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UNLV’s Jazz Studies program continues to achieve national notoriety

Updated May 10, 2021 - 11:18 am

Many years ago, a few of us in the Las Vegas entertainment scene started posting #TromboneSolo on Twitter. This was in the earlier days of social media, just as we figured out the value of hashtags.

I started the trombone hashtag after encountering a wave of trombone solos as I hopscotched around town. I tried to catch a few seconds of a solo on video, then post it with that hashtag. Vegas trombone players loved knowing their performances were featured in such a way.

A virtuoso of the instrument, Nathan Tanouye, was routinely featured on the #TromboneSolo feed. I’d catch him onstage with Celine Dion (for whom he wrote the horn charts for her show at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace), and also in his Monday-night gigs with Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns.

One night, after a Santa Fe show at The Lounge at the Palms, I walked to Tanouye at the stage and said, “You’ve become the king of the hashtag-trombone solo.”

“What?” he said, surprised. “What’s that?” This took a lot of explaining to the nonplussed musician.

Never one to toot his own horn, Tanouye had no idea of the hashtag, not much interest in social media or even any undue attention. But despite his unassuming nature, Tanouye is integral to the arts community as a UNLV Jazz Studies grad and professor who onstage has backed Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis and Natalie Cole, among many others.

Tanouye laughed at the #trombonesolo retelling on Sunday afternoon.

“I’m not so much into that stuff. It’s funny that this was all happening behind my back,” Tanouye said. “I’m kind of a do-er. I’m usually creating, or practicing, or just doing my day-to-day-life.”

Tanouye is typical of the super musicians connected to the UNLV Jazz Studies program, who rock the country yet never seem to get enough recognition. Nonetheless the program has been honored, significantly and once again by the prestigious DownBeat Student Music Awards presented annually by DownBeat Magazine.

DownBeat is simply the bible for college musicians and professors across the country. For academic arts culture, being honored by the magazine is akin to winning a Grammy Award. And the UNLV Jazz Studies program, headed by Dave Loeb, cleaned up with nine awards. The recipients:

● UNLV Jazz Ensemble 1, directed by professors Loeb and Tanouye, is a co-winner in the Graduate College Large Jazz Ensemble category.

● The Vegas ‘22 combo, mentored by faculty member Jo Belle Yonely, won the Graduate College Latin Group category.

● The Vinnie Falcone Organ Quartet (named for the legendary music director of Frank Sinatra, among many greats), mentored by professor Adam Schroeder, won the Graduate College Asynchronous Small Jazz Ensemble category.

Brian Lawrence won the Graduate College Blues/Pop/Rock Soloist category.

● The UNLV Jazz Vocal Ensemble, directed by faculty member Kimberly Snavely, received a Graduate College Asynchronous Small Vocal Jazz Group Outstanding Performance award.

Gary Fowler was recognized as an Outstanding Vocal Soloist in the Graduate College category.

Molly Redfield received a Graduate College Outstanding Vocal Arrangement award for her arrangement of “Moonglow.”

● The UNLV Contemporary Jazz Ensemble, directed by UNLV faculty member Julian Tanaka, received an Asynchronous Blues/Pop/Rock Group Graduate College Outstanding Performance award.

● The UNLV Latin Jazz Ensemble, directed by faculty member Uli Geissendoerfer, received a Graduate College Latin Group Outstanding Performance award.

That’s the haul, but it doesn’t completely cover the program’s great artistic impact, beginning in Las Vegas.

Examples: Loeb, who is consistently fast to extol the Jazz Studies program ahead of any personal achievement, has played piano on such TV series as “Family Guy,” “Quantum Leap,” the Emmy Awards telecast and such feature films as “Ted,” “The Birdcage” and “Pocahontas.” He also backed trumpet icon Arturo Sandoval, sax great Tom Scott and the late Vegas jazz legend Joe Williams.

Geissendoerfer’s trio held forth for about five years at the Dispensary Lounge’s jazz nights until the series was cut amid the pandemic. Geissendoerfer’s credits range from Cirque to Tito Puente to Blood, Sweat & Tears.

Tanaka has backed Boyz II Men at Mirage Theater, was in the “Baz’’ band at Palazzo and also the Postmodern Jukebox lineup at 1 Oak Nighclub at The Mirage. He’s also an instructor at Las Vegas Academy.

The pipeline continues with pianist/singer and UNLV masters student Patrick Hogan growing into a presence at Mayfair Supper Club and The Vegas Room (and in the recently launched Underground Speakeasy series at The Mob Museum on May 22). Catch Fowler singing around town during Mondays Dark at the Space and even Fergusons in Downtown Las Vegas.

In a great bridge-the-divide moment, famed trumpet player and bandleader Brian Newman hired several UNLV grads and/or professors in Gaga’s “Jazz + Piano” orchestra at Park Theater. Remarkably, nearly all of Gaga’s horn section is tied to the UNLV Jazz Studies program. That troupe includes Schroeder, Tanouye, Rick Keller, Rob Mader, Eric Tewalt, Phil Wigfall, Danny Falcone, Gil Kaupp, Kurt Miller, Neil Maxa and Sonny Hernandez.

The professional achievement is clear. But Tanouye says the DownBeat Awards are a particular sense of pride for today’s working musicians, and especially for those on that path.

“This really puts UNLV more on the map, and it’s really just a way of getting the university’s name out there,” the trombonist said. “There is a meaning, and sense of pride in what we do.” And to students — if you stay with it long enough, there is a hashtag waiting for you.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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