If you’ve been missing live traditional jazz at bars, bouncing in place with a drink in hand under dim lights on old wooden floors, taking tiny steps on a crowded space, watching your butt from bumping into a table, I’ve got just the thing for you. Well, minus the small space, dim lights, drink and table — that’s up to you and where you are.
Arnt Arntzen got my attention when his daily Quarantine Concerts popped up in my Facebook news feed. He’s been strumming and singing tunes of artists like Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Irving Berlin and Patsy Cline online since he left NYC for home to Vancouver in March.
His daily concerts started as a way to pass the time in self-quarantine after the trip home. He planned on stopping after day 14, but his friends convinced him to keep going.
“Playing music brings me joy, and it’s a way to bring normalcy to life. I’m happy that I get to be a part of people’s day,” he says. He also admits these performances are for selfish reasons. “I have to keep my skills in order– I normally work 5-7 nights a week, sometimes three gigs a night.”
With no opportunity to play music for people in-person, Arnt had to move his shows to the digital screen.
Now in May, he broadcasts weekly shows Monday nights at 8 pm ET / 5 pm PT on Facebook Live. He dedicates his online concerts to benefit venues like The Century Ballroom and organizations like The Louis Armstrong Foundation.
Music was bound to be a part of Arnt’s life. His parents were musicians who toured all over North America, living out of a school bus when they were young. He grew up in a house full of great records and instruments, but it was actually his grandfather who first inspired him to pick up a guitar.
“There’s some unspoken rule. You always want to do the opposite of what your parents to do. But, unlike your parents, grandpa is cool.”
Grandpa Lloyd Arntzen introduced Arnt to essential 1920s and 30s pop culture including Charlie Chaplin and great artists of the swing jazz era.
Arnt took guitar lessons from age 7 until his 13-year-old self declared it wasn’t cool anymore. He stepped away from playing music and wouldn’t return until years later.
Fresh out of high school, he tried his luck with a host of unique jobs. He became a machinist, forklift driver, ditch digger, and demolitionist. At one point, he spent a few months as a housekeeper at Chateau Lake Louise where he stood, six-foot-three in a bib-and-apron uniform, towering over his colleagues, a group of small Filipino women. And finally, he worked as a deckhand at tugboat company for about two years until an accident would change his life.
In 2010, he was speeding down the highway in his motorcycle at 90 mph and wiped out. The accident forced him to leave his deckhand job and move back in with parents.
“Back then I was trying to be somebody else. I’m not a tough guy at all… I’m kind of a softy,” he admits.
While cooling his heels at home, he picked up a guitar and started playing again. About a year later Grandpa Lloyd bought him a banjo and said if he learned how to play it, he’d hire him to play with his band, The Red Onion Rhythm Kings.
This is the same banjo you’ll see Arnt playing on Facebook Live today.
Soon after, Arnt went to Vancover Community College to study music. Around this time, Arnt began filling in for the Rhythm Kings’ banjo player when he wasn’t available.
“I was honestly terrible when I first started out, but I was cute,” he remarks.
Good ol’ nepotism.
It was a gig at the Crescent Beach Legion, just south of Vancouver, where Arnt realized he wanted to play music for a living.
“That was the first time I felt like I could really lock in with the rhythm accurately. Just the quarter note and do it with gusto. That night I made a secret wish — this is what I want. I want to make music and I want to feel this way all the time.”
It’s the same feeling he gets playing with Vince Girodano and the Night Hawks, one of his regular gigs in NYC before the pandemic.
How’d he get that gig? He attributes it to his former life as a laborer. For a while after college, before moving to NYC in 2016, he worked a warehouse job from the early morning until the afternoon, then play a music gig at night.
Before joining Vince’s band as the lead guitarist, Arnt started out as the roadie, hauling heavy stuff up and and down stairs in an old building for one of Vince’s gigs. In Vince’s crew, they called it “being the Mike” because he greets everyone by the name “Mike,” being terrible at remembering names. Arnt started filling in on guitar after proving himself the night Vince’s guitarist got stranded in New Jersey. Eventually, Vince asked Arnt to be the lead guitarist.
Before NYC restaurants and bars closed down, you could find Arnt playing at his regulars:
- Monday and Tuesdays at Iguana
- Wednesdays with the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band at Birdland
- Various places with Del and the Rad Rompers
Until these businesses open again with their regularly scheduled programming, you can catch Arnt’s Monday night broadcasts on Facebook Live at 8 pm ET / 5 pm PT. He takes requests in real time. If he doesn’t know the request, he’ll learn it and play it for you next time.
His latest album, The Brothers Arntzen featuring Casey MacGill, is a compilation of live songs recorded at Lindy Bout XI in 2017. It features his Grandpa Lloyd and brother Evan, along with the acclaimed Casey MacGill, Jen Hodge on bass, and Julian MacDonough on drums. You can get the digital album right here.
Now, let’s sit back, relax and enjoy a tune.