Reno Jazz Master Tristan Selzler and His New Album 

Today we are truly blessed to be able to bring you Reno Jazz-legend-in-the-making, Tristan Selzler’s new Jazz album, Tales from the Loving Cup.

When I say we are bringing you Tristan Selzler’s new album, I mean just that. In a normal media situation, if we were introducing a new album, we would interview the artist, play a few thirty second clips of a few songs, and then tell you how to buy the album. But not this time. 

The Sierra Nevada Ally, being a not-for-profit, has the luxury of worrying less about space or time. Imagine not worrying about space or time! Our sister radio stations may not agree with that last statement, but in any case, this is a luxury for storytellers like me and for our readers and listeners, as well. We get to go into more detail and do cool stuff, like being able to show you an entire Jazz album that isn’t even released yet.

Speaking of nonprofits that rely solely on donations from lovely people like you, if we were a for-profit online magazine or radio station, we would not have the privilege of premiering Tristan’s music. This album is Tristan’s contribution to us and what a beautiful contribution it is. 

image: Marsh Brodeur

If you’re a lover of Jazz, we have a real treat for you. We will be devoting this entire show to Reno Jazz custodian, and Jazz legend-in-the-making, Tristan Selzer, and his new album Tales From the Loving Cup. Wait till you hear this album. All of the music was written by Tristan, and he is accompanied by the same four musicians throughout the entire album.

Any superlatives that I try to come up with seem inadequate to describe these players’ gifts, which are on full exhibit in this album. The artists are Dr. Josh Reed on trumpet, Chris Clark on Saxophone, Mike Mayhall on bass, and Rufus Haereiti on drums and percussion. On a personal note, Rufus is the best drummer I have ever heard in person, ever. 

If you are a casual listener of Jazz, or someone who isn’t a Jazz fan at all and, while minding your own business, innocently stumble onto us… well welcome; and please give us a short time to win you over. 

A Three-Minute Jazz Appreciation Class

If you are not familiar with Jazz, here is my “three-minute Jazz appreciation class.” I don’t know if it’s actually three minutes, I just made that up, which is called improvisation, and is all the rage in Jazz. Ready? Go.

I like to compare a Jazz session to a book club session or a book club meeting. Now, many of us have probably never been to a book club meeting, but ironically, we almost all know what goes on there, right? Everyone in the book club has read a preassigned book, so they all know what the book is about. Then they get together and the host or moderator goes first and recaps the main story of the book. Then one by one, each person in the book club takes a turn telling what they got out of the story. 

The cool thing is that each member of the book club might have a different interpretation of the story. So each person takes their turn and has their say about their interpretation of the story, including the moderator. Finally, the moderator wraps up the session by recapping the story once again, with perhaps an influence this time from the other readers’ opinions and interpretations.

In a Jazz song or session, the lead instrument, let’s say piano, is the moderator. When the song starts, the lead instrument tells the story by playing the melody of the song. The “melody” of a song is the part you remember, the part you could whistle or sing. So after the lead instrument tells the main story, then each musician has their time to talk about the melody of the story by playing their interpretation of how the story or melody made them feel, only they do it through playing their instrument.

Each instrument then, including the bass and the drums, has their turn to “talk” about the melody through playing their instrument, and these turns are called solos. In Jazz, a solo doesn’t mean that everyone else stops playing and one musician solos, like say a rock drum solo. In Jazz, the soloist is “featured,” which means that everyone is playing behind or quieter than the solo instrument, which is doing most of the “talking.” End of class. I wonder if it was three minutes. 

So, whether you are a Jazz fan or not, I’d love to have you listen to this beautiful composition by Tristan Selzer called Circle Walk. Referring back to our book club analogy, in this song the two horns played by Dr. Josh Reed on Trumpet and Chris Clark on saxophone are the moderators or the storytellers, if you will, playing the melody or telling the story together. After they complete the melody, each musician takes their turn talking about the melody. 

In this story, or song, there is a beautiful introduction before the actual melody starts, laid down by drummer Rufus Haereiti and bassist Mike Mayhall, with Tristan adding this vintage electric piano wash, to complete the sublime atmospheric ear candy. Let’s listen. 

Tristan Selzler would likely bristle at being referred to as “Reno’s live Jazz lynchpin,” but that is how I see him. In the current Reno live Jazz scene, he’s at the very least a dominant element, taking nothing away from and “For the love of Jazz,” who are huge Jazz promoters and educators.

