High-school Jazz Bands Hit a High Note

Courtesy Reno Jazz Festival

The teenagers may have been groggy-eyed and lifeless when they arrived just after 6 in the morning, but by the time conductor Jesse Steele wrapped up his daily morning rehearsal with the Truckee High School Jazz Band, the band room hummed with lively sounds and joyful activity.

View the lineup for upcoming shows from local high school jazz bands

“The most important thing is learning how to work with each other to overcome challenges,” says Steele. “And they get to have the experience of being a professional musician.”

“We have all felt how music can bring so much joy and fun to our lives and when you are a part of music in the schools, you are getting that enrichment from music every day.”
–Todd Holway

The course begins at the start of the school year with auditions for two judges who cannot see the performer.

“There is resiliency to be learned in the audition process,” says Steele. “Half of the kids in the current first jazz band were at some point rejected.”

Those students are placed in the second jazz band under the guidance of Lucas Arizu, an Argentinian national who studied at Buenos Aires Music School before relocating to the U.S. to perform and teach professionally. A flautist and guitarist by trade, he plays his sensational style of Latin-influenced classical jazz regularly throughout Northern Nevada and the Tahoe Sierra with his wife, Darcy Stevens, and nine-member Motown-jazz collective, The Bayberry Cast, as well as the highly noted Reno Jazz Orchestra.

Reno Jazz Festival | April 25-27 | Reno, Nev., venues

“Jesse did such good job in his first couple of years that we started a second band,” says Arizu. “We definitely try to get that message across that [the students] are part of something bigger than themselves and that it’s cool to care. In high school, you sometimes think bands are lame and that people are going to make fun of you. I try my best to convey the message that no one is going to care what you did in high school when you get to college. It is super cool to show that you care, and you can get a lot out of it.”

Truckee High School Jazz Band | Rob Retting

Young Professionals
Joining the group is no small commitment. Once they’ve secured their spot, students meet at 6:30 a.m. every morning before school to rehearse. The smaller jazz combos practice after school and all are expected to spend additional time outside of class learning their parts for public performances, which occur at least once a month.

“We have a fun, casual, working atmosphere with high expectations,” says Steele. “We’ve gone and had a poor performance and come back and stepped it up and worked hard to have an amazing performance the next time. They’ve learned that if they work really hard, it’s a gratifying experience.”

Truckee, North Tahoe and South Lake high schools will all perform at the Reno Jazz Festival on April 25 to 27, where they will have the opportunity to compete against other schools, as well as take in performances by acclaimed international artists. This year’s festival features Walter Smith III with Reno faculty jazz ensemble, The Collective; Chilean tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana; a festival showcase of competition winners; and clinics and jam sessions led by pros.

“The students get to go and experience music first hand,” says South Lake High School conductor Jordan Bagheri. “They experience the opportunity of playing with professionals. There is a development of their own unique sound and character. I’ve found that the jazz band grows as a group and develops closer bonds.”

Both Steele and Incline High School conductor Todd Holway are members of the popular local nonet Sneaky Creatures, who can be found at area festivals and late-night venues radiating their trademark version of gypsy punk groove.

“I think playing professionally is huge when it comes to teaching music,” says Steele. “It gives you that first-person experience of being on stage and makes what you do every day relatable.”

“Our jazz band does a lot of work from daily rehearsals to performing at jazz festivals, playing out in the community and doubling as a pep band in parades, football and basketball games,” says Holway. “It is a huge commitment that they all take on because they enjoy sounding good as a band and they can feel that appreciation they get back from it. We have all felt how music can bring so much joy and fun to our lives and when you are a part of music in the schools, you are getting that enrichment from music every day.” | unr.edu/rjf

Upcoming performances

North Tahoe High School
April 25 | 6 p.m. | Jazz Band Concert | North Tahoe High School Theater
April 26-28 | Santa Cruz Tour
May 9 | 6 p.m. | Jazz Ensemble | Goose and Chey’s | Tahoe City
May 16 | 6 p.m. | Outer Space Jazz | North Tahoe High School Auditorium
June 6 | 6 p.m. | Finale Concert | North Tahoe High School Gymnasium

Incline High School
April 26 | 8:30 a.m. | Reno Jazz Festival | University of Nevada at Reno
May 10| 6:30 p.m. | Moonlight Jazz Club Fundraiser | The Chateau | Incline Village, Nev.
May 18 | Reed Jazz Festival | Edward C. Reed High School | Sparks, Nev.
May 29 | 7 p.m. | End of Year Concert | Incline High School

Truckee High School
April 26 | Reno Jazz Festival | University of Nevada at Reno
May 23 | 7 p.m. | A Night at the Movies | Truckee High School Auditorium
June 6 | 6 p.m. | Spring Concert | Truckee High School Auditorium

South Lake Tahoe High School
April 24 | 7 p.m. | Road to Reno Concert | Theatre at South Lake Tahoe High School with University of Pacific Big Band
April 25-27 | Reno Jazz Festival | University of Nevada at Reno | Church Fine Arts Building | Reno, Nev.
May 22 | 7 p.m. | Pops Concert | Theatre at South Lake Tahoe High School