Evan Arntzen Carries Family Tradition Forward

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Evan Arntzen Carries Family Tradition Forward
Both Photos: Evan Arntzen at the Bickford Theatre in Morristown, New Jersey, on July 24, 2017. (photos by John Herr)

Four generations of reedman Evan Arntzen’s family have been merry music makers. Covering more than 100 years. Evan’s great-grandfather came to North America from Norway in 1908 and played the banjo and sang. It was grandfather Lloyd, still going strong at age 90, who had the greatest influence on Evan and his younger brother, Arnt. Both of their parents have had successful careers as professional musicians.

During the heyday of Dixieland festivals, clarinetist-soprano saxophonist Lloyd Arntzen was well known as the leader of the New Orleans North Traditional Jazz Band, Broadway Swells, and Dixieland Express, as well as a member of the Sweet Papa Lowdown band. Every Wednesday, he would pick up his grandsons from school and take them to his home where he would give them lessons on their instruments as well as in woodworking.

In 2006, Gwendoline Records issued a live CD titled 3 Generations of Jazz recorded live at Vancouver’s Cellar Jazz Café that included Lloyd, his two sons and two grandsons. Another family project was Blackstick, released in 2013 and recorded in Lloyd’s basement over three days.

Evan’s father Tom has been a pianist, singer, and bandleader in Vancouver for the past 30 years. He plays piano, organ, and accordion and as he puts it, specializes in handclaps. His forte is his renditions of contemporary favorites and tunes from the Great American Songbook along with some mellow crooning à la Frank Sinatra.

As the distaff side, Evan’s vocalizing mother Georgina is a member of the Hot Mammas Trio and once toured North America in a converted bus. She has made numerous TV appearances, teaches music, and cuts a mean Klondike Kate.

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Younger brother Arnt plays acoustic guitar, banjo and sings, is a songwriter and leads his own band, A Pluckin’ Good Time. He has produced his own album of original material, called Banjo Hymn. He and Evan collaborate in leading several bands, namely The Brothers Arntzen, the Arntzen Rhythm Review, and Three Generations of Jazz.

Having been born into this musical family in Vancouver, British Columbia, Evan got an early start when he learned about traditional jazz from grandfather Lloyd at the age of 7. He had a band as a youth, played in his high school concert band, and says he has always had a positive view of jazz because it is something he enjoys. In fact, he even considers it a point of pride. He obtained a B.A. in Saxophone Performance from Capilano University in Vancouver, although he feels that jazz education is missing a lot, but acknowledges he did learn valuable lessons during his jazz studies experience.

Evan spent a year with the Jim Cullum Jazz Band in San Antonio and was a featured soloist for the opening ceremonies of the Paralympic Games in 2010. He performed with Michael Bublé’s orchestra in the 2012 and 2013 Home for the Holidays TV specials, as well as the Dinah Washington Tribute Concert with Jaclyn Guillou on CBC TV.

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As he gained experience and recognition as a clarinetist, saxophonist, and vocalist, Evan was the recipient of several awards, such as the Mayor of Vancouver’s Arts Award as an Emerging Artist in Music (2010), the Kobe Award at the Breda Jazz Festival in the Netherlands (2010), and the Grand Prix de Jazz at the 2009 Montreal Jazz Festival (with the Amanda Tosoff Quartet).

Feeling that he had reached a certain level being based in Canada, he moved to New York City in 2014 and made connections with Vince Giordano’ Nighhawks, Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band, and Jon-Erik Kellso’s EarRegulars. He has performed at some of New York’s most prestigious venues such as Town Hall, Symphony Space, Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Birdland, Smalls, and the Appel Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

In 2015, he recorded with the Nighthawks on the soundtrack to the HBO film Bessie, a biographical film about Bessie Smith. He is also the co-leader of the Animule Dance, a quartet of young musicians possessing a unique interplay and frequently appears alongside 2017 Grammy-nominated vocalist Catherine Russell, daughter of legendary bandleader Luis Russell.

Evan Arntzen Carries Family Tradition Forward
The Brothers Arntzen: Evan (clarinet) and Arnt (banjo). Grandpa Lloyd ensured they got their fair share of lessons. (photo courtesy www.cbc.ca)

His travels have taken him throughout the United States and Canada. He has been a guest soloist at festivals in the Netherlands, France, Hungary, and Japan. His long-time musical partnership with fellow Canadian, trumpeter-vocalist Bria Skonberg, continues to this day. As a member of Bria’s quintet, Evans performed at the 2015 Newport Jazz Festival, the 2016 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and recorded on her 2017 JUNO Award-winning Sony Records album, Bria.

While he plays many styles, Evan feels his roots are in traditional jazz. For all that he has accomplished in his 33 years, he modestly acknowledges “I feel I’m just getting started.” In writing the liner notes for Evan’s latest CD, Evan Arntzen Meets La Section Rythmique that was recorded in France, the eminent retired Downbeat editor, Dan Morgenstern writes: “Evan has a distinctive style on both his chosen instruments, on which he offers appealing sounds, fluent command, and that often elusive thing called Swing.”


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