North·Audio

Musicians of the Midnight Sun: Alex Czarnecki

In Episode 5 of Musicians of the Midnight Sun, Pat Braden speaks with Alex Czarnecki, a musician, composer, producer, director and filmmaker who moved to Yellowknife in 1972.

Czarnecki recalls playing in trio amid vibrant Yellowknife music scene

Alex Czarnecki, second from right, with Montreal band The Island City 7 in 1967. (Submitted by Alex Czarnecki)

Musicians of the Midnight Sun is a new 10-part CBC radio series produced by northern musical icon Pat Braden. Braden has spent 15 years collecting interviews, photographs, and recordings from some of the North's most celebrated artists, which he is releasing in an online archive.

A new episode of the 10-part series will debut on CBC Radio One's The Trailbreaker every Tuesday morning at 7:40 MT.

Listen to Episode 5 of Musicians of the Midnight Sun

In Episode 5 of Musicians of the Midnight Sun, Pat Braden speaks with Alex Czarnecki, the legendary saxophone player whose music lit up the Yellowknife social scene in the 1970s. 6:33

Alex Czarnecki is a musician, composer, producer, director and filmmaker who moved to Yellowknife in 1972. He formed a trio with two other local musicians, performing at the local legion, the Elks Lodge, RCMP balls and many more events.

Czarnecki is the fifth musician profiled by the new CBC radio series Musicians of the Midnight Sun.

Alex Czarnecki, in the background, with The Island City 7, performing for Pierre Elliot Trudeau during the 1968 election campaign. (Submitted by Alex Czarnecki)

In his interview with series producer Pat Braden, Czarnecki reflects on the musical freedom his trio had, playing to forgiving and appreciative crowds in the North.

"Yellowknife was a really colourful, vibrant, fun place to be," said Czarnecki, who used to play jazz saxophone with a Montreal band.

"You never had to take it as seriously as you did in Montreal, where there was competition and ... people were more discerning … in terms of what kind of music they wanted."

With Easy Street at the Commissioner’s Ball in Yellowknife, circa early 1970s, with Henry Undheim. (Submitted by Alex Czarnecki)

Czarnecki and his band played everything from polka to tango to cha-cha and swing. He admits the group wasn't the best rock band in town, but that didn't seem to matter.

"It was really quite a spectrum of music, and people loved that, to have a variety," he said.  

"I think why we got so many jobs was that we really played just about anything you wanted."

And they played to many kinds of crowds.

Henry Undheim, left, Alex Czarnecki, Wilf Schidlowsky (hidden), Huguette Duncan, unknown drummer, and Lloyd Dahl with The Alley Cats, at the Yellowknife legion, circa early 1970s. (Submitted by Alex Czarnecki)

Czarnecki remembers how, every Saturday at the legion, as 1 a.m. approached, he and his band would gradually pull back from the edge of the stage. That's because fights would regularly break out and "teeth would fly."

"You had to be careful," said Czarnecki. "You had a saxophone in your mouth, I mean, if something hits you there — geez."

You can listen to Pat Braden's full interview with Czarnecki and see photos from then and now on the project's website.

The Island City 7 promotional page, 1968. (Submitted by Alex Czarnecki)