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The Reno Jazz Orchestra's Conductor Search Finale

by Chuck Reider, Board President of the Reno Jazz Orchestra

The RJO embarked on a conductor search this past fall to find a permanent replacement for me. I had the privilege of leading the orchestra for sixteen years and have been enjoying seeing the candidates lead the orchestra. Three of the candidates have already led the orchestra (more on that later) with one more to go, Dr. Greg Johnson. He will lead the orchestra March 10 featuring his compositions and arrangements. Check out the link at the bottom of this article where you can purchase tickets. I had a nice talk with Greg and here is what I learned about him.

Dr. Greg Johnson
Johnson grew up in Pennsylvania near Penn State. His grandmother, Kim Kimberly, was a big band singer who worked with Mel Torme and Hoagy Carmichael gave her away at her wedding. Johnson believes the music gift skipped a generation as the rest of his family all entered the military. He was scheduled to go to the naval academy, but took a different path. His jazz influence began with Marty Paich's arrangements which began to slowly open up the music world to him. Early on he knew he wanted music to be his life and went to the University of Northern Colorado, getting his doctorate at the University of Southern California (USC) to hone his craft.

Johnson is quickly becoming recognized as a luminary figure in the Jazz community. His distinctive saxophone sound has found its way into multiple genres of Jazz, Classical and Popular music. As a saxophonist, Greg has appeared in concert and on over 40 mainstream recordings with jazz legends Curtis Fuller, Billy Taylor, Bob Mintzer and many more. He has released seven recordings under his name and has contributed to dozens more. Johnson has a new album The Naked Truth slated for release in July featuring a nonet.

He received sage advice from his mentor Bob Mintzer at USC about big band arranging. Mintzer said to write one hundred big band charts to really learn how to do it. Johnson recalls his first thirty were not so good but learned from his mistakes. His writing is influenced by a variety of arrangers. Some well-known like, Claus Ogerman and Bob Mintzer to others not as well-known like Jill Townsend or Florian Ross. Johnson is attracted to composers who do not write in a typical big band form such as melody/solos/shout chorus/melody and out.

Jazz is fundamentally multi-cultural beginning at its roots in New Orleans. Rhythms from Africa blended with European instruments. His concert Jazz Around the World exemplifies this. Music from Iceland, Canada, Kansas City and Tokyo, from different eras of history. Johnson thinks this diversity is what makes jazz fun to listen to.

He is also a dynamic teacher of ensembles and improvisation and has kept an active schedule as a clinician and guest composer/saxophonist. He is praised for his relatable, organic approach to music. Johnson believes you do not need to understand music to enjoy it and that musicians need to be a community member.

Dr. David Brennan

The process to select a music director began last summer when a search committee of musicians and board members developed criteria to create a nationwide job announcement. Many people responded and after phone interviews we reduced the number to the four top candidates. The committee decided it was important for the band, audience, and staff to see how each candidate worked with the orchestra and how they interacted with the audience. For each candidate's performance a survey was sent to the audience in attendance and a separate survey for the orchestra members.

Our second candidate, Dr. David Brennan, led the orchestra for two concerts on November 11 and 12. Brennan has been holding down our baritone saxophone chair and is an accomplished Los Angeles studio musician and educator. The program was centered around celebrating Jim and Mary Ann Kidder, who have been great supporters of the arts in town for many years. The concert featured selections Brennan chose for the first half followed by a performance of Duke Ellington's Such Sweet Thunder suite featuring the orchestra and Shakespearean actors.

Our third candidate, Dr. Doug Pierce, programmed our holiday concerts on December 3. He received his doctorate from the University of Nebraska in jazz studies and composition. On trumpet he has performed with a host of jazz greats from Slide Hampton to George Duke, but he is also a gifted composer and arranger which was on display at the holiday concert.

Dr. Doug Pierce

Our fourth candidate, Dr. Josh Reed, programmed and led our Jazz in the Schools concert February 11. He is an assistant professor of jazz trumpet at UNR, joining in 2019. He earned his doctorate at the University of Colorado Boulder and has extensive experience in jazz education. Reed is also an accomplished trumpet player with an impressive resume including numerous recording projects from Snoop Dogg to his own albums as leader as well as performing with a multitude of artists from Darlene Love on the pop side to Anat Cohen on the jazz side.

Dr. Josh Reed

Experience Jazz Around the World at the Theater on Keystone Avenue on March 10. Provide feedback on what you heard and saw to help us pick our new music director!

Two videos of Greg Johnson's music:

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