Fawn Fritzen joined the Big Band in 2008 and took over as its vocalist from Rebekah Bell in 2013, when the latter left the territory. Yet despite seven years in the outfit, Fritzen is keenly aware that she is a newcomer in the grand scheme of things.
Indeed, on May 23, the Big Band will be celebrating 25 years of jazz performances with its Silver Anniversary Dance at the Mount McIntyre Recreation Centre — featuring standards like “In the Mood” by Glenn Miller and “Fever” by Peggy Hill. For Fritzen, such an anniversary calls for a no-expense-spared party. “I really wanted to make it something special,” she says.
And it’s special enough that approximately 16 former Big Band members will be making guest appearances. That includes the aforementioned Bell, as well as fellow ex-pat Yukoners Tim Bullen on the trumpet, and Bartha Stehelin, a former vocalist. Despite its grand designs, Fritzen says the idea for the anniversary celebration started humbly enough. “I brought it up at the Kopper King one night (after rehearsals) and everybody said, ‘That would be really cool.’” Fritzen didn’t take the notion all that seriously at the time.
But bit-by-bit, the task became less daunting. “I was already connected with Bartha (Stehelin) on Facebook and Rebekah (Bell) was already planning on being here the next weekend.”
So without too much convincing Bell altered her travel plans by a week and all of a sudden the birthday concert had some serious — some would say unstoppable — momentum behind it. And while organizing such an event might have been a feat, it pales in comparison to the impressive longevity of the Big Band itself.
How does a full-scale jazz band make 25 notches on the wall in a small north-of-60 town like Whitehorse? According to Fritzen there are a few reasons.
First and foremost, the camaraderie of the band doesn’t hurt. “It’s such a great group of people,” she says.
Secondly, the thrill of playing good jazz keeps people coming back for more. Fritzen imagines the feeling she gets is similar to that which a surfer experiences when riding a wave.
Finally, Fritzen credits the community of Whitehorse itself. “People come out and support live music,” says Fritzen of our capital city dwellers. “And there are enough musicians in town to draw from.”
So when key members of the band leave, others step up to take their places. Perhaps few members have been more key than Bartha Stehelin, who was the Big Band’s original vocalist, serving from 1990 to 2000. Stehelin now lives in St. Albert, Alberta but can’t wait to make the sojourn north to sing. “When Fawn floated the idea I thought, ‘Wow, if you could do that, I would love it.’”
Thinking back to the nascent days of the 1990s, Stehelin recalls the Big Band’s common sense origin story: “We were put together for a convention and we had lots of fun,” she says. “So we said, ‘Why don’t we keep going?” And go they did.
Among the highlights of Stehelin’s 10-year tenure with the Big Band was playing at the Dawson City Music Festival with the Barenaked Ladies when they were on the cusp of stardom. “It was two days of the most fun we’ve ever had,” she says. Stehelin is anticipating plenty of highlights at the upcoming concert, too.
Along with seeing friends and family, she is looking forward to “the smiles”. As Stehelin explains, “There is an innocence about big band music. It goes back to a time before the World War, before Kennedy was shot. When people hear it they smile.”
The Big Band’s Silver Anniversary Dance takes place on May 23 at the Mount McIntyre Recreation Centre. Doors open at 7:00 p.m. and the music starts 7:30. Tickets are $20 and are available at Dean’s Strings or the door.