Reno was, at one time, a thriving jazz community, with casinos, hotels and restaurants having a large role in attracting jazz musicians. In the year 2023, the jazz scene is much smaller, but at one restaurant in town, Tim Healion is playing a role in bringing the art of jazz back to life in the community.
People are flowing into the Laughing Planet Cafe, located near the University of Nevada, Reno. It’s Wednesday Jazz Night at this location. Tim Healion has just arrived at the restaurant and he immediately starts helping out other staff with serving food, handling dishes, and taking orders.
Tim Healion is a familiar character in Reno, having been in the food industry for more than 40 years now. He says the industry has changed so much since he first started, but he mentioned the pandemic had the greatest impact on it.
“People pick up food to-go way more often,” said Healion. “It used to be just pizza and Chinese food. Those were the things that were already there. I mean, they were geared for to-go food, and they had it down, and now people pick up just about anything.”
Even with more people either picking up their food or having it delivered, Healion knows how to attract customers to the restaurant on Jazz Night. It’s a call back to the much larger jazz scene once found in Reno.
“There were amazing musicians that lived here through that time of the big cabaret shows and all the big shots coming to Reno, and so they, you know, they play for the shows, the cabaret shows, and then afterwards, they go jam somewhere else,” says Healion.
On Jazz Night, just about anyone can come in and perform in front of a crowd. But what makes the experience special is that the performers are typically students from the jazz department at UNR, which Healion says is part of how he’s able to attract a younger audience.
“The university promotes it within the music department, and through social media and stuff. We got flyers around some places for sure could do a better job of that, probably,” says Healion.
The idea of having college students playing for a restaurant didn’t start with the Laughing Planet. In fact, Healion says he had started doing it decades before he ended up at the Laughing Planet.
“You know, I’ve always kind of done stuff that I liked and I thought was fun, and I incorporated it into the world I’m in, and so we would, similar deal, have kids play jazz like once a week or so at this other place called the Pneumatic Diner, and often they were students, because nobody hired jazz musicians in town, nobody listened to jazz anymore,” says Healion.
Nowadays, Healion has learned some tricks on getting students to show up to Jazz Night with the use of social media.
“Letting people know about stuff now is pretty easy. You just have to figure out how to have that catch their eye, you know, when they’re scrolling through their phone — whammo. There’s something cool to look at.”
Tim Healion Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org 775-287-3599
Nick Stewart can be reached via email at email@example.com or on Twitter via @NevadaSagebrush.