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Jazz in the Schools 2020

by Chuck Reider

It is a brand new year and all of the holiday trimmings are tucked away for next year so our thoughts turn to… well jazz of course!  Kicking off the Reno Jazz Orchestra’s (RJO) new year is our annual Jazz in the Schools event February 8th at the University of Nevada Reno (UNR).  Under the direction of Jazz in the Schools director, Andy Heglund, we are pleased to partner with UNR for a full day of student performances, clinics, and an afternoon concert featuring the RJO and the UNR jazz faculty quintet performing the music of Oliver Nelson.  Here is what to look forward to.

Every February we invite all middle and high school jazz bands to come to UNR to perform for twenty minutes, after which they receive a forty-minute clinic from a nationally recognized jazz clinician.  Under Heglund’s guidance JITS has grown every year to the point that we now need two performance halls.  Nightingale Hall and UNR’s new Recital Hall.  Sixteen big bands, five jazz combos, and two jazz choirs will be participating from  8:00 am to 3:00 pm in both venues.  Listen to your favorite school bands and follow them to the clinician room and watch the clinicians work with the bands.  Heglund sums it up this way "[The students] get the best of both worlds. They get to perform in front of a bunch of people, their friends, other schools, and then they get to have feedback on their performance by some world class professionals."  Let me introduce you to our four big band clinicians this year.

Dr. Josh Reed is UNR’s newest jazz faculty member teaching jazz trumpet and directing UNR’s big band. Prior to this appointment, Reed was the Director of Jazz Studies at Santa Clara University.  Tina Raymond is a drummer based in Los Angeles. A unique voice in the LA contemporary improvised music scene, Raymond blends traditional jazz vocabulary with African polyrhythm and classical percussion technique. She performs, adjudicates, and presents workshops world-wide.  Mike Steinel is a jazz trumpeter, composer, and educator. He has been a member of the University of North Texas Jazz Studies faculty since 1987 and has been teaching jazz for 39 years. He is the author of the highly acclaimed Essential Elements for Jazz Ensemble and Building A Jazz Vocabulary.  Josh Murray has been a tireless band teacher and musical mentor at Rio Americano High School since 1998. Mr. Murray grew up in New York City and attended the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, learning from Reggie Workman, Jimmy Cobb, Ira Gitler, Kenny Werner, and Joanne Brackeen, among others.

UNR is a valued collaborator for Jazz in the Schools by hosting the event and having the UNR jazz faculty participate.  This way our local students get to experience performing at UNR and meeting and hearing the UNR jazz faculty in action.  Jazz faculty Andy Heglund, Peter Epstein, Hans Halt, and Ed Corey will be listening to the jazz combos and providing feedback.  Josh Reed is, as noted above, a clinician but will also conduct the RJO and be a featured soloist for the afternoon concert. 

This leads me to our concert “Celebrating the Genius of Oliver Nelson”.  Nelson was a gifted saxophonist, composer, and arranger who left us in 1975 at the of forty-three.   He left behind a legacy of great music and if he hadn’t left us so soon I am sure his name would be right there with Duke Ellington and Count Basie in jazz history.  At the age of eleven he began learning saxophone and by 1950 was touring with the Louis Jordan band.  While stationed in Japan he had the opportunity to hear the Tokyo Philharmonic perform Paul Hindemith’s Symphony in E flat.   He had never heard contemporary classical music and at that moment decided to become a composer.  He earned a master’s degree from Lincoln University in 1958 after studying with the likes of American composer Elliott Carter.  After that it was off to New York City to work as the house arranger for the Apollo Theater and performing with the Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Quincy Jones big bands.  Between 1959 and 1961 he recorded six albums as a leader with the breakthrough album being “Blues and the Abstract Truth”.  This led to several big band albums such as “Afro-American Sketches”.   In 1967 Nelson decided to move to Los Angeles and try his hand at TV and film scores.  If you have not heard his jazz recordings you certainly heard his music in the popular TV shows of the day Ironside, Night Gallery, or Columbo.  While in LA he produced albums for Nancy Wilson, James Brown, and Diana Ross.   Our program highlights his genius through his arrangements such as the Thelonious Monk big band album “Spheres” and extended original compositions like “Sound Piece for Jazz Orchestra”.  UNR’s jazz quintet “The Collective” are joining in the RJO’s tribute to Nelson.  Drummer Andy Heglund and bassist Hans Halt are regular members of the RJO.  Pianist Adam Benjamin will be featured on the Thelonious Monk pieces, Peter Epstein will take the role of Oliver Nelson on sax solos, and Josh Reed will conduct the RJO and be a featured soloist on several pieces. 

I can’t write this article without a shout out to all our donors and especially to Dr. Andy Heglund.  All the educational components are offered free of charge to the schools and students, thank you donors.  It is Heglund’s passion and commitment to jazz education that has driven Jazz in the Schools to reach new students, expand the program, and bring great clinicians to Reno for the event.  Thank you Andy!


Oliver Nelson performing “Black Brown and Beautiful”

Oliver Nelson’s music from “The Six Million Dollar Man”

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