“If by some chance this falls through, it’s because I have a huge arena gig with Prince,” said saxophonist Brian Landrus in a recent phone interview.
Landrus is a Reno native who attended the University of Nevada, Reno. His group, the Brian Landrus Project, was a fixture around the local scene for a few years before he left 10 years ago to earn two master’s degrees from the New England Conservatory and then moving to New York where he has been “working, playing, teaching, touring and recording.” He’s recorded several albums under his own name and is a member of Grammy-winning vocalist and bassist Esperanza Spalding’s band.
He’s slated to return to Reno with a show at UNR’s Joe Crowley Student Union on Dec. 28 at 7:30 p.m.
When he mentions the possibility that he’ll have to cancel the gig so that he can play with the artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, he does so not with the arrogance of big city namedropper, but with the humility of a guy who doesn’t want to disappoint his hometown.
“I’m a little worried,” he said. “You can’t really say no to Prince.”
He emailed a few days after the phone interview to happily report that he wouldn’t be joining Prince for that show, so the Reno gig was still on.
The local organization For the Love of Jazz, which presents jazz concerts often accompanied with educational programming, like clinics and workshops, organized Landrus’ concert at UNR.
“Brian’s doing amazing things with reggae and hip-hop rhythms, as well as some more traditional jazz styles,” says Scot Marshall, the president of FTLOJ and a bass player who’ll be performing with Landrus. “There’s something for everybody as far as the different styles and music that you’re going to hear.”
Other musicians performing with Landrus will be local musicians like guitarist Ed Cory, pianist Ron Savage, and drummer Rufus Haereiti—another veteran of the local jazz scene who has also gone on to touring the world, with the renowned reggae group Groundation. They’ll also be joined by a string quartet of Reno Philharmonic musicians—Olga Archdekin, Bruce McBeth, Catherine Matovich and Charles Taggert.
The group will primarily be performing material from Landrus’ eclectic new album, Mirage.
“It’s in jazz, but there’s a lot of soul,” says Landrus of the album. “There’s some reggae. There are funk grooves. There’s all sorts of different aspects to it. I love traditional jazz, but it’s almost become museum music.”
When he lived in Reno, Landrus was known as a tenor player, but since moving to New York he says he’s found more work playing the less-common baritone sax. He’s been awarded accolades, like the tops spots on Downbeat magazine’s critics’ and readers’ polls for his baritone playing.
“Brian is six-seven, so when he plays that instrument, it looks like he’s holding a tenor,” says Marshall about Landrus’ skills on the larger horn.
Marshall says that as good as Landrus is on the saxes, he’s just as skilled on the bass clarinet.
“He has as beautiful a sound as any I’ve ever heard. It’s just gorgeous.”
Landrus was genuinely relieved he didn’t have to cancel his Reno concert, his first in the city in about six years.
“I didn’t realize until after I left how fortunate I was to grow up in Reno,” he says, citing the city’s amazing teachers, like Frank Perry, and its supportive community. “In Reno, I feel like a lot of the players embraced me, and they really helped me. That’s unusual. … There’s so many great players and great people.”
“This is where he was born and raised, so his mom and dad are here, and he’s bringing his wife and his new baby back for Christmas and then doing the concert,” says Marshall. “His folks are over the moon. It’s really cool, a homecoming for Brian.”