The Fabulous Studio Band, formed in 1953 and based in California’s San Joaquin Valley, is devoted to keeping alive music from the swing and big band eras. These albums, recorded four years apart ( Still Swingin’
in 1996, Capitol Jazz
in 2000), accentuate charts from the Glenn Miller and Count Basie libraries with a handful representing Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, Artie Shaw, Duke Ellington, Les Brown and others.
The members of the band, which is directed by trumpeter Jim Kusserow, aren’t professional musicians but students at Porterville High School and Porterville Community College. How do they sound? Well, like students in a high school and community college. In other words, any resemblance to Miller, Basie, Goodman, Kenton or the others is brief and infrequent. That’s not a put-down, simply a fact. The FSB is doing the very best it can but is unable to sound like a professional band because it hasn’t enough talent or experience, and the unremitting changes in personnel work against closeness and cohesion. On the other hand, these students are gaining valuable exposure to big-band music, and that’s a good thing. Some may decide to pursue music as a profession, and that’s a good thing too.
Meanwhile, the FSB keeps on performing, not only in California but on road trips to Seattle, New Orleans, San Antonio, Houston, Shreveport, Las Vegas, Dallas, Charlotte, Richmond and other ports of call including the nation’s capital, to which visit Capitol Jazz is dedicated. That session, recorded in only four hours, boasts a number of more contemporary arrangements, most notably by Mark Taylor (“Bye Bye Blackbird”), Tom Kubis (“When You’re Smilin’”), Lennie Niehaus (“Almost Like Being in Love”) and Dave Wolpe (“Sentimental Journey”). With almost no one on board who played on Still Swingin’,” the band sounds roughly the same, undergoing the usual struggles with harmony, tempo and modulation, but alto Brendan Black does have a fairly decent solo on “Smilin’.”
While I can’t honestly recommend either of these recordings to those who may be looking for top-notch big band albums, I can convey my admiration and best wishes to Jim Kusserow and the FSB for their earnest efforts over half a century to support the cause of big band jazz and help keep the memory of its Golden Age from vanishing.