunities like those offered at the Laughing Planet where you can sit in and jam with friends, UNR students, and the UNR jazz faculty. He continues to compose material, most times a solitary endeavor, and balances that with playing live in clubs. His musical goal is to fuse jazz, and all its history, to hip hop and other contemporary music styles. He has a partner in a current recording project, his brother Will. Will Casaceli is a gifted trumpet player and pianist who will be heading off to college next year. I am eager to hear their joint effort when it comes out. I am pleased to note Casaceli has not given up on his passion for film and video as he is the head of visual media at Tanglewood Studios. Owners Michael and Catharine Eardley recognized the talent and drive he possesses and have taken him under their wing. FYI, Casaceli will be joining the RJO for our Reno Jazz Festival performance 4/27 and our Northern Nevada HOPES fundraiser 4/30.
Jazz is a lifetime adventure and it was a joy to hear Mills’ and Casaceli’s journeys and then sharing them with you.
Enjoy the original composition “Minds Eye” by Chris Casaceli: