Monday, April 14, 2014

I Shot A Man In Reno Just To Watch Him Play A Bb Blues

This year was my second time as an adjudicator at the Reno Jazz Festival. Running for over 50 years, this festival is one of the biggest student jazz competitions in the U.S. Over 300 groups from middle school, high school, and college compete and are coached by jazz educators and professionals. This year, like last year, was a great experience for me; I got to hear many high school and college musicians and give them my perspective on how to improve. I also got to see some old friends as well and meet some new ones; I also got to play a bit with some musicians I had never played with before. One of my alternate goals of being a part of a festival like this is recruiting; I tried to make sure that the prospective jazz students I met were aware that Portland State University is an option for them for Bachelor's or Master's. There are so many options for studying jazz, however, I think a lot of folks are curious about Portland as a city and whether it has a jazz scene and opportunity to study. ( I keep hearing that half a million people will move to Portland in the next 5 years. I guess we shall see.)

I got to hear some good music also; I heard a concert which began with The Collective, which is
Peter Epstein, who Directs the Jazz Program at UNR
actually the faculty ensemble of the University of Nevada in Reno( which is where the festival is held). Trumpet phenomenon Avishai Cohen joined them and blew the roof off the concert hall; it's amazing to hear Cohen's fluid lines, beautiful sound, and endless ideas. I also got to hear jazz super group Kneebody in a huge auditorium( it felt more like a rock concert than a jazz performance). Kneebody is a very special group; they've been together for over a decade, and it shows in how in sync they are as a band.

After listening to student bands for two days straight, it was fun to actually participate. I played as a sideman for two concerts; one was with UNR graduate Brian Landrus, who is a talented baritone saxophonist and composer. The second concert was with Clay Jenkins, a really great trumpeter who has played with many of the greats and now teaches at Eastman School of Music. Both concerts featured drummer Mark Ferber, who is one of my all time favorite musicians with whom to collaborate. Ferber and I just seem to really communicate well musically. I hope I can play with him more in the future. Another highlight of the festival is the Friday Late Night Adjudicator Jam Session. It's held in a bar in the middle of the Circus Circus Casino, which is not optimal; however, despite the less than desirable acoustics, it's still a lot of fun, and all of the educators and musicians come out to play a bit.

Larry Engstrom, Director of the Reno Jazz Festival
I really do enjoy working with the small groups. I think I am better at working with them then last year. It's always a bit rushed, but I have improved my bedside manner and getting to the heart of the matter. As Larry Engstrom, the Director of the UNR School Of The Arts and the Director of the Festival likes to say, rather insist, at the welcome meeting, "Be Postive!" Truthfully, none of these kids, some of whom drive for half a day to get to Reno, want to perform their hearts out only to be ripped apart. Constructive criticism is the name of the game. I got the impression that it was a positive experience for most of the kids I worked with. That is not to say that I sugar coat anything. (Like I say to my students at PSU, "If I'm not telling you something, you aren't getting your money's worth!")

Congratulations to Dr. Engstrom and Peter Epstein for another great festival. Maybe I'll see you next year!

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