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Reno Jazz Festival, 57 Years of Great Jazz

May 22, 2019·No Comments

The fifty-seventh three-day Reno Jazz Festival (RJF) concluded April 27th and it thrills me to tell you twenty-six local school big bands, combos, and choirs participated and received accolades including outstanding Nevada High School ensemble and Middle School Choir.

Beginning in 1962, the UNR hosted festival has continued each year, first under the direction of John Carrico followed by Larry Engstrom, and now currently under the direction of both Peter Epstein and Adam Benjamin.  More than three hundred school groups, nine thousand participants, and fifty clinicians, adjudicators, and performers participated this year making the RJF one of the largest festivals in the country.  Interestingly, when the festival was only fourteen years old questions and criticisms of the RJF’s longevity came into question.  From the March 29th 1975 Reno Evening Gazette “… Art Pepper, one of the all-time great jazz saxophonists, see Reno Jazz (RJF) as the tomorrow of their craft and view the University of Nevada-sponsored festival as one of the healthiest and most vital events in student music.  On the other side of the coin, Dwight Cannon, director of the San Jose State University Jazz Band, the group that put on a protest performance in Phase One of this year’s festival, sees both the Reno Jazz and its music degenerating and disintegrating, and the festival itself eventually failing.”  The article continues “Cannon thinks the festival has changed its perspective completely away from jazz and into “entertainment music,” preventing student musicians from developing their creative facilities.”  I am pleased to note that Art Pepper had a much better perspective on the future of the RJF! 

The festival opened Thursday evening when the UNR Jazz Faculty quintet, The Collective, was joined by tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III.  Friday was a full day of student big band, combo, and choir performances interspersed with clinics such as Sam Minae’s (UNR grad) Bass clinic and performances by The Drum Set Duo (Andy Heglund and David Gervais).  The packed Lawlor Events Center was the center of attention that evening where the UNR jazz band, The Free Radicals under the direction of Ralph Alessi, opened for Chilean jazz saxophonist Melissa Aldana.  The Free Radicals took the audience on a wild adventure into the jazz forefront that included a masked solo dancer!  Aldana and her quartet captivated the audience and reinforced the fact that jazz, once a uniquely American artform, now has contributing voices worldwide.  Saturday continued with student performances, clinics, and a noon performance by the Reno Jazz Orchestra where we announced our UNR jazz student scholarship recipient Diego LaRochelle.  The highlight of the festival came Saturday night at Lawlor where the winning student ensembles performed for their peers.  It is truly inspirational to hear such great jazz from all levels of student ensembles.

Here are some thoughts from three in attendance.  Hans Halt, a member of the UNR Jazz Faculty and RJO bassist, noted that UNR’s brand new University Arts Building that includes the beautiful Hall Recital Hall was a major plus to this year’s festival.  RJF Adjudicator Jonathan Phillips said “This year’s festival gave eye-opening opportunities to both young and professional musicians. As we are all students of this great art form, it’s a wonderful feeling to be able to walk away with information that is current and inspiring.” Dan Barthel, Depoali Middle School band director, noted “My kids were blown away by the Hamilton MS Band & several other great bands. It is awesome to see my students get inspired by their peers!”

Now here is my favorite part.  We had a total of twenty-six school bands, combos, and choirs participating!  Years past we averaged ten to twelve ensembles.  Reno High School Combo, under the direction of Rachael Cowell, was awarded Outstanding Nevada High School Ensemble, Billinghurst Middle School Choir, under the direction of Nichole Heglund and Kris Engstrom, won best Middle School Choir and Billinghurst vocalist Jazmin Rodrigues was awarded Outstanding Middle School vocalist.  Four local middle schools were in the top ten as were four local high school bands in the A High School category.  Here are all the participants…give them a round of applause.

Ensemble

Director

Middle Schools

 

Billinghurst I Band

Vern Scarbrough

Billinghurst II Band

Caryn Neidhold

Carson Band

Nick Jaques

Depaoli I Band

Dan Barthel

Depaoli II Band

Dan Barthel

Swope I Band

Theresa Smith

Swope II Band

Theresa Smith

Middle School Choirs

 

Billinghurst

Nichole Heglund/Kris Engstrom

 

 

High School Combos

 

Reno

Rachael Cowell

Truckee

Jesse Steele

Wooster

James Hayes

Incline

Todd Holway

Reno Youth Jazz Orchestra

Doug Coomler

Reed

Ron Eichstedt

 

 

High School Bands

 

Incline

Todd Holway

Truckee I

Jesse Steele

Wooster

James Hayes

Reed I

Ron Eichstedt

McQueen I

Natalia Tomasello

McQueen II

Kenny Baker

Reno Youth Jazz Orchestra I

Vern Scarbrough/Doug Coomler

Reno Youth Jazz Orchestra II

Vern Scarbrough

Reno

Rachael Cowell

Damonte Ranch

Christi Blanik

 

 

High School Choirs

 

Reed I

Malary Engstrom

Reed II

Malary Engstrom

Jazz is best experienced live and everyone who attended the fifty-seventh Reno Jazz Festival can attest to that.  Thank you RJF staff with a special shout out to C.J. Walters for all the years behind the scenes making sure it all comes together.

Speaking of live jazz, the Reno Jazz Orchestra (RJO) will be performing May 31st and June 1st at 124 West Taylor Street, our home in Midtown.  It is in the intimate one-hundred seat Good Luck Macbeth theater and we will be featuring the compositions of Vince Mendoza.  The RJO was introduced to Vince Mendoza's artistry when trumpet great Randy Brecker brought several of his arrangements when he performed with us in 2005.  I became an immediate fan and searched out more of his arrangements and original compositions which will be featured in these concerts.  Most will not recognize his name, but you have heard his music backing such greats as Joni Mitchell and Sting. He has eight of his own CDs and as well as numerous CDs leading the WDR Big Band and Metropole Orchestra.  Mendoza brings a unique and contemporary “voice” or style to big band jazz that moves the genre forward.  He has six Grammy awards and twenty-five nominations in his pocket.  The 17- piece RJO will perform a variety of his arrangements in the first set and the second set will feature his suite “Introductions and Riffs”.  Insider note:  our jazz workshop students will open both shows.

For tickets visit www.renojazzorchestra.org

Chuck Reider is the Executive Director of the Reno Jazz Orchestra

Vince Mendoza and WDR Big Band – Azure Moon

Vince Mendoza and WDR Big Band – Choros #3

Vince Mendoza and the Metropole Orchestra – Nubian Sundance

Reno Jazz Festival 2019

Tags: Jazz Around Town · RJO Events · Jazz History · RJO History · Local Related Events

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