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Reno Jazz Festival – 62 Years of Great Jazz

Published April 5, 2024

Reno Jazz Festival – 62 Years of Great Jazz

by Chuck Reider

The University of Nevada, Reno is hosting the 62nd Reno Jazz Festival April 25 – 27, 2024.  Produced by UNR’s School of the Arts jazz faculty, the festival showcases jazz artists at the top of their game as well as student ensembles from throughout the country. Founded in 1962 by John Carrico and continued under the direction of Larry Engstrom, UNR faculty members Peter Epstein and Adam Benjamin now co-lead this year’s festival.   

Interestingly, when the festival was only fourteen years old, questions and criticisms of the RJF’s longevity came to forefront. From the March 29th, 1975 Reno Evening Gazette: “… Art Pepper, one of the all-time great jazz saxophonists, see Reno Jazz (RJF) as the tomorrow of their craft and view the University of Nevada-sponsored festival as one of the healthiest and most vital events in student music. On the other side of the coin, Dwight Cannon, director of the San Jose State University Jazz Band saw both the Reno Jazz and its music degenerating and disintegrating, and the festival itself eventually failing.” The article continues, “Cannon thinks the festival has changed its perspective completely away from jazz and into “entertainment music,” preventing student musicians from developing their creative facilities.”

I am pleased to note that Art Pepper had a much better perspective on the future of the RJF!  

Photo: The group GEORGE led by John Hollenbeck(Left), John Hollenbeck (Right)

This year’s headliner is the group GEORGE led by John Hollenbeck. GEORGE continues the jazz tradition of bringing new elements to jazz which started at the turn of the century in New Orleans when African rhythms melded with European music instruments. From the Greek name Georgios, which was derived from the Greek word georgos meaning “farmer, earthworker,” itself derived from the elements γῆ (ge) meaning “earth” and ergon meaning “work.” The group combines strategies from experimental jazz, ambient electronics, chamber music and more — with myriad elements converging on Earthworker, which neatly sets Aurora Nealand’s wordless soprano against Anna Webber’s flute. Hollenbeck formed GEORGE during the Covid pandemic. He brought together three great musicians/people whom he loved and admired for a long time. Even though most of the members had never met each other, John was confident from knowing them himself, that this group would immediately be, as one of the members calls it, “tight” (which means “very cool” in case you were wondering).

Photo: The Manzanita Quintet, the UNR jazz faculty quintet

The Manzanita Quintet, the UNR jazz faculty quintet, open the festival on Thursday and will feature trumpet player Terell Stafford. An acclaimed trumpet player based in New York, he has been hailed as “one of the great players of our time, a fabulous trumpet player” by piano legend McCoy Tyner. Stafford is recognized as an incredibly gifted and versatile player; he combines a deep love of melody with his own brand of spirited and adventurous lyricism. Stafford is a member of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and they were awarded a GRAMMY in 2009 for Best Large Ensemble, Live at the Village Vanguard. Stafford can be heard on over 130 albums including his own, BrotherLee Love, Celebrating Lee Morgan. His most recent album, Family Feeling, is a BCM&D release.  

The heart of the festival is, of course, the student ensemble performances. These ensembles each have 55 minutes to perform and be reviewed by two RJF clinicians. This performance will be considered so the ensemble may be invited to perform in the Festival Showcase finale on Saturday. Thursday night is a student jam session at the Laughing Planet. Friday and Saturday participants and have access to two full days of daytime concerts and jazz clinics. These will cover a range of topics presented by accomplished jazz musicians and artist educators from around the nation, including guest artists GEORGE and Terell Stafford.

Photo: Terell Stafford

I participated as a student in the 70s first with my high school ensemble and later with the San Francisco State jazz ensemble. The Reno Jazz Festival has a rich tradition bringing together great jazz artists and students to celebrate America’s great original art form.

To purchase tickets and learn more about the 2024 Reno Jazz Festival in April, visit:


Manzanita Quintet

Terell Stafford

Chuck Reider is the Reno Jazz Orchestra Board President

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