What I am referring to is that, on any given weeknight in the middle of January, you’ll find some of the best Jazz in the country, being played at places like “The Loving Cup” which Tristan’s album is named after. Much of this music is provided by Tristan and his “friends,” as he calls them, also known as the Reno Jazz Syndicate. 

image: courtesy of Rachel Selzler

Selzler will tell you that the University of Nevada Reno is the Jazz lynchpin, but I feel like UNR’s Music Department goes so far beyond that, in its contribution to the nationally respected Reno Jazz scene. I would describe UNR as being the magnet, the conduit and certainly the training ground, if not the breeding ground, largely responsible for producing generations of musicians who rival any in the world.

UNR has seen many “Jazz scenes” through the years, and it was UNR’s reputation and renowned music professors, that attracted Tristan in the first place, but this current Reno live music Jazz scene is largely entrusted, whether they like it or not, to Tristan Selzer and his Reno Jazz Syndicate.

The Reno Jazz Syndicate IS Tristan Selzer, joined by very specific accompanists, depending on venue and artist availability. RJS is the preeminent live instrumental Jazz sound in Reno, and part of their success can be attributed to being accessible, by playing in local clubs and venues every week and putting their recorded music out there in some cases, like this one, for free.

By not making financial gain the central, or even the tertiary goal of this collaborative, it allows the Reno Jazz Syndicate, and Tristan, the freedom to say yes and to say no, allowing for maximum musical expression on their terms, while allowing optimum accessibility to their fan base. Now, that’s normally a pipe dream, and eventually the reality of “art for art’s sake, or money for cripes sakes,” rears its ugly head.

I mean, that’s just day-to-day reality for musicians who are trying to make a living playing music. This, however, is not the case with RJs, because none of the musicians, including Tristan, rely solely on RJS for funding of any kind. These musicians all have income streams from other means. These folks are next-level players with pedigree, if you will and, as such, are typically professionally employed elsewhere, or teaching full-time and/or playing full-time outside of RJS.

“It isn’t about the money.” You might hear that a lot, but how often is it actually true? Not worrying about the commercial appeal, catering to a narrow demographic, or advertising and marketing considerations, allows Tristan to create what he calls “unadulterated music.” Tristan gets into what “unadulterated music” means to him as well as how RJS came to be later on in this article, in his own words.

I met Tristan Selzler about 20 years ago when he was around nineteen years old. I have a daughter Tristan’s age, to put things in perspective, and I was hanging out with him as a friend and a peer musician. If there was ever to be a music mentor relationship between Tristan Selzer and I, he most surely would have been mentoring me, and I can say that with confidence because he has done just that, albeit unintentionally. 

At the time, twenty years ago, I thought I knew Tristan, but I didn’t have a clue. I found him, to be a likable, engaging, intellectually stimulating, left-leaning, cocky, respectful, very talented, trombone player. That is essentially who I knew Tristan to be for almost a year before hearing him play piano at a wonderful Jazz club in Reno, back in the early two thousands, called EJ’s, and to say I was blown away by Tristan’s piano playing would be an understatement, and the cats that were playing with him were all amazing players about the same age as Tristan. 

So after my initial Tristan Selzler EJ’s experience, flash forward a couple of years. I was packing out from a gig in Reno that ended around 10:00 PM and when I was loading up my car, I heard a blues band playing with a killer guitarist in the Muddy Waters tradition. Frankly, in my mind, I pictured seeing a Muddy-Waters-looking guitarist if I went into that club, so I went into that club.

I opened the door to this tiny, smoky, joint, mostly filled with college-aged kids. It had mirrors behind the bar, dark wooden walls, high ceilings with impossibly slow-moving ceiling fans, dangling from long, conduits who had never seen the light of day, or detergent of any kind, and there on stage was Tristan Selzer playing the guitar. I mean playing the guitar, like he’d been doing it since he was four years old and had personally experienced every spectrum of emotion that he was painting with that guitar.

So naturally, I asked Tristan where that blues feel came from. 

“In short, it came from my dad. So my dad used to play all kinds of music in the home. There was always music on in the home and there was always music on in the car. And for the most part, I didn’t really like a lot of it. So, my dad played a lot of progressive rock bands like Rush, King Crimson, Genesis, Yes, and a lot of blues, like traditional blues, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Lead Belly, as well as guys like, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Lead Zeppelin, and Cream. 

“I kind of associated that music with an older generation or my dad’s music, you know? So I didn’t really start digging any of that stuff until I started developing myself as a musician later on. And so I started studying Jazz and finding my voice, and I found myself going back to the music my dad would play in my youth.”

