Stettler’s own The Jazz Guys kick off this year’s Entertainment in the Park series at West Stettler Park on June 23rd.
This year’s festivities will consist of 10 free concerts, including a number of new acts that will take the stage for the first time.
All shows start at 7 p.m.
Meanwhile, it’s a terrific feeling to be hitting the stage again in general, as the pandemic has of course meant few performances, said Eric Rahn, pianist for The Jazz Guys. He noted that last summer, the guys also played Entertainment in the Park, and that in gearing up for that show they would rehearse in members’ driveways which proved to be a lot of fun.
“We had to find various places, and then the restrictions kicked in more. But we were still allowed to play outdoors,” he recalled. “So we ended up playing on people’s driveways! We started with mine, and then the other members offered theirs as well,” he added with a laugh.
It certainly made for a great means of introducing more folks to their superbly-crafted tunes.
“We ended up playing around town a lot! And by the time we got to (Entertainment in the Park) most people who had wanted to hear us had heard us already,” he chuckled. “So it really ended up being a positive experience – a lot of fun. We were just happy to play.”
For this year, they rehearsed at one of the guy’s acreages.
“We had some new songs in the works, so we kind of re-visited those,” he explained of the process of choosing tunes.
Rahn said it is wonderful just to be together again planning a show.
“You don’t know how much you miss it until you start doing it again,” he said. “It’s been really nice.”
Looking back, the group, which features about nine members, was first started up about 20 years ago by Rhan, who is also a band instructor at Wm E. Hay Stettler Secondary Campus.
Around that time, several local musicians were working together in the Stettler Regional Community Band. Rhan performed with and conducted the group for a few years, but he found he wasn’t able to play much jazz piano though.
“I also missed playing with a full-on jazz band,” he said. So the guys went on to enter the local festival with a separate group playing the jazz tune Jumpin’ Jack Jive.
It was very well-received and that was essentially the start of ‘The Jazz Guys’ – which has been a dream for Rahn as he’s a huge fan of the genre as well.
Over the years, the band has continued to play gigs all over Central Alberta, growing into a popular musical attraction for local community groups, events and fundraisers.
And although the group has changed a few players over the years, the main body has been together since the start.
“It’s a good mix – we have two trumpets – sometimes three. We also have a tenor saxophone, two alto saxophones, percussion, a trombone, bass and myself on keyboards,” he said, adding that he has been playing piano since he was in about Grade three.
“I love it, and I started doing the jazz stuff in university. There was a group of us, and I really quite liked it.”
His first piano teacher also had a love for the big band style, so he learned much about that, too.
“In university, I kind of re-kindled all of that,” he said. “And with jazz, I love that fact that when you get the group going, everyone is listening to each other – it’s kind of like you are doing a solo, but everyone helps each other out,” he explained.
“I love that feeling – it’s not just (music) on a page, but it’s really brought to life.
“I also think it’s just so interactive when it comes to jazz bands – you have to whole group playing collectively, and then someone gets a moment to shine and everyone else is backing them up. And then it switches. It’s really a fluid style of music, I think.
For Rahn, both teaching music and being part of a performance group are extremely rewarding and enriching experiences.
“I’ve discovered when someone gets a handle on how to do something, and they realize they are creating something, it gives them such a huge sense of satisfaction on a personal level,” he said.
Rounding out the band are Jon McNickle, Ethan Rahn and Marvyn Harris on Trumpets, Saxophonists John Ireland, Ted Nibourg and Scott Pfeiffer, Trombone-player Jeff Lee, backed by the rhythm section Alan Willis on Drums, Geoff Long on bass and Joe Melnyk on guitar.
For Rahn, it’s certainly been a fulfilling path.
“I think music helps me keep my connections – and I love it when there’s a song that you really like, and you get someone else to listen to it and they like it because of the groove or the lyric. I just love those connections that music creates.”
Looking ahead, coming up next in the Entertainment in the Park series are Loose Change on June 30th and Flashback Freddy on July 7th. Ollee performs July 14th, Travis Pickering on July 21st, Off the Rails on July 28th, the Wheatland Band on Aug. 4th, TEN02 on Aug. 11th, Tap9 on Aug. 18th and Ryan Langlois wraps up the series on Aug. 25th.
The main interior area in front of the gazebo will be limited to the first 150 people, or the current maximum occupancy mandated by Alberta Health Services.
Patrons are also asked to physically distance from other households and groups.