All the jazz
Reno Jazz Syndicate
To some, jazz is the score to a boring holiday office party. To others, it’s a chill groove to snap your fingers to in a swanky cocktail club. To the cynical it might sound like instruments falling down a staircase. To Tristan Selzler, jazz is a way of life. Since 2006, he and his Reno Jazz Syndicate have worked to combat old stereotypes and preserve the jazz tradition.
“We do all kinds of stuff,” said Selzler. “We’ll do straight-up bebop swinging jazz, or avante garde, free improvised music, and those are different bags—you probably won’t see those on the same night. … Sometimes at The Loving Cup we’ll do all original music, which is more influenced by modern stuff—electronic music, alternative rock, stuff that we grew up with.”
Reno Jazz Syndicate performs as a trio every Thursday night at The Loving Cup, in what Selzler said is the longest running jazz engagement in the city. This is only one incarnation of the group, however, as its full roster contains more than 20 musicians.
“That’s our big-band format,” he said. “We actually do it a little bit bigger than is typically done. I’m a multi-instrumental, I do piano, trombone, guitar. With the full band, the Reno Jazz Syndicate Orchestra, I just direct.”
The Reno Jazz Syndicate Orchestra, which had its first performance earlier this year, includes musicians from almost every facet of the local music scene. Members of other local bands, hobbyists, and students and professors in the music program at the University of Nevada, Reno, through which Selzler earned his MA in 2012 collaborate in a democratic ensemble that focuses on diversity and inclusion.
“If you look at the demographics, first of all there’s a lot [more] younger folks [in the RSJ] than your typical jazz band,” said Selzler. “All kinds of folks are represented here, especially women. Jazz has become sort of a boys club. There’s this kind of macho thing about it—more like machismo. You’re supposed to be hip and strong and cool. That can tend to exclude women and minorities, which is kind of fucked because jazz is black music, right?”
Respecting jazz’s roots in African American culture is important to Selzler, who considers it part of his duty as a steward of the tradition. Hits by the likes of Stevie Wonder, Thelonious Monk and Muddy Waters often make appearances in RJS performances—but the group also draws from a variety of modern influences in an effort to reflect the spirit of jazz.
“There’s a lot of life in it,” said Selzler. “It’s the sound of struggle, the sound of oppression, uninhibited. We like to box it in and say, ’No, this is classy, this is upscale.’ [But] it’s about life.”
Selzler’s own life has been inexorably linked to jazz. Growing up listening to blues, he had what he calls a “pedestrian” relationship with jazz in his high school marching band. His respect for the form solidified in 2002 when he attended the annual Jazz Festival at UNR and received a scholarship for musical performance.
Now, Selzler is happy to perform in an environment that offers the kind of exposure to jazz that he didn’t find until later in life.
“I never had that when I was 19, where I get to be a member of this larger section that’s part of this big group and feel like I had a voice,” said Selzler. “It’s this breathing thing where folks get a say.”