News and Articles

Expanding Jazz Education: A Look at Reno Jazz Orchestra's Impactful Programs

by Nichole Heglund (Guest Writer)

In 2015, I had the privilege of serving as a jazz instructor for the Reno Jazz Orchestra's mentor program. As a band director myself, I was familiar with the outstanding work the RJO had been doing in our local schools, as my students and I had benefited from the mentor program. We were fortunate to have talented RJO musicians such as Larry Engstrom and Hans Halt visit our classroom, significantly enhancing our jazz band's knowledge and technique within just a few months.

When I was asked to take on the role of RJO Education Coordinator in 2019, overseeing programs such as the Mentor Program, Saturday Jazz Workshop, and the annual Jazz in the Schools event, I was thrilled. Over the past five years, we have expanded our initiatives to include the Reno Youth Jazz Orchestra, a Lessons Program at low-income schools, a Mentor Academy to train new mentors, and we are excited to introduce an all-female/non-binary jazz combo in the spring of 2024.

In just a few weeks, we will host the 25th annual Jazz in the Schools event held at UNR's Church Fine Arts Building. This collaboration with the UNR Music Department will welcome 18 area school jazz ensembles and over 400 student performers. Andy Heglund, RJO drummer and UNR music professor, is our dedicated UNR liaison who helps to coordinate the facilities, clinicians, jazz faculty clinics, and equipment, making this ever-growing event possible.

The event will be held on Saturday, February 10, 2024, from 9am to 4pm with student performances each hour in both Nightingale Concert Hall and the Hall Recital Hall. At 12:30pm, the Reno Youth Jazz Orchestra and Reno Jazz Orchestra will be the featured ensembles directed by Vernon Scarbrough and Josh Reed, respectively. The concert will also feature guest artists Dean Sorenson on trombone and Anisha Rush on saxophone. To date, this will be the largest number of students in attendance. Students will attend improvisation clinics, perform, hear other groups, and, most importantly, receive feedback from four nationally recognized clinicians. It's a wonderful day to hear jazz performances from our area schools and witness the positive jazz community that we are fortunate to have. The event is free and open to the public. For those who want to hear more from the Reno Jazz Orchestra, we invite you to get your tickets for the Sunday, February 11th performance at The Theatre on Keystone Avenue. Don't worry, you'll be back home to see the Super Bowl as it is a 2 pm concert.

This year we have four outstanding jazz clinicians who will give feedback at Jazz in the Schools. We will welcome back Dean Sorenson, a highly sought-after trombonist, composer, educator, and clinician who will also be traveling to several schools to give clinics prior to the event. Anisha Rush is a saxophonist, composer, and educator originally from Colorado Springs, Colorado and actively performs as bandleader of the Anisha Rush Quartet. As a well-respected jazz educator, she was the adjunct professor of jazz saxophone at Metropolitan State University, Denver, and taught at the University of Colorado at Boulder as well as the Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts. Our rhythm section specialist is Barb Catlin. Originally from the San Francisco Bay area, Barb has become one of the leading jazz educators in the Southwest. Barb has many accolades as a jazz pianist, including being named as a Downbeat "Player to Catch" but is equally well-known for her work in music education in both Arizona and California. She currently directs the jazz programs at Pomona College and the California Institute of Technology. Educator, clinician, and trombonist Gary Mayne has performed, recorded, and provided masterclasses around the world. As a performer, he has performed and recorded regularly with groups such as the Glenn Miller Orchestra, the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, and Big Head Todd and the Monsters. He has recently been a guest director for the RJO.

Jazz in the Schools will be an excellent start to 2024 for our education programs. Our primary objectives in 2023 were to reach more students in Sparks, expand the Reno Youth Jazz Orchestra, and train new mentors. We achieved these goals with the Spanish Springs Jazz Academy, an outreach program for students in Sparks without access to jazz bands in their schools. During the pilot semester, students focused on ear training, improvisation, jazz style, jazz theory, and rhythm studies. Witnessing the substantial growth in the students over nine weeks was rewarding, and we anticipate continuing this program when RJO relocates to a new facility this spring.

In 2024, we are committed to addressing three crucial needs in our community. First, we aim to address the growing demand for jazz instructors in our expanding area. The construction of new schools has led to an increase in requests to participate in our Mentor Program, surpassing our current mentor capacity. To bridge this gap, the Mentor Academy provides hands-on training for jazz musicians, equipping them with effective jazz education strategies. Graduates from this program subsequently become jazz instructors for our Mentor Program.

Our second goal focuses on fostering inclusivity within jazz education, particularly encouraging young female and non-binary students to pursue their passion for jazz. Historically, professional jazz ensembles have been predominantly male. However, we envision our education programs as environments where all students can thrive. To promote this inclusivity, we will introduce an all-female/non-binary combo opportunity to our Saturday education offerings this spring. This initiative aims to increase the representation of female participants in jazz education, creating a space where every aspiring musician feels empowered to learn and grow.

Our third goal for the coming year is to expand our reach to 40 new students through our ongoing private lessons program at low-income schools. In 2023, the program positively impacted over 70 students at Desert Skies Middle School, Traner Middle School, and O'Brien Middle School. Collaborating with local music educators and UNR Music Education majors, this initiative serves as an effective means to meet students' needs while providing practical teaching experience for UNR students. Students focus on proper technique and fundamentals on their instruments, giving them the tools to successfully continue in their school ensembles and beyond.

I'm proud to say that RJO reached over 1,000 students in northern Nevada and northern California in 2023. This is all due to the generosity of donors and grantors and to the vision of the Reno Jazz Orchestra board, new Executive Director Tim Young, as well as a committed RJO staff. This great work would not be possible without the dedication of our directors Vernon Scarbrough, Karen Scarbrough, Dylan Coleman-Tunstall, and Jonathan Phillips. They are all talented and passionate about music education and go above and beyond to help our students grow. Additionally, our 22 jazz instructors and 14 lessons instructors contributed greatly to the growth in our area's student musicianship and helped us provide over 350 hours of instruction in I eagerly anticipate an even more successful 2024 as the RJO relocates to a new office space, allowing us to strengthen all our education programs and continue reaching more students through music.

For tickets to the 2/11 performance at The Theater:

Jazz in the Schools video:

read more ...