The jazz players

44th Annual Reno Jazz Festival

Grammy Award-winning composer/conductor Maria Schneider and her Big Band headline the second evening of the Reno Jazz Festival.

Grammy Award-winning composer/conductor Maria Schneider and her Big Band headline the second evening of the Reno Jazz Festival.

Nancy King is the opening headliner of the Reno Jazz Festival on April 27 at 7:30 p.m. She plays with The Collective at Nightingale Concert Hall in the Church Fine Arts Building at the University of Nevada, Reno. Tickets are $15 general, $12 senior, $8 students.

The Maria Schneider Big Band plays April 28 at 7:30 p.m. at Lawlor Events Center, 1664 N. Virginia St. Tickets are $24 general, $18 senior, $12 student.

The Festival Showcase and Awards Ceremony is held April 29 at 6:30 p.m. at Lawlor Events Center. Tickets are $12 general, $10 senior, $6 students. Call 784-4278.

This year’s Reno Jazz Festival at the University of Nevada, Reno features not only two world-class headliners but also clinics hosted by jazz professionals from prestigious colleges and universities around the world. Thousands of middle school, high school and collegiate jazz aficionados will participate in the festivities celebrating the original American art form. But the festival is designed to maximize the musical experience for fans, too.

Devotees of fine jazz vocals won’t want to miss this year’s opening headliner, Nancy King, who will be backed by local jazz group The Collective on April 27. King, who hales from Springfield, Ore., has been wowing audiences worldwide with her dulcet stylings since the early 1960s. Along with pianist Steve Christopherson, King served on the faculty of the Stanford University Jazz Workshop and has performed at festivals from France to Israel to the United States. She’s recorded albums with luminaries Ray Brown, Diana Krall, Etta Jones, Fred Hersch, Karen Alison and John Hendricks.

Lawlor Events Center will swing to the sounds of the Maria Schneider Big Band Friday night. Schneider calls Minneapolis home, but she’s graced many stages around the globe. The band’s style has been compared to late greats Duke Ellington and Gil Evans. Fans expecting only brassy big band selections from another era should be prepared for musical innovation atypical of a large jazz orchestra. Schneider’s was the first band to win a Grammy for a CD marketed exclusively over the Internet, and they sold out all 10,000 copies of Concert in the Garden in 2005. Schneider also collaborated with Gil Evans on music for the film The Color of Money. She’s played with Jon Faddis, Wallace Roney, Miles Evans, Ingrid Jensen and David Sanborn, to name a few.

But for all of the impressive performers, some of the best aspects of the festival are the student musicians, excitedly performing for some of the finest jazz educators in the country.

“I especially enjoy watching the middle school kids in our competition workshops,” says festival producer CJ Walters. “I wish I had their confidence when I was that age—to stand up before a crowd and play a solo.”

Festival director Larry Engstrom, who also plays trumpet with The Collective, has lined up 48 well-respected jazz educators to judge festival participants.

Alto sax player Dave Pietro, a mainstay of the jazz world for almost 20 years, will host a saxophone clinic and help judge the woodwinds players. He’s performed with the likes of Blood Sweat & Tears, Ray Charles, Rosemary Clooney, Paul Anka, Harry Connick Jr. and Michael Feinstein.

Trumpeter Fred Berry directs the Stanford Jazz Ensemble and teaches at the College of San Mateo. A jazz adjudicator and clinician, Berry continues to freelance with his horn. He’s played or toured with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Count Basie, Nancy Wilson, McCoy Tyner, Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie and Natalie Cole.

Brian Hamada is the drum chair for the Fresno Jazz Composers Orchestra and teaches at Fresno State. In 1983, Hamada earned Downbeat magazine’s Jazz Soloist award, and he’s driven the rhythm sections for jazz legends Joe Williams, Dizzy Gillespie, Peter Epstein, Rosemary Clooney, Tim Ries and even Don Ho.

The jazz festival will host about 11,000 student participants, a number Engstrom says pretty much maxes out the campus’ ability to welcome visitors. That number reflects a growing interest in jazz composition and performance by high school and college students. Next time the neighborhood kids set up amps and mics in their garages, don’t be surprised if the music of Herbie Hancock, Charlie Parker or Thelonious Monk is coming out of them.