Twenty years later, I can tell you that the Reno Jazz Torchbearer is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, band leader, and educator, who has performed in multiple settings ranging from small concert venues to Jazz festival main stages, and not just in Nevada, but in many parts of the U.S., especially the West Coast, and particularly San Francisco and Monterey Bay. He has also performed internationally, notably in Kyoto and Tokyo, Japan. 

In his spare time, Selzer teaches piano at Western Nevada College, as well as hosting educational workshops on improvisation at Renew Music. Tristan will be talking about Renew Music a bit later on in this article. They are a nonprofit organization promoting collaboration between composers and performers. 

In the Jazz community, at the end of the day, it is all about creating, collaborating, and most importantly, being out there performing, which is sort of music-speak for sharing. Enter the Reno Jazz Syndicate. RJS is a handpicked (by Selzer) collection of players, most from the U N R conduit, and all are exceptional. RJS is a collection of musician pixels, forming an impeccable collage in Selzler’s image. Tristan talks in more detail about RJS, a bit later on in this article.

If you spend any amount of social time with Tristan, you might come away thinking that he’s one of the most laid-back people you have ever met. Those that know and love him, however, understand that his mind never stops. I mean, it slows down, maybe pulls over for refreshments, but then it’s off again. Let me give you an example of what I mean. 

There are three dubstep tunes in this Jazz album, and they are placed very specifically. One is placed directly in the middle of the album, and Tristan refers to it as a “pallet cleanser,” because you have listened to five Jazz songs previously. 

Having enjoyed this album several times myself, I can tell you that it is indeed, a very effective pallet cleanser, in its change of flavor and texture from the richer forward flavor Jazz to the unexpected surprise of the lighter, bouncy, slightly citrus flavored, dubstep. This song is used the way a break song would be used in a live performance, between what might be referred to as set one and set two.

The way that the Reno Jazz Syndicate is composed, gives Selzler the ability to cover venues large and small and to create and perform music as a collective that surpasses the sum of its parts. More importantly, RJS and Tristan Selzer are, as mentioned before, accessible. You can hear them in multiple flavors, at various bars, clubs, and other venues in Reno, the UNR world, and elsewhere.

I asked Tristan to talk about his brainchild turned brain trust, the Reno Jazz Syndicate. 

“So the Reno Jazz Syndicate is a group that was formed in 2006. I came to Reno around 2002, and by 2006 I was starting to play gigs quite a bit. So I wanted to develop the Reno Jazz Syndicate as a sort of identity, oriented around the musicians who were studying at the university, and were out playing in clubs, bars, lounges, and were kind of “in the scene” at the time.

“I wanted something that would make us distinctive from other folks around town who were doing their versions of Jazz, in different ways. And so, our thing has been, from the onset, to focus on original music, so everyone in the Jazz Syndicate tends to compose. I do a lot of that myself, and while we do like to reference tradition, we also like to play progressive music.

“So the UNR vibe has always been where “tradition meets innovation,” and I think you can honor both without detracting from the other. And so that was our vibe; original music, combined with Jazz tradition, and we were just trying to be good stewards of this tradition. It’s always been very important to me to respect this music and where it came from, who it came from, and that was the principle behind the Reno Jazz Syndicate.

“I think it’s important to point out that we are not an LLC. We don’t have funding. There’s no “card-carrying members of the Reno Jazz Syndicate.” So in a way, it is just sort of me and my friends. We have a sixteen-piece orchestra that plays big band repertoire and locally we’re just kind of making our presence known. It all happened very quickly because the cats that I know are… they’re the best musicians in town.

We mentioned earlier how Tristan does not make monetary gain a priority for his music creation and specifically this album. So I asked him how the album pays for itself, how it gets monetized, and here is what he had to say. 

“So we don’t have donors or, or sponsorship, that type of thing. That can make it difficult, as far as earning a living is concerned, if we relied on it. But we don’t tend to point out our tip jar or market our upcoming gigs on the microphone, things like that. I’ll mention it on social media sites that I’m normally on regardless, but no advertisements. I’ve always thought it’s important to let the music take precedent in what we’re presenting towards our audiences.

“We do have the new album coming out, and I’m not trying to necessarily sell a bunch of copies. You can purchase it on Apple and Amazon, iTunes, all that stuff, and that’s cool, but the point is not really to sell records. It’s always been very important to me that the music gets made as cleanly and as unadulterated as possible. So the focus for me, anyway, has never been about marketing so much as the music itself.” 

