Hosted by the University of Nevada, Reno, the Reno Jazz Festival welcomes some of the best jazz students, musicians and teachers in the United States and draws hundreds of school bands to perform at this popular event. First held in 1962, the Festival has a well-earned reputation and ranks as one of the largest and most vibrant festivals attracting more than 8,000 participants and guests every year. The 49th annual festival will be held April 7 through 9, on the University campus, and this year, three alumni, Brian Landrus, Sam Minaie and Warren Walker will return to serve as adjudicators/clinicians and give back to an event that aided in their career success.
After receiving their bachelor's degree in music performance at the University of Nevada, Landrus, Minaie and Walker all give credit to the University and their local roots for giving them the tools they needed to further their musical careers.
Landrus, a woodwind specialist currently lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. as a freelance musician, composer, producer and educator. He plays baritone saxophone, bass saxophone, bass clarinet, bass flute and alto flute. His recent project was launching a new record label, Blue Land Records, where he released his first CD on March 1 titled "Traverse."
Landrus, who graduated from McQueen High School in 1996, recalls his earliest memories of the festival as a middle school student.
"In 1992, I played a couple Charlie Parker solos with my Billinghurst Middle School small group under the direction of Lani Oelrich," Landrus said. "I'll never forget the moment of being in Lawlor Events Center and feeling the communal passion for jazz. This was right around the time when I knew I'd be dedicating my life to music."
As his musical career progressed into college at Nevada, Landrus praises professors Ed Corey, David Ehrke, Larry Engstrom, Peter Epstein, Hans Halt, Andy Heglund and Leonard Neidhold for this early success and motivation.
"The entire faculty (at the University) helped by teaching me all the fundamentals while still allowing me to pursue my own voice," Landrus said. I can't imagine a better setting to learn and grow."
Landrus will return to the 2011 Reno Jazz Festival to encourage students to pursue their passions as he did.
"I know how much the Festival inspired me and I love continuing the tradition; I love coming back to my hometown and seeing my family and friends," he said.
Walker, a Grass Valley, Calif. native, first began participating in the Reno Jazz Festival in 1994 as a freshman at Nevada Union High School, in Grass Valley.
"It has been nice to watch the festival evolve and now, as an adjudicator, I get to be on the other side of things," Walker said. "I love being involved with the University's jazz program and jazz education in general. It's festivals like this that help keep jazz alive in education programs throughout the U.S."
Walker now lives in Paris, France, and is a member of The Kandinsky Effect, a progressive jazz group composed of Walker (saxophone), Gael Petrina (acoustic and electric bass) and Gautier Garrigue (drums).
Walker is also involved with a duo group with guitarist Alex Stuart called Duplex, and a quartet group called Dirty Elegance. He is considered a rising star in the European jazz scene as he plays saxophone and electronics, yet gives credit for his success back to his University of Nevada, Reno faculty mentors as well.
"The faculty is incredible," Walker said. "They helped me find my own voice on my instrument and in my work as a composer," Walker said.
Walker feels that he has accomplished his dream.
"Now, being able to wake up every day knowing I will be involved in music somehow -performing, composing, teaching or just practicing - is really an accomplishment in itself for me," he said.
Minaie, who is a graduate of Reed High School in Sparks, Nev. received a bachelor of arts in both classical and jazz performance at the University before continuing on to receive his masters of fine arts in jazz studies at California Institute of the Arts.
"The jazz program and faculty at the University of Nevada, Reno are extremely well rounded," Minaie said. "They are open yet extremely tied into the tradition."
Minaie, an electric and upright bass expert has toured extensively throughout several countries around the world and has been recorded on dozens of albums, yet has the desire to give back to the festival.
"Being a part of the Reno Jazz Festival is a great way to return the knowledge that I learned throughout the years," Minaie said. "Working with the students is extremely exciting and it helps. It hasn't been all that long since that was me and my colleagues."
All three alumni will be back in Reno, April 7 through 9 to assist with the festival. Other features of the festival include Terri Lyne Carrington with The Collective, the Ravi Coltrane Quartet, the Festival Showcase and Awards Ceremony, educational clinics, and two full days of competition performances featuring middle and high school jazz ensembles, as well as college groups from around the west. Jazz Fan Passes and individual tickets are available. For more information visit www.unr.edu/rjf.