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Jazz meets poetry at St. Albert's Arden Theatre Plaza Series

The Way Back Whens, a hot modern trad jazz band, partners with rhymester Peter Paul Van Camp 
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Jazz band The Way Back Whens open the Arden Theatre's Plaza Series on Thursday, July 4.

Poetry and music were once performed together. During America’s 1950s Beat movement, beatniks and bohemian artists gathered in clubs performing poetry to a background of improvised jazz music.

Although very different disciplines, these two fine arts were natural partners. They spoke of truth and emotion, rhythm and structure, inspiration and freedom.

Once the '60s emerged into the zenith of rock, these partner performances all but disappeared except for specific festivals and engagements.

Nearly 75 later, St. Albert’s Arden Theatre creates a revivalist performance of this hybrid through the Plaza Series season opener on Thursday, July 4.

The two collaborators fusing their artistic sensibilities are Edmonton’s traditional jazz band The Way Back Whens, and Denman Island, British Columbia rhymester Peter Paul Van Camp. During the evening’s two sets, they are slated to perform individually and as collaborators.

The Way Back Whens are a relatively new old fashioned trad jazz band inspired by the works of Louis Armstrong, Bennie Goodman and Django Reihnardt. The seven accomplished musicians play classic tunes that whisk listeners back to the early days of New Orleans, Chicago and New York City jazz.

Led by Dan Davis (clarinet/sax) and Keith Rempel (sousaphone/bass), the core players are Audrey Ochoa (trombone), Brett Hansen (guitar/banjo), Eric Weiden (trumpet), Dan Stadnicki (drums) and Barbara Vargas (tap dancer).

“Barb’s unique contribution provides rhythmic energy. She improvises her tap dances. I first heard Barb when I ran into her at jam sessions,” said Davis. He was searching for a specific sound heard on old records where old Coke bottle caps were used to create it. And Barb’s tap shoes fit the bill.

Davis has played with Brasstastics, one of Edmonton’s top brass party bands, and as an integral musician in more modern, straight-ahead jazz bands.

“With The Way Back Whens, I wanted a change. I wanted to appeal to more people. We sing and dance. We have an infectious energy that’s undeniable. We improvise. It’s not athletic and intellectually demanding. It’s fun,” Davis said.

In February 2023, the band rolled out its first album, a 10-track titled Live at the Yardbird. Their release party was a sellout, and the place was hopping.

The Way Back Whens uses traditional instrumentation to showcase a variety of sounds. This year the band hits the road, and crowds can expect to hear the joyful One More Chance, a funky, soulful Mud Boggin’, and the two-stepping Sorry ‘bout Your Luck.

Seeming to step out of a 1950s time warp wearing a bowtie, neatly combed hair and round glasses, Peter Paul Van Camp seduces audiences with his witticism. And he’s more than eager to meet The Way Back Whens.

“I’m old-fashioned. We’re both a bit old-fashioned,” said Van Camp, one of the few last remaining homespun rhymester-poets still active on the folk circuit. He’s been spinning poetry and rhymes since 1972 when, as a teenager, he discovered Montreal coffee houses.

“At that time, they were mainly for folk and acoustic musicians, but I finally nerved myself up to give it a try. They didn’t throw me out and I took that as an encouraging sign,” Van Camp said.

Since then, he’s travelled to California and across Canada, participating in more than 70 folk festivals and writers’ festivals.

“My approach is very personable, and I try to be entertaining and engaging. Some of my best performances were when an audience expected a vaudevillian performance. Most of my performances are 10 to 12 minutes and they’re very brief.”

Van Camp, who is on a brief tour, predicts the evening will be a toe-tapping event.

“There’s a high standard of entertainment in both music and verse. The Arden is my last stop, so I’ll be quite well rehearsed.”

The Way Back Whens with Peter Van Camp perform Thursday, July 4 at 7:30 p.m. at St. Albert Place Plaza, 5 St. Anne Street. Single tickets are $18.75 and a reserved table for a party of six is $150. GST and handling charges are included. Go online at tickets.stalbert.ca or call 780-459-1542.


Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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