Stettler’s The Jazz Guys continue to make quite the impact across the region via the compelling power of music
“A few of these musicians were working together in the Stettler Regional Community Band when I moved to Stettler 26 years ago,” recalled member and pianist Eric Rahn when reflecting on the formation of the gifted group.
“I had the chance to perform with and conduct this group for a few years. I found that I was not getting a chance to play much piano though, so I thought it would be fun to enter our local festival with a separate group playing a jazz tune ‘Jumpin’ Jack Jive’.
“It was very well-received and that was the start of ‘The Jazz Guys’.
“Granted, it is not a very unique name. However, we needed one for the festival and it was the first one that came to mind – then we would change it later. Needless to say, any of the names we came up with were, for the most part, not very appropriate.”
Rahn noted that this group eventually replaced the community band in terms of regular practices and currently, they meet every Monday night throughout the school year.
“It was a nice transition for me because of the chance to work with some adult musicians as well as younger players throughout the day,” he explained, pointing out that the group has changed a few players over the years, but the main body has been together for at least 17 years.
Stylistically, the band focuses primarily on many of the classics.
“We play charts from Count Basie, Duke Ellington, right up to more modern charts.” Indeed – diversity is a defining factor to the band.
“Even a few Beatles tunes have been arranged for jazz band that I think are very clever.
“What I love about this group is that everyone is very passionate about playing. We come from all types of backgrounds, and some are trained in music more than others. But the end product is a pretty tight sound that brings these charts to life,” he explained.
“I also love working with this group because they are very willing to try out all types of charts, and are not shy in voicing their appreciation, or lack of appreciation, of a chart that has been picked. There are a few charts that have been purchased, tried, then abandoned in the filing cabinet, but not too many.”
Recently, the guys had the chance to perform at Spruce Meadows, which Rahn described as a “wonderful experience.”
“We have had the pleasure of performing there four times now, and it is never less than a terrific experience,” he said. “We performed twice in their outdoor Gazebo by the International Ring, and these last two times on the Main Stage in the Pavilion.
“This event is the International Christmas Market – so many people and so many vendors. It is quite breathtaking with all the decorations and people. We also find it quite rewarding because we get to perform for both friends and family, but also complete strangers,” he said. “When you see them all enjoying what you are doing, it makes all the practicing worth it.
“After this last event, I feel what makes it special is that the band as a group enjoys performing and really, we are a group of friends who also happen to be good musicians.”
Rahn’s own background is in piano studies. “I have been playing the piano since I was in Grade 3, which feels like a 100 or so years ago,” he joked. “I always enjoyed playing the piano, but also enjoyed playing other instruments in my junior and senior high concert and jazz bands.
“I have also always enjoyed learning the different instruments and that proved to be useful when I started my university studies. I attended the University of Alberta as a piano major, but because my piano professor knew my interest in other instruments, she advised me to change to a music education program.”
Rahn said he would like to send out a big ‘thank-you’ to Professor Munn and Professor Tom Dust, because his career of being a band teacher has been so very rewarding.
He started teaching in Stettler in early 1993, and recalled how very quickly he came to realize how supportive the schools and community were in terms of the fine arts.
“I have never taken that for granted.”
For Rahn, music has a profound on people because, “It can be both an intellectual connection, and/or an emotional connection.
“There is a reason some music catches your ear – it can be a clever use of chord progressions, a great rhythm, lyrics, etc. or a combination of them all,” he explained. “When you are actually performing music, it is also a wonderful experience to take that ‘ink on a page’ and bring it to life.
“I always tell the younger players, they are just notes on a page until you give them some meaning.”