Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Reno Jazz Festival 2013

Last weekend, I flew to Reno, Nevada. No, I didn't go to gamble or see Sawyer Brown in concert. (Anybody remember Sawyer Brown? Winners of Star Search?Are they still touring? Seems like a band that would play Reno once a year.....)I was asked to be an adjudicator at the Reno Jazz Festival. This festival, hosted by the University of Nevada Reno, has been running for 51 years, and is primarily a competition for middle school, high school, and college jazz bands. It's a huge event, and it's remarkably well organized considering there are usually around 300 bands, 9,000 participants, and 60 judges/adjudicators. There are also some professional performances; this year the featured acts were Dave Douglas and Matt Wilson. There are also some additional clinics and performances; I gave a piano clinic, participated in an adjudicator jam session, and also one afternoon concert. Other than that, it was wall to wall adjudication for me.

So far in my career, I haven't done that much judging of competitions. I was rather surprised that the good folks at University of Nevada Reno had asked me to come. I ended up having a really wonderful time. I was assigned to be the feedback judge for high school combos. I didn't give any scores, but I gave constructive commentary for each group that I listened to. I alternated between listening to a band for 25 minutes, bringing them to the "feedback" room, talking to them for 25 minutes, and then running back to the concert hall to hear the next band. It was back and forth all day for both days. I actually had a lot of fun listening to the high school kids at all different levels and critiquing them. Most , if not all, of the students and their directors were very receptive to my feedback. I think it's important to stay positive in these situations; after all, I could barely play at all in high school, so already most of these kids are in a better situation than I was at their age.

I have to give it up to the folks who organized this festival. When I imagine all of the work that it would take to do something like that at PSU, I shudder to think of the magnitude of responsibility. School of the Arts Director David Ake and trumpet professor and festival organizer Larry Engstrom did a wonderful job of making sure everything ran as smoothly as it could. It's kind of an odd place to host a jazz festival; Circus Circus, the main hotel where everyone stays, is part of a Vegas like casino complex which has almost nothing to do with a jazz. I participated in an adjudicator jam in a Mexican bar/restaurant right in the middle of the casino. I'm not sure if our uptempo version of "Lover" made us any friends besides the jazz festival participants.

Portland State University brought two excellent groups to Reno. One of our groups, a quartet called Reverse Mermaid, tied for third place among college groups. I didn't get to hear either group because I was busy judging the high schoolers, but I heard that they both did really well. I had coached both groups and contributed some arrangements to the second group. The Reno Jazz Festival  are great about sending mp3 files with and without comments. When I have the time, I'll listen to them and give them my own feedback.

I happened to find this set of videos from the faculty concert that took place on the Saturday afternoon of the festival. It was rather impromtu, but I had fun playing after listening to so much music for two days. You'll hear Tom Wakeling on bass, Don Aquilo on tenor saxophone, and the fabulous Mark Ferber on drums. Enjoy the videos and maybe I'll see you in Reno next year!

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