Reno Jazz Syndicate
“We’re not a terrorist organization,” says Tristan Selzler, mastermind of the Reno Jazz Syndicate. As of now, the collective– made up of some 20 fanatical area jazz musicians–is still bent on trying to build a scene by peaceful means of persuasion.
There was a time in the history of night when folks could go out on the town, and nearly every bar had real, live musicians playing. It’s still that way in some neighborhoods in New Orleans, spots on the Mississippi Delta, and in Austin, Tex. For the most part, though, what you’ll find at your local club nowadays is a DJ “doing coke in the bathroom while their iPod plays a set list,” snarks Syndicate member, Garett Grow.
The Reno Jazz Syndicate is trying to change all of that. Member Tony Cataldo says, “We want to build a scene for the music we want to play.”
What they want to play is improvisational jazz; the kind of music that takes talent and instinct, as well as raw musical knowledge.
Like most attempts to encapsulate a musical style, the term “jazz” quickly spills and splashes over the sides of common language. The jazz movement of the early 20th century influenced pretty much all American music ever since, so to refer to jazz as a definable entity is to cast, at very least, a pretty wide net in a pretty big ocean.
Members of the Reno Jazz Syndicate come from a variety of bands playing all styles of music: Sly Buford, Blues Assault, Keyser Soze and The Claude Quartet, to name a few. Members range in age from 19 to 69, with most in their 20s.
Modeled after the Jazz Mafia of San Francisco, the Reno Jazz Syndicate is a network of musicians who play in each other’s bands, help each other book gigs and promote each other’s various projects. It’s all about community building.
“We basically help each other out,” says Selzler. “We’re trying to keep everybody busy.”
The problem in the Reno area isn’t a lack of talented musicians. People come from all over to study with the excellent music professors at University of Nevada, Reno. In fact, that’s how many Syndicate members met. The problem is a lack of gigs and open-minded venues. According to Rocky Tatarelli, 68, who’s been playing jazz music for nearly 50 years, there has been a steady decline in the number of gigs for working musicians since the ‘60s. With new generations emerging on the scene, many old-timers are not going out quietly, resulting in a lot of competition for very few gigs that can sometimes become mean-spirited.
“There’s a lot of jealousy from the older generation to the younger guys,” says Tatarelli. “Because these guys [gestures toward his young RJS brethren] could kick their ass!”
Part of the effort, then, is finding new places to play. By force of will, members of the Syndicate have started a weekly jazz night on Thursdays at the Green Room. They also perform regularly at places like 3rd Street Blues, the Carson Cigar Bar, and Moody’s Bistro in Truckee.
Selzler says that before he organized the Syndicate, about a year ago, he was only playing a couple of gigs per week. Now he is consistently playing five or more shows every week. But continued growth and success will depend on the public’s support.
“It’s not just jazz,” says Mike Mayhall. “It’s any band. Just support your local musicians.”