First Take featuring Rick Metz is led by saxophonist Rick Metz, a fixture in the northern Nevada music scene and a radio personality in Reno.
The band plays Rat Pack-style jazz from “The Great American Songbook,” performing selections from Frank Sinatra to Michael Bublé, including the most well-known vocal jazz of the last century.
Metz is the recipient of the 2017 Forté Award for “Best Jazz Instrumentalist” and the band is the recipient of the 2016 and 2017 Forté Award for “Best Jazz Group.” The group consists of two core members, local legend Jimmy Vermilion (keys/key Bass/vocals) and Bill Heise (drums), and has been the backbone of the area’s longest running Open Jazz Jam.
The band adds members as the pay for gigs allow, and those players include: Latisha Lewis (vocals), Ron Darby (sax/vocals), Neil Strocchio (drums), Marsh Brodeur (vocals), Alex “Muddy” Smith (guitar/vocals), Dave Kubin (keys/key bass), Kevin Hockett (drums), Marcy Benner (vocals), Mark “Lucky Diamond” Ashworth (drums), Joe Finetti (trombone/vocals), Bob Greenwood (keys/key bass/vocals) and Paul January (keys/key bass vocals/brass).
The band has also brought this show to numerous venues and special events, from the Rolling On The River and Lazy 5 concert series, to Fantasies In Chocolate, the Ronald McDonald House Red Shoes Gala, First Thursdays at the Nevada Museum of Art, and the Renaissance Reno Downtown Hotel, to name just a few.
Recently I chatted with Metz in an online interview:
ThisisReno: Who came up with the band name and logo?
Rick Metz: There’s actually no “logo” to speak of. There are a few fonts that I’ve used that catch my eye, but nothing specific. I’d love to have a professionally designed logo eventually, but I haven’t felt the need. The band name was my idea. Upon exiting the full-time Reno/Tahoe casino lounge circuit in June of 1999, I found myself working the freelance scene and the predominance of gigs that came my way were playing jazz. When the gigs started coming in as a bandleader, I needed a name for my band. That’s when I remembered First Take. It was the name of my jazz group while I was attending the University of New Mexico in the late 1970s; the original quintet lasted just a few short years. But, it also represents my approach to playing jazz. Being the truly spontaneous art form that jazz is and due to the fact that most freelance musicians work with many different bandleaders as a matter of course. I found that my gigs became a constantly changing mix of the area’s finest players when my core players weren’t available! Which means that no matter who’s playing the gig, they have to get the song on the FIRST TAKE. I added the “featuring Rick Metz” tag to make sure that my fans knew that it was me and could easily identify with the group, as well as to assure them that the quality of the band was up to my high standards.
TIR: What has changed after winning back-to-back Forté Awards?
Metz: To be honest, not enough. The general public is still not very familiar with the Forté Awards and it’s not as big of a promotional tool as I hoped it would be. Those that are familiar with it know the significance of the band being the back-to-back recipients of the “Best Jazz Group” award and myself being the 2017 recipient of the “Best Jazz Instrumentalist” award, but the people that aren’t aware just kind of shrug it off. I still depend on my own promotion of the group and the quality of music we present at our live performances to drive more business.
TIR: What bands are you influenced by?
Metz: That’s always been one of the most difficult questions that I’m constantly asked. My musical tastes are so varied that I could say that every bit of music I’ve ever heard has influenced me! But if I had to narrow it down, the musicians/bands that have been major influences would include Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, Mel Tormé, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane from jazz. The “Big Man” (Clarence Clemons), King Curtis, Junior Walker, Illinois Jacquet, Plas Johnson, Boots Randolph, Al “Hurricane” Carter, and Houston Person from R&B/rock ‘n’ roll.
Two of my biggest influences were saxmen that I got to play with and considered my friends. Sam Butera, from Louie Prima’s band and later his own band, as well as Bobby Keyes from The Rolling Stones (among the many bands he played with) were mentors and big supporters of my playing over the years.
TIR: Where do you see the band in five years?
Metz: I see us … to do what we’ve been doing for many years now, bringing our brand of vocal jazz to as many people as possible to spread the love of this great American musical art form. I’d love to record an album but have never had the funds to do that. It’s a BIG bucket list item for me to document this amazing group of musicians that I have the honor to perform with regularly. I’d also like to be able to spread the reach of this band to more than just the local area. A little more attention never hurt anyone.
TIR: What do you think of the Reno music scene?
Metz: I’ve been playing in Reno since 1985 and moved here in 1991. I’ve seen every up and down in this scene since then; it’s changed so much. The current scene gives me some hope. There’s a huge diversity of quality music of every genre/style making headway into the awareness of the general public. Since the downturn of the casino music scene, which was dominant when I first arrived, there are a lot of small clubs and venues presenting lots of different music which is to the benefit of everybody and it gives me reason to think that the local scene will continue to thrive and grow.
Unfortunately, a lot of the club owners are still under the impression that it’s up to the band to fill their establishment, without any help from the owners in the way of advertising or driving their own business into their clubs to match the draw of the band. They also aren’t paying any more than they did 25 years ago (and sometimes less). They just don’t realize that it takes a concerted effort between the venue and the musicians to make money. Spending money to make money is a concept that constantly eludes a large portion of them. I’d like to see a more united effort between bands and owners to help promote the amazing music around here.
If you have never seen First Take play a live show before, you really should. Learn more and find a schedule at https://www.rickmetz.com/
And if you’d really like to hear some great local musicians play some cool jazz music, check out Metz’s Jazz Jam at the Renaissance Reno on the first and third Tuesday of every month from 7 to 10 p.m.