About the Reno Jazz Festival

Celebrate more than 50 years of history of the Reno Jazz Festival by participating today! Register your school groups and make your mark in this jazz festival history. Since its first year in 1962, the festival has endeavored to bring to Reno both talented students and renowned professional artists. See our complete time line by going to our Facebook page.

History: Celebrating 50 Years of the Reno Jazz Festival ~ 1962-2012

Photo of the 1962 Guest ArtistAs the University of Nevada and the Truckee Meadows prepare to welcome thousands of visitors for this year’s landmark 50th Reno Jazz Festival, the University takes a retrospective look at what it has meant to host and steward one of the world’s largest and most enduring celebrations of jazz. The festival acts as an inspiration, an educational stimulus and a showcase for some of the country’s most promising and talented middle school, high school and college-age musicians. These students comprise the several hundred bands, vocal groups and ensembles from around the Western states that attend and compete for coveted awards. Many schools return year after year to the Reno Jazz Festival, drawn by the thrill and prestige of being a part of the festival community and sharing in the vibrant exchange of creative ideas, skills and experiences. Firm friendships have grown up over the years. Inspired young musicians have gone on to become major talents and, overall, jazz has benefitted from the process of young players learning from the masters.

The festival began in the early 1960s as the brainchild of John Carrico, Sr., the University’s director of bands. As his son, John Carrico Jr. explains, “In 1962, my father, John Carrico, Sr., was inspired by a number of very talented musicians in the area; he created the Reno Stage Band Festival, which hosted five high school bands and a final concert featuring the University Stage Band and guest artist Louis Bellson. With the help of University music lecturers Gene Isaeff and Orville Fleming, he spent the next 17 years building his personal vision for jazz education, including creating a festival model that combined a competitive base for school groups with performances and workshops given by the very best musicians on the jazz scene.”

Photo of the 1962 Program GuideInevitably, there were some growing pains and at one stage in the mid-‘70s, the festival was in danger of collapsing. Dr. Carrico’s response was to preserve the festival and set up a nonprofit organization with his son, John Carrico, Jr. They turned to the community for help, holding festival events in many casinos, the Pioneer Center and the Reno Convention Center and working with the newly formed For the Love of Jazz Society (FTLOJ) to provide the badly need manpower to help administer the event. During this period, believing strongly in the importance of cross fertilization among different styles and cultural interpretations of jazz, Dr. Carrico facilitated an unprecedented exchange of talent with U.S. and European and Mexican groups, earning the festival a reputation for playing a commanding role in nurturing and transmitting jazz concepts to students and their teachers.

With the death of Dr. Carrico in 1979, it fell to his son, John Carrico, Jr., to continue administering his father’s vision of Reno’s jazz festival. Since Carrico, Jr., was a full-time attorney and not affiliated with the University, it was difficult for him to devote the time necessary to maintain the festival. In the late 1980s John Carrico, Jr., reached out to Larry Engstrom, a newly hired University music faculty member, and began discussing the possible return of the festival to the University.

In 1991, Dr. Engstrom and the University assumed the responsibility for the implementation of the Reno Jazz Festival. “It made sense,” explains Engstrom, who became the festival’s director, and who had played in the festival years before as a student. “A major incentive was the chance to recruit from all over the west to encourage students to study music and jazz in Reno.”

Since that time, the University has established the Program in Jazz and Improvisational Music with five faculty members, and the Festival has re-established itself as one of the largest educational jazz festivals in the United States. Photo of a 1975 Jazx Band Group

“Celebrating 50 years is pretty special,” Engstrom says. “I have invested my heart and soul and thrown everything I have into this festival so it means a lot to me, as you might imagine.” It is also special that Engstrom cut his teeth on the festival in more ways than one. As a young student, he performed at the festival and still remembers the experience of watching and taking workshops with top performers and the huge impressions they made on him.

“We still use the model established by Dr. Carrico, providing a platform for schools to perform as well as the opportunities for the students to attend clinics by nationally renowned jazz musicians and educators. It has served us well and we will strive to continue the strong educational basis of the festival well into the future.”

RJF Photos