Traditional jazz fuels Bellingham man's dance floor dynamics

Rick and Annette Whitaker dance to one of their favorite Dixieland jazz bands - Blackstick, fronted by clarinet players Lloyd Arntzen and his grandson, Evan.
Rick and Annette Whitaker dance to one of their favorite Dixieland jazz bands - Blackstick, fronted by clarinet players Lloyd Arntzen and his grandson, Evan. FOR THE HERALD

Tucked away near the intersection of North State and Boulevard streets in downtown Bellingham stands a white clapboard building housing one of the best-kept secrets on the local arts and music scene. The VFW Post 1585 Hall is "home" to the Bellingham Traditional Jazz Society, where once a month on a Saturday afternoon you'll hear blistering hot, live traditional jazz. You'll think you're back in the New Orleans of the 1920s and '30s!

Founded about 16 years ago as the Bellingham Bay Dixieland Jazz Society, monthly events were held throughout the fall/winter/spring months featuring live traditional bands (such as Dixieland or New Orleans style jazz). These events were first held as Friday night dinner dances at the Bellingham Yacht Club, and later at the Elks Club on Squalicum Parkway.

A popular band at the gigs was the Bathtub Gin Party Band, featuring local musicians Duane Sammons (drums), George Oelrich (cornet), Bob Storms (clarinet), Dave Brown (bass) and North Storms (trombone). During the past couple of years the club has presented a variety of excellent jazz bands, including Seattle's Uptown Lowdown, Clamdigger Jazz Band, Ain't No Heaven Seven, Louisiana Joymakers, Bria's May Day Jazz Band, No Inhibitions, Chris Tyle's Silver Leaf Jazz Band, the Halleck Street Ramblers, Maple Leaf Jazz Band and Candace Brown's Combo de Luxe.

Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I spent much of my formative years behind a trombone, then piano, and finally a drum kit in high school and college pep bands. Most of the material blasted out at the various gigs, especially from the later bands, was Dixieland Jazz style of music. That is, loud, happy foot-stompin' stuff! Tunes like the old standards "When the Saints Go Marching In," "Bill Bailey" and "Muskrat Ramble." I became addicted to the music!

But, eclipsing my love of making loud, happy jazz of questionable quality, is my love of diggin' really good, hot jazz on the dance floor. Inevitably, my career as a musician took a back seat (way back) to the dance floor. I find it's impossible to sit down when the music is hot. It's a win-win: the band plays better when there are fans "burning their leather" on the dance floor, and my wife and I get a great aerobic workout. When the bands play a slower number, we usually sit out to cool off with a brew and catch our breath. So, after 67 years, I find my jazz passion is alive and well. I don't get to slow down because of a basic fact of life: there are two to three times as many women eager to get on the dance floor as men. Love that ratio!

By the way, I'm easy to spot on the dance floor: I wear the loudest possible pants! This is in keeping with a tradition started many years ago by one of Bellingham Traditional Jazz Society's founders, Matt Minninger. It's also not unusual at our jazz events to see gals decked out in 1920s "flapper" outfits and occasionally men with "zoot suits."

But whatever style of dress you wear, you'll have fun.

So, if you'd like to "transport" yourself back to New Orleans for a few hours every month, come and join the party at the VFW Hall on State Street, usually the first Saturday of the month from 2-5 p.m., September through June. You can get the latest schedule on the web at www.btjs.webs.com or call 360-734-2973 for more info.


Window On My World is an occasional essay in Take Five that allows Whatcom County residents to share their passion for what they do, an idea or cause they support. Send your Window On My World, which must be no more than 700 words, to Julie.shirley@bellinghamherald.com. All submissions become the property of The Bellingham Herald.