Last week, University of Nevada, Reno Associate Professor Peter Epstein was awarded the 2013 Nevada Regents' Award for Creative Activities, a prize bestowed annually on one Nevada System of Higher Education faculty member with a distinguished record in creative artistry.
Since coming to UNR in 2003, Epstein has worn taken on many roles, both within and outside the university. In addition to teaching for Saxophone, World Music, Jazz & Improvisational Music for UNR's Department of Music, he serves as director of UNR's Program in Jazz and Improvisational Music, as well as Assistant Director of the Reno Jazz Festival. Outside of his role as an educator, Epstein is also a world-renowned musician, having released fifteen collaborative recordings and toured in over 10 countries.
Epstein said the realization of his recent achievement is still sinking in.
"It is such an honor to be singled out and recognized among so many outstanding colleagues, in my own department, the other departments that make up our School of the Arts, and then extending to the other institutions throughout the state," said Epstein. "Of course, it makes me feel quite wonderful and appreciated, but it's also been very humbling because I've become even more aware of the incredible work created by the people around me every day."
In the decade since he joined the UNR faculty, Epstein has enjoyed a range of opportunities and experiences. He cites getting married and becoming a father as the two exceptional highlights. On the career side, he cited performing with the Absolute Ensemble and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra in Australia; recording and touring in Sweden as a member of The Epstein Alliance (a band he co-leads with his father, saxophonist Ed Epstein); and performing at the Kathmandu Jazz festival in Nepal also tops his list of achievements.
"I have so many favorite moments from these past 10 years at UNR that it's pretty hard to narrow it down," said Epstein. "But a short list would have to include: every time I've played with our faculty jazz group, The Collective (especially the concerts that open the Reno Jazz Festival each year), countless performances by and with my students (who are so inspiring to me and leave me continually in awe), witnessing the success of past students, getting tenure, and - most recently - performing ‘In C' with legendary composer Terry Riley."
But right now, Epstein is focused on the future - and for good reasons. For one, he was invited to return to Nepal in 2014 with his band, Lingua Franca, for the Kathmandu Jazz Festival. Epstein has already been to the festival once, and described it as "an amazing experience on so many levels."
Later this summer, Epstein also plans to tour and record in Scandinavia with Swedish musicians Peter Nilson and Johnny Aman, and will later record in New York City. Under the moniker of The Epstein Alliance, Epstein and Aman, a bassist, have been playing together since 2009.
"When we first met, Johnny was finishing up his studies at a jazz school in Sweden and was roughly the same age as many of my students here at UNR," said Epstein. "Needless to say, he played extremely well and we really hit it off musically.
When Epstein returned to Sweden last summer for several concerts celebrating the release of their first album, Arman invited him to an informal session with a drummer named Peter Nilsson.
"I had heard a lot about Peter, as he is considered one of the best jazz drummers in Scandinavia," recalled Epstein. "It was immediately apparent that playing together felt amazing so we quickly started brainstorming about ways to generate some performing possibilities."
The result of their brainstorming and jam session is an upcoming summer tour of Sweden and Denmark, followed by two days in the recording studio. After the tour, Epstein will head to New York during the first week of June to perform and record with the most recent incarnation of his group, The Peter Epstein Quartet. While the band is somewhat new (they had their inaugural gig in December), but they've known each other for the better part of 20 years and have performed together in numerous combinations - just not as this particular quartet.
Epstein said he's very excited about both upcoming projects and looks forward to a summer full of composing, performing, and recording. While in New York, Epstein will perform with Chris Clark, a former graduate student in UNR's Program In Jazz & Improvisational Music from 2010-2012. Last year, Clark recorded his first album with help from Epstein, as well as UNR students Zack Teran and Jesus Vega, and Director of the UNR School of the Arts, David Ake. Epstein said the resulting album, Cedar Wisely, was picked up by Songlines Records and just recently released in March, adding that the album "couldn't be more representative of our jazz program here at UNR."
After getting a taste of his track record as dedicated educator, music enthusiast and world-traveling performer, it seems very fitting that Epstein should receive the Nevada Regents' Award for Creative Activities. With many more exciting plans in the pipeline, it's clear that Epstein shows no sign of slowing down.
"After wandering the globe for many years as a free-lance jazz musician, I truly found a home here 10 years ago and life has been incredibly fulfilling ever since," said Epstein. "There are so many amazing artists in my own department, and throughout the School of the Arts, many of whom could easily have won this award - not to mention many deserving folks at other institutions around the state. While I have felt extremely fortunate ever since arriving here, I feel especially so at this moment."