A collective effort
UNR professors help build a strong local jazz scene
On stage, the band finishes up a song. The saxophonist grabs the microphone.
“Anyone who knows how to play piano want to play?” he asks.
Looking around, he spots a young man in the audience.
“Get up here, Daniel.”
The young man sheepishly shakes his head, but eventually relents to the audience’s cheers of encouragement. He takes the stage and proceeds to tear through a couple of piano solos before giving up his seat behind the ivories.
Such is a typical Sunday night at the Hacienda Restaurant and Bar. University of Nevada, Reno, jazz professor and saxophonist Francis Vanek directs the crowd of rotating musicians at For the Love of Jazz nights.
For many UNR jazz students, this is their training ground—a place to practice music outside of the classroom and away from their peers.
“You can have all the instruction in the world, but that’s not the real world,” Vanek says.
That’s not to say these students aren’t good. At one point in the night, the stage was almost entirely filled with UNR jazz students blistering their way through a couple of jazz songs, trading off solos and loving every minute of it.
For others, like Vanek and another UNR jazz professor, bassist Hans Halt, For the Love of Jazz is another opportunity to perform and listen to jazz. The professors started the weekly jam sessions two years ago, at the now-defunct Einsteins Quantum Cafe. In October, the event moved to the Hacienda. Vanek, Halt and other UNR professors play at the Hacienda on Thursday nights as well with their band, The Collective, so the move to the new location seemed natural.
While Halt and Vanek say the jam session took a little while to get going, a recent Sunday night was packed with people of varying ages. The Collective was already firmly entrenched at the Hacienda, bringing in large crowds every Thursday.
Pianist David Ake joined The Collective, which was going by the name Reno Jazz Quintet, two years ago, after moving to Reno to accept a teaching position at UNR. He says that the band’s broad musical background make The Collective more willing to experiment.
“We’re unafraid to bring in various influences,” Ake says. “That’s refreshing.”
Ake says some musicians have a strict canon about what jazz is, something he feels is harmful for jazz.
“If you’re not worried about purity, then you are free to listen to whatever you want,” he says. “And that should be reflected in your own type of music.”
Ake says The Collective adheres to this attitude, bringing in influences from across the broad spectrum of music. He also says that jazz brings in a varied audience.
“It’s as ethnically diverse as Reno gets,” Ake says. “We’re bringing people together—and jazz does that, music does that.”
The Collective has also ventured into the world of producing music, releasing a CD last year titled North. North features songs mostly written by the band, with a couple of exceptions for pieces by Cole Porter, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Besides Vanek, Ake and Halt, The Collective features Larry Engstrom on trumpet and Andrew Heglund on drums. Halt says the CD’s sound is more “together” than a CD put out by the Reno Jazz Quintet in 1998.
“We have a more unified sound,” Halt says. “We played a lot of gigs and rehearsed. The next will probably be different.”
Vanek says that he looks for the band to develop even more as they spend more time playing with each other.
“We’ll have more of the same sound, but grow," he says.