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Thankful for jazz (commentary)


Submitted by Chuck Reider, Reno Jazz Orchestra

I hope everyone enjoyed Thanksgiving with family and friends. I am thankful for all my blessings of which there are many. One such blessing is my involvement with the Reno Jazz Orchestra (RJO) over the years. 

Earlier this month the RJO celebrated the career of Dr. Larry Engstrom with a concert featuring the RJO’s student jazz workshop students, UNR’s jazz faculty quintet The Collective, and the full Reno Jazz Orchestra performing Dr. Engstrom’s compositions.  

Northern Nevada jazz musician Larry Engstrom. Image: UNR

Engstrom began his UNR career in 1987 as a trumpet instructor and director of the jazz band, the only jazz class at the time. Engstrom began adding classes such as jazz improvisation, jazz history, and jazz arrangement, all of which he taught.

He then took the reins of the Reno Jazz Festival as director in 1991, a position he held for twenty-five years. The festival was personal to him as he says, “As a high school student, coming to the Reno Jazz Festival was one of the highlights of the year. We came all 4 years, so I got to see some great musicians and attend valuable workshops.”

During his tenure, attendance grew from 60 school bands to over 300 establishing the Festival as a nationally recognized and celebrated event, lauded by The San Francisco Chronicle as, “showcasing music’s future.”  

The recital hall at UNR’s School of Arts building during the opening reception Feb. 22, 2019. Image: Kylie Masznicz / This Is Reno

As the jazz program grew, he was able to bring on additional staff who are the basis for the jazz faculty group “The Collective.”  In 2004, he accepted an offer to become the founding director of the new UNR School of the Arts, bringing new challenges and 70-hour work weeks. Engstrom was an integral part of the building committee overseeing the funding, design, and construction of the University Arts Building completed in 2019.  

Under his leadership, the music department faculty grew from 14 to 30 and he was awarded the Distinguished Faculty Award acknowledging his accomplishments.  

In honor of the retirement of Dr. Engstrom, the School of the Arts at the University of Nevada, Reno has established the Larry Engstrom Endowment for the Advancement of Jazz which furthers the strong jazz tradition he built at the University during his 34-year career.  The Endowment is established to inspire the next generation of jazz musicians through education and performance. It will:

  • Provide extraordinary educational and performance experiences for thousands of participants at the annual Reno Jazz Festival.
  • Engage university students in immersive educational and performance opportunities with exceptional guest artists and faculty.
  • Ensure that Reno remains home to world-class jazz performance and education.

I encourage you to thank Dr. Engstrom and his contributions to the Reno jazz community and the University of Nevada, Reno’s jazz programs by making a gift to the endowment. Your contribution, large or small, ensures the continuation of Dr. Engstrom’s vision: Reno as home to world-class jazz performance, education opportunities and programs that ensure the future of jazz. All contributions are tax deductible. Online visit crowdfund.unr.edu/Engstrom or call the School of the Arts at 775-784-4278.

His efforts have directly benefited the RJO.  The 1997 original RJO band roster was comprised of the best showroom musicians in town. Entering the new millennium we were challenged with replacing members of the original band when they retired.  Without showrooms attracting top musicians to Reno, where would we find musicians to keep the RJO moving forward?  

The answer was Dr. Engstrom’s jazz program that attracted talented student musicians from across the country. At this month’s concerts there were five recent UNR jazz graduates, two currently studying, three jazz faculty musicians, and six who graduated from UNR in years past. That is the entire band roster!  

When I asked Jonathan Phillips to direct the concerts he eagerly accepted the challenge as it was Dr. Engstrom who recruited him and mentored him at UNR. In addition, this year’s RJO UNR scholarship recipient, Max Case, played guitar. Case grew up in Reno, played in the Reno Youth Jazz Orchestra, and is now a UNR student.

It gratifies me that Reno has so many talented jazz musicians and our community is so much the richer for them.  

Northern Nevada has many nonprofits for which to be thankful. Today is Giving Tuesday, a world-wide effort to support nonprofits. I encourage you to donate to your favorite nonprofits as their hard work enriches all of us.  

Before I go, hold Dec. 17 and 19 for our holiday concert “Home for the Holidays” at The Theater on Keystone Avenue.  It is an intimate theater seating 200, a perfect place to enjoy the holiday spirit. We will feature the orchestra and four amazing local singers: Cliff Porter, Stephanya Barranti, David Wells and Kira Osborne. Visit www.renojazzorchestra.org for more information.

Chuck Reider is the Reno Jazz Orchestra’s Board President

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