Reno Jazz Orchestra presents Earth, Wind & Fire live


By Chuck Reider

Join the Reno Jazz Orchestra (RJO) 7/30 at the Hawkins Amphitheater in Bartley Ranch or 8/2 in Sand Harbor as part of the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival Monday Night Series to hear us perform the music of Earth, Wind , and Fire (EWF).

You can pick up our brand new “Spirits” CD with EWF music there. It is the culmination of excellent recording and polishing sessions in the studio over the course of nine months. The track “Spirits” is a reflection of EWF’s music expressing hope, inspiration and joy.

It is this spirit that we want to share because it is the perfect elixir to reconnect with the world. Many of those songs that you know (and sing along with) others might be new to your ears. Come to concerts, sing your favorite songs and get yourself a CD.

Some tracks are very similar to the original recording while others are new interpretations. The art of big band arranging requires creativity, technical skills in writing parts for the full big band (in this case eighteen songs), patience (a lot of work!), And being able decide what is left of the original recording and what new material to add.

Getting a piece recorded by seven to ten musicians to eighteen means a lot of new material! Orchestration is another consideration. Here is an example, suppose a synthesizer or guitar on the original recording is playing an important musical line. Should the arranger keep it with a synthesizer for arrangement or assign it to the trumpets? Orchestration is the art of assigning notes to instruments to create colors and effects. Only a handful of big band arrangers like Nelson Riddle, Sammy Nestico, and Quincy Jones have become widely recognized. In the classical world, Maurice Ravel was a master. Let me introduce you to one of the arrangers.

RJO trumpeter and composer Julien Knowles has arranged four of the eleven pieces; “In the Stone”, “After the Love Has Gone”, “Reasons” and “Spirit”. Each arrangement captured the feel and groove of the original recording, but using the art of orchestration, it created a much richer palette of sounds. A good example is the introduction of “Spirit”, the last track on the album. The original recording begins with a synthesizer and an electric piano. Knowles took that “lick”, extended it, and doubled the acoustic piano with the trombones and woodwinds (flutes, clarinets, and bass clarinet).

Absolutely stunning.

He knows when to add new horn parts like a saxophone line to enhance the group and not interfere with the vocals. In “After the Love”, he uses a pyramid of horns to a great effect. Think of a single melody line that is split between eight instruments each with staggered inputs. Very difficult for the horns to perform because their inputs must be absolutely precise or the result will be an unpleasant blur! “Reasons” I encouraged Knowles to think outside the box. He felt that the original feel and groove was too iconic to change, but instead he added a whole new intro and ending again for a wonderful effect. FYI, shortly after playing with us for these shows, Knowles moved to Los Angeles to study at the prestigious Hancock Institute (yes Herbie Hancock). Delayed for a year due to COVID. We wish him good luck.

There are so many great elements in our album “Spirits” that you have to check them out. Enjoy the vocals, solos and performance of the big band, then listen a little deeper. One thing to listen to is the spatial placement of all the singers and instruments. Engineer Mike Eardley and I spent a lot of time in the studio making sure you can hear every part. The horns for example, the trombones a little on the left, the trumpets in the center and the saxes on the right. Each has a space in the mix. Like I said above, EWF music is a great way to get back into the world after COVID so come see us and experience ‘the spirit’.

For concert tickets and more information on the video and CD, visit our website

Chuck Reider is the Executive Director of the Reno Jazz Orchestra.

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Henry R. Wright

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