by Chuck Reider
The Reno Jazz Orchestra (RJO) has been very busy virtually speaking. Bad news is we still can’t share our love for jazz with you in person, good news is that you can join us virtually any time you wish. I want to give you a report about our virtual Jazz in the Schools (JITS) we hosted February 11th through 13th . Then a bit about our new monthly series which premiers Sunday, March 21st at 2:00 pm .
Organizing Jazz in the Schools is always a challenging task, inviting the school bands, collaborating with UNR on theater and room space, and creating a schedule that moves fifteen school ensembles from warm up rooms to the stage and then to the band room for a clinic. This year created new challenges for Andy Heglund (JITS Director) and his wife Nichole Heglund (our Education Coordinator) who out-did themselves doing all the above virtually. Andy Heglund is an associate professor at UNR and has large network of nationally recognized jazz clinicians he draws from. This year he recruited two fantastic clinicians from Iowa, Kyle Engelhardt and Mike Conrad. Why is Iowa so strong in school jazz education? Thirty years ago the Iowa Jazz Championships premiered and now features sixty groups from throughout the state competing in four different classes. The championships have created a culture of jazz education in Iowa. Englehardt has been teaching at Cedar Falls High School since 2004. Twenty-five of his students have been selected to participate in the 4A All-State Jazz Band. He also plays his trumpet regularly with the Bill Shepherd Big Band and has received numerous awards for teaching excellence. Conrad is an assistant professor of Jazz Studies and Music Education at the University of Northern Iowa. He is also well recognized for big band composing and arranging receiving seven DownBeat Awards. As a trombonist and pianist he has toured throughout the world performing with a variety of ensembles. Now on to their virtual challenge…
Eight school ensembles from six schools participated in the clinics, some starting as early as 6:45am. Our band directors are dedicated! Some of the school bands were able to perform for the clinician who then gave feedback. I watched a couple of the sessions and was amazed that the clinicians could hear the performance well enough to give some very specific advice. Visit our website, choose Education on the menu page and you can watch one of the clinics. On Saturday Englehardt and Conrad held workshops for band directors on such topics as how to keep students motivated while at home, purposeful listening and practicing, and approaches to teach middle school students how to improvise. Jazz in the Schools concluded with a performance by the Julien Knowles quartet. During normal times the full RJO would perform a concert for participating students, but as you know that was not possible this year. Knowles is a gifted trumpet player and composer who will be attending the Hancock Institute (yes Herbie Hancock) when the pandemic subsides. Featuring Adam Benjamin on piano, Dylan Coleman on bass, and David Gervais on drums they performed Knowles’ original compositions and in the middle of the concert took questions from students. Check out our Facebook page to hear one of the tunes. Jazz in the Schools was, as always, possible only through the generosity of our donors and grants from the City of Reno, the State of Nevada, and the E.L. Cord Foundation. Thank you! Here are a couple of quotes from this year’s participating band directors expressing their appreciation. “You are doing a great job! I really appreciate your ongoing support of jazz education and providing support and expertise to our schools. I can't think of anything that would improve the event. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!” and “I feel like you've done an extraordinary job finding a way to make this work. Thank you for not canceling the event this year! I am sad that we didn't have more schools participate.” How about a shout out to all the band directors who are doing such a great job in such difficult times.
Jazz in the Schools is only one element of our virtual education program. Here is what is on deck. The Spring Mentor Program will run March through May where RJO mentors work virtually with participating schools with a minimum of four sessions for each school. Nichole Heglund has been busy creating a video library available to all mentor schools. Included are twelve videos recorded by our mentors with topics ranging from specific jazz techniques on a variety of instruments to jazz improvisation. Spring brings our jazz workshop where the focus is on improvisation and learning songs by ear, no paper needed. Director Dylan Coleman will lead a zoom get-together every Saturday morning. Bonus for students: At the end of the eight sessions they will get to record their song and solos at Tanglewood Productions in a professional studio. Thank you Mike and Catherine Eardley, owners of Tanglewood.
With the success of our virtual holiday production our board president, Dallas Smith, is initiating a monthly virtual RJO concert series featuring small jazz ensembles at the Good Luck Macbeth Theater (GLM). Sunday March 21st tune into the RJO Youtube channel to experience the latin-jazz sextet No Comprende. Lead by RJO bassist Hans Halt, the group has been performing since 1994 throughout northern Nevada. Halt fell in love with latin music while living in San Francisco and performing in a number of latin ensembles including Pete and Sheila Escovedo and sever members of Santana. Joining Halt are; Dallas Smith-sax and flute, Eric Finkelstein-drums, Chance Utter-congas, Kris Landrum-keyboards, Eric Middleton-vibes and percussion. My last article was about latin jazz great Eddie Palmieri so here is a chance to enjoy some homegrown latin jazz.