Ten years for talented trio
An Australian man stops them, asks if he may take their photo and tells how he enjoyed dancing with his partner the previous evening at the Moose’s Nook, where the trio play an array of music six nights a week as the Flextime Trio.
The three members, Matt Day on Piano, Glenn Durksen on Bass and Wes Yaciuk on Guitar, said they have been blessed to play their hearts out in a venue and atmosphere like the lodge for the last ten years.
“In one set we will play everything from a classic piece, to Elton John into a Bossa Nova, into an old jazz song, a Beatles song, U2 all in one set,” said Day.
According to them, this kind of opportunity – a dinner and dance reminiscent of the good old days appropriately coupled by the formal tuxedo uniform and elegant dining – just doesn’t come around that often anymore.
“In the 70s it was a different story,” said the guitarist, “in the 70s it was quite common, but then times changed and its a rarity now.”
Durksen added that people from Edmonton and beyond, come to the Moose’s Nook to enjoy the dinner and dance experience. “There is nowhere else that they can come that they can get a dinner dance situation and they just can’t believe it exists out here.”
For the three musicians, the lodge gives them a creative outlet and six nights of steady work. “It’s a nice place to play, that’s for sure,” said Yaciuk adding that there was nowhere in Edmonton that would provide the same platform for their talents.
Proudly calling themselves family guys, Jasper has become a special place to the three men who call the mountain town home for six months a year and are joined by their families, who live in Edmonton, during the school summer vacation.
“Our kids learnt to swim in that pool,” said Day, who has four children, pointing to the outdoor heated swimming pool.
“I do miss them a lot,” he added.
“But once they get out here you’ve basically got two months together out of the six and I don’t start work until 6 p.m. so all throughout the day we fish and run, hike, everything. We’re not together all the time now, but they’re in school for eight hours a day,” said Day, adding that his children had come to adore their summers in Jasper which has become a home for them and a place where they’ve grown up.
So, how did they end up there? Much to the band’s delight, in 2000 the lodge invited them to start playing after their pianist could no longer play. The band consisted of Day, Durksen and a drummer back then, but took on Yaciuk after their drummer, Kevin Andrews, left for Scotland three years ago. The combination is clearly a winner as they chuckle about the memories they’ve shared and fun they’ve had making them – their laid-back attitudes evident as they tell stories of their past.
Their presence, which is much more than just the musical notes, is an obvious feature of the Moose’s Nook.
For restaurant manager Richard Cooper, the trio walking back into the Nook signals summer has begun.
“They’re very much liked,” said Cooper adding that the trio “go over very well” with his diners, attributing their success to their charismatic and approachable personalities.
“It’s very interactive. It’s not just us up there playing, on our breaks we’re talking to tables all the time,” said Durksen.
For the band, who met through a local Evangel Assembly in Edmonton, their main priority is connecting with their audience – no matter what demographic or popularity.
“Our philosophy is that if people in the restaurant have songs they want to hear we’d much rather play that then just sit there playing songs for ourselves all night – so it’s become a really big part of what we do.” added the bass player.
For Day, it’s all about connecting with the audience, “If you don’t feel you’re inspiring or connecting people, I’ll have the worst night. Once it’s connecting, I could stay all night. It’s really important.”
Connecting with the audience, who can range from locals to tourists that have one night in Jasper, can mean anything from celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, to putting smiles on an over-tired cranky tourist or even helping people to come to terms with the loss of a loved one.
Given the history of the Fairmont, the trio has big shoes to fill. “You walk through and look at the pictures on the wall, and it’s all big bands,” said Durksen. “Bing Crosby,” they said in chorus – a testament to their humble approach to their music which is further demonstrated in their attitude to who they play for – given that Yaciuk was the band leader when the Queen visited in 2005.
“I feel it’s an honour for us to be here … to be able to be the next step in whatever chain that is for ten years – that’s big,” Durksen added.
“Connecting with the people is the most important thing,” Day said, adding that “you get those kind of people (famous) coming in.”
“We have had Getty Lee in last year and we asked him for a request, he didn’t have any but his daughter had some. Then Big Bird came in and bought our CD … [and] Ehud Barak was in a couple years ago.”
When Ehud Barak, Prime Minister of Israeli from 1999 – 2001, came into the Moose’s Nook Day was given the chance to play piano with him but chose to go home and call his wife instead.
The good stories the trio have certainly outweigh the negative, telling tales of the happy couple celebrating a birthday, or the lady who left the restaurant in tears after hearing a particular song.
“Every year it happens: two nights ago we started playing My Way and a lady stood up within a few bars and walked out. I hope it wasn’t the piano playing,” Day joked, “but you know probably she just connected that song with a husband or something that happened.”
“Those are the moments that keep us going,” the trio agreed noting that sometimes people would explain the reason behind their emotion, but other times would just leave without explanation.
For one Philadelphia couple, the band’s music provided a way to come together again after years of turmoil.
As Day explained, the couple in their mid-50’s looked like they had been fighting and weren’t talking so he asked what song they’d like to hear. “The wife said, ‘Yeah you can play Neil Diamond’s, ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore’ and the guy just looked at me like ‘Oh gee that’s awkward.’ And I said, ‘Well actually we don’t have that song in our repertoire but if you come back tomorrow night we’ll play that for you.’ She said, ‘Okay you’re on.’”
After returning the next night, the trio played the song and “he got up and took her hand and they started dancing. As they moved around the dance floor her face is beaming and tears at the same time and he’s smiling away. It was really cute,” he said adding that the couple danced all night.
As the trio played their last song for the night, the husband approached Day and said “Son, I’m a doctor from Philadelphia. Ten years ago when our kids moved out and left for college our marriage started going down hill and it’s been going downhill ever since and it was almost done, but two nights of your music has brought us back together again.”
“He kissed me on my head,” said Day, “put $50 in the piano and walked out arm and arm with his bride.”
As far as weird requests go, the trio – who define themselves as a “jazz trio with the instrumentation that goes with it” according to Durksen – have been asked to play Metallica, ACDC and even the bird dance.
“The room is not suitable for that kind of volume and stuff when people are trying to eat,” said Yaciuk chuckling that “you don’t do Metallica unless you’ve got 11 on the amplifier.”
Despite what Day calls the group’s own rule, to never play the bird dance, there was one night that after an Australian guest started flapping his arms they gave in to his request.
The job is more than just meeting people’s requests as the band tries to add a fun, upbeat element to the evening by improvising with requests, running tunes together and adding melodies.
“We had a couple last night that asked for Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, so I said ‘I’m going to do that song for you, but I’m going to add a Christmas carol and you have to guess which one it is.’ So then, it becomes a game to them, and you throw a Christmas carol ditty in there and they laughed – they think it’s funny,” explained Day. “It just means that much more then for somebody.”