The brothers Arntzen themselves are Arnt and Evan, a pair of Vancouver-based musicians whose family is just about as jazzy as they come. If all of their musically inclined siblings, cousins and other assorted relatives were on tour at once, they’d need a full-on tour bus to carry the entire Arntzen assemblage.
Their current tour, which began in Grand Prairie, has the group bouncing all up and down Alberta and Saskatchewan. When they’re not teaching blues to school kids during the day, Big Easy style music is the name of the game for these particular Arntzen’s and their band.
“But it’s also a bit of a blend of several other styles,” said Arnt. “We do some 1930s style big band swing, although you can hardly call a quartet a big band. We do some later swing as well. Actually, we’ve been getting into country music, too. Also a whole lot of blues — we love the blues.”
Joined by Andrew Miller at the drums and Jennifer Hodge on bass, they’ll be playing the kind of music that makes you want to get up and dance. Swinging jazz, cool blues, all with a (little) big band flavour. Fortunately for our local Lindy Hopping feinds, the Bassment will be rolling out their dance floor for the occasion, and there’ll be free swing dancing lessons to boot.
Arnt and Evan have music in their bones. They’re third generation jazzers after their father and grandfather, both of whom are respected musicians in their own rights back home in Vancouver. Their prairie tour is taking them back to the roots of their family’s passion for jazz and their connection to the New Orleans style.
The eldest Arntzen, Lloyd, a lifelong jazz musician and teacher, was born in Bad Lake, Saskatchewan in 1927 and moved with his family to Vancouver during World War II to work in the shipyards. Later on, he would take it upon himself to teach his children and grandchildren to play music.
Growing up, “[the question] wasn’t so much if you wanted to play music,” said Evan, “it was what [instrument] did you want to play?”
When he was teaching music Lloyd he liked to tell his own tale of how jazz came to the prairies on a Mississipi paddle steamer.
“He liked to tell a story of how there was a great big storm,” said Arnt. “It rained and it rained and it rained. There was a flood of biblical proportions. The Mississippi river down around New Orleans burst its banks and flooded the entire plain. There was this paddle wheeler that was trying to find it’s way back to New Orleans, but got lost on some obscure tributary. By the time the flood waters dried up, it was sitting on the plains of Saskatchewan, with a jazz band [on the deck] blazing away for all they were worth.”
“And that was how jazz came to Bad Lake, Saskatchewan.”
In addition to playing their regular gigs, the Brothers Arntzen have been stopping at schools along their tour to teach kids about the blues — an essential public service. In this capacity, the band is styles as “the Bluesberries.” The Bluesberries cover everything from country and western blues, jazz blues, rock and roll blues, and the Mississippi Delta blues.
“Our whole educational mandate is to show kids what the twelve bar blues is and how many styles there are,” said Arnt. “We also teach the kids to clap at the end of jazz solos.”
What could be better than a generation of kids with an appreciation for the blues who can properly show their appreciation for it?
Correction April 20, 3:46 p.m.: When first published this article referred to the Brothers Arnzten band as a brass band. Seeing as how there are no actual brass instruments in the band, I thought it’d make more sense to update the article than confuse brass fans.
Photo: The Brothers Arntzen/Facebook