Kaitlin Oki /Nevada Sagebrush

By Ryan McGinnis

Last week a cool breeze fanned through campus, and no, it wasn’t the wind. The vibrations of nearly 9,000 participants plucking, singing, or foot tapping to a miscellany of jazz styles induced a bustling gust of melody at the University of Nevada, Reno during the 52nd annual Reno Jazz Festival.

Since its first run in 1962, the event has grown into the largest jazz festival of its kind in the region.

For UNR student and drummer Greg Lewis, the Reno Jazz Festival is the singular event that exemplifies Reno’s quaint, yet compelling jazz scene. Lewis has tackled many musical genres over the years, but it was his first impressions of the festival in the seventh grade that inspired him to study jazz at the university. Since then, he has performed in the competition five times, and won outstanding soloist in 2008.

“People don’t realize the amount of talent coming from jazz musicians in our area,” Lewis said. “We have a small scene, but it’s growing, due, in part, to the university’s support.”

Though the recession resulted in a stagnation of Reno’s jazz scene, musicians such as Lewis remain optimistic.

“I hope to see Reno become a more musician-friendly community,” Lewis said. “All we need are more places to play.”

The annual festival provides a venue for thousands of young musicians to gather and perform. In addition to the gathering of high school and college-aged musicians, this year’s festival featured two internationally recognized artists, with 22 other musical workshops and live performances.

For many musicians, New York City is the epicenter of jazz culture. Even on the west coast, there are larger festivals, but the Reno Jazz Festival is uniquely geared towards students, and offers over 30 awards to group and individual performances.

The Reno Jazz Festival, however, often brings recognizable musicians that wouldn’t be out of place at the larger festivals, such as Avishai Cohen.

Cohen, who has performed at the festival twice, first ventured into New York after becoming a noteworthy trumpeter in Tel Aviv, where he first played publicly at age 10. In 2012, he appeared on the cover of the popular Downbeat jazz magazine, and he has toured with the critically-acclaimed San Francisco Jazz Collective. Cohen headlined the Reno Jazz Festival with support from UNR faculty members last Thursday.

According to Cohen, events such as the Reno Jazz Festival are important for promoting a musical culture.

“If Reno’s jazz culture wants to grow, then it needs to be the place to be,” Cohen said, “a city with energy.”

While Reno may not be the Big Apple, some UNR faculty members and students are dedicated to making Reno more than a blip on the radar for jazz musicians heading west.

The Reno Jazz Festival is a big opportunity in Northern Nevada to attract these coming performers.

UNR graduate Caleb Dolister, for example, is one of a number of alumni who routinely supports the festival after continuing his career thousands of miles away in New York. While attending UNR, Dolister played drums in small bars and cafes around town and has since released 30 albums under a variety of projects.

“The festival is one of the best things to happen to Northern Nevada,” Dolister said. “UNR’s music department is doing a great job cultivating prospective musicians; the local community as a whole just needs to support live music for Reno’s jazz scene to grow.”

Ryan McGinnis can be reached at thersko@sagebrush.unr.edu.