Joyous Jazz from Around the World

The homegrown Reno Jazz Orchestra has been dazzling audiences with sound and soul for more than 20 years.

Reno Jazz Orchestra
Dec. 20 | 6 p.m.
Olympic Village Lodge | Olympic Valley

This season, they visit Squaw Valley’s Merry Days & Holly Nights for the third year to embellish great music with grand Christmas tradition in the spirit of a jazz big-band performance. At Olympic Village Lodge, the talented and engaging 18-piece will explore holiday music from the four corners of the globe with a program that includes classic songs from Puerto Rico, Brazil, Russia, Austria, England, Israel and the United States.

“The idea was formed last year after we performed ‘Joy to the World,’ ” says music director Chuck Reider. “I switched the words around to ‘A World of Joy.’ The idea was to see what we could find from different places. There will be some tunes you’ve heard all your life and some songs you haven’t heard before.”

Unless, of course, you are from Brazil where “Boas Festas” is considered the national version of “Jingle Bells.” It means happy holidays in Portuguese.

“Isn’t that what the holiday the spirit is all about?” asks Reider. “There is a whole world out there that celebrates the holidays and music can bring us together. It’s a chance for your family and friends to gather and celebrate those relationships. Our goal is to get people engaged in the spirit of the holidays. We want to eliminate the invisible wall between the audience and the performers.”

The RJO will be joined for their holiday performance by the Pat Esters Gospel Choir conducted by Lori Johnson.

“The energy, spirit and joy they bring with them is infectious,” says Reider. “You can see that in the audience’s response. People are getting up and carrying on. You have to see it to believe it.”

THE LOST ART OF JAZZ

Reno Jazz Orchestra was founded in 1997 in the wake of economic changes in the casinos and a shift in popular music from swinging big bands to five-piece R&B and rock groups.

“The origin of the group is from the showroom days when the big casinos all had orchestras,” says Reider “That was full-time work back in the day.”

The single-owner casino model made successful by the likes of Bill Harrah offered first-class entertainment to draw people in to gamble. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, these owners sold out to corporations when they realized the showrooms weren’t as profitable as they used to be.

“When you have a synth, who needs four trombones?” says Reider. “Folks like me who didn’t want to leave the area formed this band to play the music we always wanted to play. When you’re doing a show and you’re working for somebody else, you do the music they ask you to play. Here, we choose our own music and produce our own concerts.”

In 2006, the orchestra added an educational component in the form of Reno Youth Jazz Orchestra to assemble by audition the top middle- and high-school jazz talents in the Reno, Sparks, Carson City and Tahoe communities in order to provide opportunities for the performance, preservation, appreciation and study of jazz.

“We want to pass on this jazz bug to the next generation because this music truly is America’s invention,” says Reider

The veteran trombonist and conductor has seen the local talent pool grow exponentially during the past two decades. In February, he expects more than 15 school ensembles and orchestras to arrive for a celebration of musical history and improvisation.

Students will attend clinics with professional musicians during the day and perform “Jazz in the Schools” in the evening at Reno’s Nightingale Concert Hall on Feb. 9 and 10. Also, on Feb. 10, noted drummer John Riley will perform a matinee performance.

Reno Jazz Orchestra and Reno Youth Jazz Orchestra are both 501(c3) nonprofits that accept donations via their Web sites.

“Donations are the bread and butter of how we do what we do,” says Reider. “We appreciate all the support over the years.” | renojazzorchestra