51.5 F

From online to in-person jazz education


Submitted by Chuck Reider, Reno Jazz Orchestra

The Reno Jazz Orchestra (RJO) has been very busy virtually speaking. Bad news is we still can’t share our love for jazz with you in person, good news is that you can join us virtually any time you wish. I want to give you a report about our virtual Jazz in the Schools (JITS) we hosted in February and moving back to in person jazz education.

Organizing Jazz in the Schools is always a challenging task, inviting the school bands, collaborating with UNR on theater and room space, and creating a schedule that moves fifteen school ensembles from warm up rooms to the stage and then to the band room for a clinic. This year created new challenges for Andy Heglund (JITS Director) and his wife Nichole Heglund (our Education Coordinator), who out-did themselves doing all the above virtually. Andy Heglund is an associate professor at UNR and has large network of nationally recognized jazz clinicians he draws from.

This year he recruited two fantastic clinicians from Iowa, Kyle Engelhardt and Mike Conrad. Why is Iowa so strong in school jazz education? Thirty years ago the Iowa Jazz Championships premiered and now features sixty groups from throughout the state competing in four different classes. The championships have created a culture of jazz education in Iowa.

Englehardt has been teaching at Cedar Falls High School since 2004 where twenty-five of his students have been selected to participate in the 4A All-State Jazz Band. He also plays his trumpet regularly with the Bill Shepherd Big Band. Conrad teaches Jazz Studies and Music Education at the University of Northern Iowa. He is also well recognized for big band composing and arranging receiving seven DownBeat Awards. Now on to their virtual challenge…

Eight school ensembles from six schools participated in the clinics, some starting as early as 6:45am. Our band directors are dedicated! Some of the school bands were able to perform for the clinician who then gave feedback. I watched a couple of the sessions and was amazed that the clinicians could hear the performance well enough to give some very specific advice. Visit our website, choose Education on the menu page and you can watch one of the clinics.

On Saturday Englehardt and Conrad held workshops for band directors on such topics as how to keep students motivated while at home, purposeful listening and practicing, and approaches to teach middle school students how to improvise. Jazz in the Schools concluded with a performance by the Julien Knowles quartet. During normal times the full RJO would perform a concert for participating students, but as you know that was not possible this year. Knowles is a gifted trumpet player and composer who will be attending the Hancock Institute (yes Herbie Hancock) when the pandemic subsides.

Check out our Facebook page to hear one of the tunes. Jazz in the Schools was, as always, possible only through the generosity of our donors and grants from the City of Reno, the State of Nevada, and the E.L. Cord Foundation. Thank you!

Here are a couple of quotes from this year’s participating band directors expressing their appreciation. “You are doing a great job! I really appreciate your ongoing support of jazz education and providing support and expertise to our schools. I can’t think of anything that would improve the event. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!” and “I feel like you’ve done an extraordinary job finding a way to make this work. Thank you for not canceling the event this year! I am sad that we didn’t have more schools participate.” How about a shout out to all the band directors who are doing such a great job in such difficult times.

Jazz in the Schools is only one element of our education program. The Spring Mentor Program will run March through May where RJO mentors work both virtually and in person with participating schools with a minimum of four sessions for each school. Nichole Heglund has been busy creating an instructional video library available to all mentor schools.

Spring brings our jazz workshop where the focus is on improvisation and learning songs by ear, no paper needed. With WCSD students returning to school Director Dylan Coleman will lead in person sessions every Saturday morning. Bonus for students: At the end of the eight sessions they will get to record their song and solos at Tanglewood Productions in a professional studio. Thank you Mike and Catherine Eardley, owners of Tanglewood.

Carson High School Clinic videos

Julien Knowles

Visit the RJO Youtube channel

This Is Reno is your source for award-winning independent, online Reno news and events since 2009. We are locally owned and operated.