“Ifeel very strongly that arts as a part of our culture—and specifically music—is a really important part of a vibrant community,” said John Bennum, assistant executive director and trombonist for the Reno Jazz Orchestra. Bennum will step into the position of executive director for the RJO on Oct. 1. He plans to bring more jazz to more people, through concerts and educational programs.

The RJO keeps its concerts affordable. Its recent Earth, Wind & Fire tribute at Hawkins Amphitheater was $10 for grass seats and $15 for reserved seating. Bennum said that’s competitive with what the Reno Philharmonic would have charged, for instance. “We do seek to make those concerts free,” he added. “Again, of course, this year we were coming out of a severe loss of revenue, through the pandemic and not having performed last summer.” 

The RJO performed two Earth, Wind & Fire tribute shows this summer. This one was at Sand Harbor State Park. Photo: courtesy John Bennum

While performance is one way to bring jazz to the community, Bennum also emphasized the importance of jazz education. The RJO educates students about jazz with its “three-armed” approach of jazz workshops, a mentorship program, and a Jazz in the Schools event that helps students prepare for UNR’s Reno Jazz Festival.

Mentors with the RJO visit high school and middle school jazz ensembles throughout Northern Nevada. During their visits, mentors help students improve their ensemble by providing feedback on rehearsals and helping directors arrange the band. Students who would like to further their jazz skills can also attend RJO’s Saturday workshops. The RJO’s Dylan Coleman teaches improvisation, jazz theory, and ear training. The annual Reno Jazz Festival allows jazz students to network, compete and collaborate within the Reno jazz community.

Students participating in an RJO jazz workshop in the pre-COVID days of 2019. Photo: courtesy John Bennum

The RJO’s educational programs and affordable concerts help the group plan for its own future as well. “It gives the opportunity to say, if you take these skills and further them, we would like very much to have you come up and fill our ranks,” he said. … “If you don’t see yourself playing with us, it’s not because we don’t want you there.”

The Reno Jazz Orchestra and vocalist/composer Diane Schuur will perform at UNR’s Nightingale Concert Hall at 4pm on Aug. 22 and at Sand Harbor State Park at 7:30pm Aug. 23. Tickets start at $30.

The next Reno Jazz Festival is scheduled for April 28-30, 2022 at UNR.

Cover photo: courtesy John Bennum

Posted by Carly Sauvageau

Carly Sauvageau was raised in Tonopah, Nevada. She's working on her master's degree in journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. She enjoys spending time with friends, cooking, hiking, swimming and working on her many art and poetry projects.