This piece that I’d like to play next could have been a national anthem. For a country lucky enough to have it as I listened, I could easily imagine it being played at an international event such as the Olympics or an international football match. I would like to introduce you to “Sad Song” written by Tristan Selzer. 

Tristan Selzler is one degree of separation from every viable Jazz musician in the Reno, Tahoe, and U N R communities, spanning two or arguably three generations. To accomplish this, the older musicians have to take you seriously from Jump Street. It’s not an easy task, but Tristan somehow manages to walk that fine line where his music ability combined with his respect for who and what came before him, causes the veterans like myself, to respect his musicianship without wanting to slap him for it. If you want to see an example of what I’m talking about on Tristan’s new album, you need to look no further than “Landing at Dukes.” 

Tristan is an old soul. He’s always seemed wiser than his years, though not necessarily more mature, except where his musicianship is concerned. In light of Tristan’s ability as a multi-instrumentalist, it would not have surprised me to hear that he was a prodigy as a child, but that was not the case.

Tristan came from a very musical family and started taking classical piano lessons at five years old from his grandmother. In addition to the love-hate relationship, Tristan had with the classical piano lessons from his grandmother, his musical influence extended to his father as well, who was band director and to his mother, who was also a music major, which is actually how his parents met in 1970. I asked Tristan about taking lessons from his grandmother. 

“So my first piano teacher was my grandma. She was a church pianist. And when I was taking lessons, at first it was kind of a chore. It was something that I had to do, but I quickly found my own interest in the piano. So I would much rather sit by myself and experiment with music, than have my teachers, my grandma, sitting over my shoulder, making me recite notes and scales and fingerings and these types of things. Eventually, they merged together. Initially, I found my own love for it, so begrudgingly I put up with the piano lessons.” 

I asked Tristan who his earliest musical influences were besides his family. 

“I suppose my very first early influences were Scott Joplin and The Beatles. Okay, so really early on I was gifted a boombox that had a CD player by my parents. The first couple of records, (I listened to) one was a Scott Joplin compilation of Rag Time, so not Jazz, this is Rag Time predating Jazz. “And then the others were, the Beatles “Past Masters Volume One” and “Past Masters Volume Two,” A collection of the greatest hits from the early Beatles and the later Beatles. 

“And so I had my own equipment in my room. I could play this music whenever I wanted on my terms. And those were the first artists, Scott Joplin and The Beatles. That was the first music that I fell in love with cuz I could listen to it all the time by myself. Yeah, The Beatles and Scott Joplin Rags.” 

Unprompted, Tristan brought up that one of the biggest influences in his music life, but also life in general, was a teacher named Ms. Rascon. Tristan and his overactive, fifth-grade, mind were having behavioral issues in the class, and rather than send him to the principal’s office, Ms. Rascon had him sit by himself in timeout, with a Cassio keyboard and a set of headphones. 

Tristan said of Ms. Rascon, “instead of getting me in more trouble, she let me do what I loved, And I think about that often. She was unique, and she, by the way, was also a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model at one point in her life.” 

Ms. Rascon was not the only teacher who had a huge influence on Tristan’s musical life. The teachers that Tristan was exposed to at the University of Nevada, Reno had a national reputation of their own. Two of his mentors, Dr. David Ake and Peter Epstein had considerable careers in New York. Selzler talks about Ake and Epstein. 

“We were lucky to study with some really great professors at the university. David Ake and Peter Epstein were some of our mentors early on. They went to the California Institute of the Arts and that sort of mindset or approach to modern music came with them to U N R.

“And so, the education we got at U N R was different from the sort of approach they take at Berkeley or University of North Texas. Places that are very focused on straight ahead Jazz, big band, bebop, capital J Jazz, if you will. So UNR allowed us to focus on other styles of music, and we got exposed to all sorts of things like African drumming, South Indian classical music, Macedonian folk music, free improvisation, and just other creative art forms, and all of this was tied to our “Jazz education.” 

UNR is what brought Tristan Selzer to Reno, but I was curious as to why he continues to call Reno home. Tristan explained.

“Reno is an extremely special place. I’ve always felt the level of playing here in Reno can be compared to anywhere else in the world. If you go to New York City or Tokyo, or London or Paris, the musicians in this Jazz scene can hang with any of those cats, I’ve always felt that way. 

“The musicians that were here before us were world class. Not just good for Reno, not just good for Northern Nevada, just good, great, and that’s still true today. I’ve always felt like I was surrounded by an unreasonable amount of world class talent here, especially for such a small city.”

