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No Name Jazz Band keeps jazz alive

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By Birdie Jaworski

A practice room at NMHU reverberates with the Brazilian beat of a drum set, its tone reminiscent of a steel drum band, of nights spent in tango with handsome strangers under island stars.

A singer’s voice pierces the rhythm, clear and low, a lone tarnished flute mimicking her vibrato in a sultry call and response. Five musicians breathe together, their sophisticated, sexy music at odds with their casual slacks and sandals. The clouds outside seems to gather to listen; they crowd together, deep reds, blues, vivid orange, the colors of suspense and desire.

Jazz has been called the purist expression of American democracy, a music built on compromise, independence, and cooperation. Jazz is the first indigenous American musical style to infect the rest of the world. From the beat of ragtime syncopation to the angelic soaring of gospel choirs to the deep down growl of the blues, jazz’s many roots are celebrated across the entire United States. Las Vegas has her own jazz band, the five-member No Name Jazz Band, whose improvisation and stylistic riffs can be heard this Sunday afternoon at the Pendaries Community Center.

The No Name Jazz Band consists of classical guitarist Carl Bernstein, NMHU Band Director and visiting professor Ed Harrington on bass, Bruce Holmes on alto sax, tenor sax, and flute, Ralph Marquez on drums and percussion, and Betty Thompson on vocals.

Working together in their third year, the group has planned an afternoon of jazz standards with a Brazilian flair. Pendaries Community Center will become a speakeasy, complete with a cash bar, and room enough for dancing for those who dare.

“I’m sleeping a lot less,” said Holmes, as the band takes a short break from rehearsal. “I spent 10 hours yesterday working on this stuff. It’s a very vulnerable medium. It’s all our friends coming to the concert, you’re kind of hanging it out there. But since we’re among friends, that’s also our saving grace.”

Jazz doesn’t happen by simply reading notes on paper. You need to feel the music course through your body, react to pitch and timbre by throwing expectations aside, by letting fingers, mouth, legs make your instrument transmit the emotions of your soul. Bernstein’s guitar carries its player’s thoughts, delights, despairs, as it envelopes singer Thompson’s voice with a musical caress.

“This is our third annual concert,” Marquez says. “We have things now and then that come up, but this is our big concert of the year. We get together for a few months before the concert and cram and cram and cram. That’s what we’re doing tonight.”

His co-band members laugh. They easily pick up a piece in the middle, react to each other’s nuance and charm. This is a group whose love for the music and love and respect for each other mingle with technical expertise.

“Jazz is a style not common in this community, and we’re trying to get it out,” explains Bernstein. “We’re lucky, because there really is an appreciative audience out there for it. We’re inviting the entire Las Vegas community to come out to the concert and have some fun.”

Sponsored by the Las Vegas Arts Council, the concert begins Sunday, Aug. 3 at 3 p.m. and includes two sets of jazz standards such as “All the Things You Are,” “Black Orpheus,” “My Foolish Heart,” and “Bye Bye Blackbird.” CDs from prior performances will be for sale, and the concert will be recorded for a future CD. The band hopes to expand their presence in the community by offering more concerts.

“We’re interested in performing more often. This is a once a year thing, we could use more of it,” says Holmes.

“It’s going to be a great concert, a lot of fun. Everyone has a wonderful time experiencing this beautiful music.”

For more information on the concert, or to inquire about hiring the No Name Jazz Band for your gig, call Carl Bernstein at 666-2319 or email Carl through his website at

www.carlbernstein.net