Spirit of song

Reno Jazz Orchestra

Chuck Reider is the director of the Reno Jazz Orchestra.

Chuck Reider is the director of the Reno Jazz Orchestra.

Photo/Kent Irwin

The Reno Jazz Orchestra's Holiday Concert is 7:30 p.m. Dec. 20 at the Nightingale Concert Hall, Church Fine Arts, University of Nevada, Reno. Tickets are $25 general; $10 students. Chuck Reider will conduct.

When Chuck Reider moved to Reno from San Francisco in 1978, the city was known as a decent place to make a living with music. Jazz musicians, seeking employment in casinos, were able to make ends meet. In fact, the showrooms, which offered greater potential for earning a living as a jazz musician, were the reason Reider moved from San Francisco.

Over time, this changed, but Reider didn’t let it stop him from continuing to be an enthusiast of local jazz. He started the Reno Jazz Orchestra in 1997, and it became a nonprofit a year later. The orchestra was formed to present the best of big band and swing music to younger generations.

“It can be hard work,” said Reider, who directs the group and plays trombone. “But when you’re standing in front of the band, that’s the only place on earth you want to be.”

The orchestra started with six members, growing to its current count of 17. Originally specializing in the classic numbers of Duke Ellington and Count Basie, the group began to branch out into Latin fusion, salsa and funk.

Reider’s goal has always been to take the music into novel places, like the ballet. He’s also a passionate advocate for music education.

“Jazz has always been a version of contemporary music that seeks to play around with and expand the borders of its source,” he said. “It’s creatively stimulating.”

While Reider agrees that contemporary jazz can often wax nostalgic, pandering to those who hold the classics dearly, he tries to push forward into new territory. He believes that for kids especially, jazz is often the doorway to self-expression.

“A lot of kids, before they’re in the jazz band in school, don’t realize that you can make music, not just buy it,” he said.

For the Jazz Orchestra’s holiday concert, Reider promises that listeners will have plenty of presents to unwrap under the tree. The group will play the hits, sure, but there will be some surprises for listeners as well.

While living in San Francisco in the '70s, one of Reider’s colleagues wrote a big-band score for “Sly” by Herbie Hancock. The song, from Hancock’s breakthrough funk album Head Hunters, was originally put to minimal instrumentation–electric piano, bass, percussion, sax and drums. The score, written for a much larger band, will be performed at the holiday concert for the first time in 30 years, making its debut appearance in Reno.

A variety of guest musicians and dancers will join the Jazz Orchestra during the holiday concert. Guests will include Madeline Eastman, described by Reider as a gifted singer, a great musician and an-all around nice person. She’s been described by the L.A. Times as “innovative and endlessly entertaining.”

World-renowned tap dancer Sam Weber and his daughter Ananda Bena-Weber will perform dance routines, and singers the orchestra featured in its summer James Brown program will return to perform. Other guests will remain a surprise until the moment they step out on the stage.

Reider says the event keeps in spirit with Christmas in that it’s all about friends and family, and the community support the Jazz Orchestra has received over the years.

Above all, the music is itself the center of the event. Reider considers jazz to be a truly original American concept, its grassroots inception lending perfectly to Christmas’ spirit of brotherhood and community.

“It’s gonna be a hoot.”