Over 300 high school, middle school and college groups will compete at this year’s festival. It takes place on the University of Nevada Reno campus and will draw more than 8000 spectators and participants.
"Winning at Reno has always been a big deal, it was even back in my day in the 70’s."
That’s Larry Engstrom, director of the festival, also director of UNR’s School of the Arts, and a professional trumpet player. This music comes from his faculty group called the Collective, which kicks off the festival tonight.
Thirty-plus years ago, Larry Engstrom came to Reno as a competitor with his Fresno-area high school and college bands.
"In fact I was part of one of those winning bands and a winning jazz choir… and I remember we bragged about that for quite a while."
These days as the man in charge of the festival, Engstrom is bragging about another important aspect.
"What I’m very proud of is the educational component."
It’s a big part of the festival. And education goes hand in hand with competition. Judges who score the student performers are professional musicians. And they don’t just give points, they give pointers.
"Each band or choir that comes, they perform for a half hour and then they get a half hour clinic with one of these people in another room, right after their performance. And they talk about what they could have done better, or what they loved, what they didn’t like, and you know work with the in any way and try and help them to get better."
The festival provides young people even more education and inspiration by bringing in jazz luminaries.. Tonight’s headliner is trumpet star Ingrid Jensen and tomorrow night, it’s legendary composer, arranger and bandleader Bill Holman.
"In the big band idiom he is clearly one of the giants."
In January, at age 82, Holman was named a National Endowment for the Arts “Jazz Master,” the highest jazz honor in the country. Long-time fans know Holman from his ground-breaking arrangements for the Stan Kenton Orchestra in the 1950’s.
Bill Holman is widely recognized as one of the most creative arrangers in jazz. Whether it’s his re-working of Benny Goodman’s “Stompin at the Savoy” for the Kenton Band in the 1950’s….
Or a more recent arrangement for his own band of Thelonious Monk’s tune “Bye Ya”
Holman is a master at altering a melody, adding countermelodies, reharmonizing tunes and playing with rhythms. And yet, Larry Engstrom says a Bill Holman arrangement always has its own wonderfully intriguing sense of logic.
"And that is what jazz musicians love about this guy, is that ability to transform a piece of music into something else, fun to play and fun to listen to."
Bill Holman and his band won’t just be performing during the Reno Jazz Festival, they’ll also be giving master classes and clinics. And, they’ll offer a glimpse into just what it means to live a life devoted to music.
"Our goal is to provide the students that come to this festival just this kind of experience. Whether it’s Joshua Redman or Freddie Hubbard back in the day or now Bill Holman. We want the students that come to the festival to leave seeing the real deal."
And even though most of the students competing at the festival won’t take home a trophy, director Larry Engstrom hopes each will leave with good feelings and good memories.
"Ya it may be competitive in one small way, but mostly there’s a real sense of community. People are here to express music in a positive way and it really is a fun thing to be a part of."
The Reno Jazz Festival takes place on the campus of University of Nevada, Reno April 22-24, 2010. The Bill Holman Big Band performs on Friday, April 23rd at 7:30 p.m. in the Lawlor Events Center. Click on the link at the right for more information.