When I first met Tristan, he was living with a beautiful girl named Rachel, who for reasons known only to herself, decided to marry Tristan. Turns out she knew what she was doing because nineteen years later, they have a wonderful relationship. I can tell you firsthand, it is not easy to be married to a musician, or any artist now that I think about it. I asked Tristan about Rachel and his face immediately lit up. 

“Rachel is my best friend and my wife and my favorite human being. She and I met in 2003 at the university. We had our first kiss outside Manzanita Lake, right there on the UNR campus, and we’ve been together ever since. We got married in 2011.

“She’s a preschool teacher. She works with the “Head Start” program here locally and works with underprivileged children, and she’s probably the best I’ve ever seen around kids. Yeah she’s just amazing with kids, really loves what she does, and she’s also the official Reno Jazz Syndicate photographer. So not only does she take all of our photos, but she also does the graphic design and she’s done the artwork for the last three albums, “Modern Dance,” “Impromptu” and “Reno Jazz Syndicate,” and the next one is coming out later this month. “Tales From the Loving Cup.””

Before we wrapped up the interview, I had to circle back to something that Tristan had said in passing very early on in our discussion. He mentioned that he had sold an oboe score or was selling oboe scores or something to that effect. The principal word here being oboe, because the oboe is one of the few instruments that I know Tristan cannot play at all. I asked Tristan about that, and that was also how we got on this subject of Renew music. 

“I do a lot of writing for this organization called Renew Music, which is pretty new to Reno. It’s run by a guy named Paul Fleming who plays trombone in the Reno Philharmonic. Paul established the mission of their group, which is to generate new music, and new compositions by local composers. So not necessarily always Jazz, but in the classical world and all sorts of different styles. 

“In the academic world, there’s a lack of new music for classical players, and this oboe piece is a perfect example of that. So oboe players tend to play a lot of repertoire written for violin and flute and clarinet, sort of older music, and there’s not a lot of new compositions coming out for the instrument. So Renew commissioned me to write a piece for the oboe, which led to me writing a suite for Dr. Aaron Hill, who is the oboe professor at the University of Nevada. 

“We actually got a lot of traction on this. It generated a lot of interest, and it sold more copies than I can count right now. It’s my first oboe suite, but people seem to be really interested in it. We played it at the International Double Reed Society Convention in Boulder, Colorado this year and, from there, I met a lot of folks including some students from the Royal Welsh Academy in London, and one of the oboists in the Seattle Symphony, and they bought the piece, so it’s being played on three different continents right now.

“Right now I’m working on writing piano parts for the oboist, who’s gonna play it in a trio in Seattle, so I’m arranging that for her trio with a piano, oboe, and cello. It’s sort of a reworking of the entire suite. Yeah.”

Tristan’s album was mixed at I Mirage Studios, owned by Tom Gordon, 1558 Linda Way, Sparks, Nevada. I would like to give a shout-out to one of Tom’s young proteges; engineer Alex Breckenridge, who mixed and mastered Tristan’s new album. I loved the space in that Alex put the music in. Great job Alex. 

And so in closing, I hope you all enjoyed meeting Tristan Selzer and I hope you enjoyed the gift that he brought for us.

If you have the means, please support Tristan and RJS any way that you can, and I am not beyond asking for your consideration to maybe help keep content like this available without advertisement by contributing what you can to If you can’t help in a monetary way, believe me, we understand. If you could send this Sierra Nevada Ally link to Jazz lovers you might know, then you’d be helping both us and Tristan Selzer, and we both would sure appreciate it.

Much love my friends. Have a wonderful Holiday season and try to be patient with each other. We are all trying our best, in our own weird little ways, and as you know only too well, life is sometimes not easy, and sometimes it’s flat-out cruel. Put yourself in other people’s snow boots. A little compassion goes a long way and may even change somebody’s day, or even their life. You have that power. Don’t take it lightly. Use it.

We leave you with “Sampson and Delilah” by Tristan Selzer and as life itself, the ending may not be the ending. Cheers.

Marsh Brodeur

Marshall (Marsh) Brodeur is a professional musician, composer, vocalist, vocal coach, and music supervisor for film and television. Brodeur is also a vocal/choral director for musical theater productions. He’s received numerous music/film/television industry awards such as the Telly Award For “A Glimpse of Heaven, a Taste of Hell;” a documentary for PBS – Composing and Scoring for Film and Television, a Telly Award For “Off Hand;” 2017-2018 Forte Award for Top Male Vocalist; and the Platinum Remi Award Houston International Film Festival – Music for “Choices” with Brian Cranston. Marsh and his wife live in Carson City Nevada.

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