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Fabulous Studio Band - concerts and tours

Band honors "Buck" with hometown show

photo by Esther Avila

Fabulous Studio Band director Jim Kusserow in Buck Shaffer's hometown -- Shinnston, WV 

 Story published in the Porterville Recorder: Tuesday, June 19, 2007  

SHINNSTON, WV – Fathers’ Day was extra special for the people of Shinnston, West Virginia and others who gathered at the Shinnston Fire Department to listen to a concert by the Porterville Fabulous Studio Band and to reminisce about one of their town’s most famous native sons – the late Frank “Buck” Shaffer.   Shaffer, Porterville High School’s former band director and creator of the original studio band, was born in Shinnston and served as their band director before transferring to Porterville. Shaffer suffered a major stroke a few days before he was scheduled to return to Shinnston for a concert and museum-wing dedication in his honor. He died on Dec. 1, 2006.   “We drove five hours just to be here today. I can’t think of a better way to spend the day and honor his memory,” said Virginia Jurcak of Warrenton, VA. “This was quite a treat.”  

Virginia, 80, and her husband Florian, said Shaffer played at their wedding reception in 1948 and when they heard that the Fabulous Studio Band would be in town, they immediately made plans to return to Shinnston to attend the concert.

It was a sentiment echoed by many in the crowd – from those who never met Shaffer to people who had known him for decades.   “I was here in 1978 when the [studio] band played here last time,” said John Greco, 51. “It is always a treat to hear the band. My parents, aunts and uncles were all great friends with Buck Shaffer. I never knew him but they have passed many stories down. Buck used to have some great dances behind the firehouse. There are a lot of World War II veterans here who remember that. He is like a son to the town. It is nice to know that his legacy lives on in the people of Porterville.”  

Also in attendance were Buck Shaffer’s sons, Bill Shaffer of California and Skip Shaffer of New Jersey.

  John Oliverio, who said he has lived in Shinnston for 93 years, met Shaffer in 1953. Many of the people in attendance said they had been affected by Shaffer. Floyd Fullen, 68, played in the Shinnston high school band for three years and Lee Martin, 71, said he was pulled into the band in sixth grade.   Randall Hall, who played in Buck Shaffer’s Shinnston High School marching band, said there were many people in the audience who loved and remembered the man who started the studio band.  

“After he left here, we all knew that the legacy was going to continue. He developed one of the most traveled high school jazz groups in the United States,” said Hall. “Buck, as a person and as a musician, was inevitably one of the most talented musicians I have ever met in my lifetime. Because of him I became a band director for 30 years.”

Hall retired 19 years ago but continues to teach at two colleges and offers private tutoring. He was also a professional musician for many years and said he owes it all to Shaffer. The two were scheduled to perform “Somewhere over the Rainbow” together at the October concert.

“He was such an inspirational person. He was always concerned about all of the students. He was always anxious to see them succeed, not just in band, but in life,” Hall said.   It was a sentiment that Jim Kusserow, director of the band, agreed with. And taking the band to Shinnston and playing in Shaffer’s hometown was an honor, not only for him but for his band.   “My dad told me that the gig that will make this trip will be Shinnston,” said Jordan Shoemaker, who plays the keyboard in the studio band.   Jordan’s father, Mark Shoemaker, played the trombone and keyboard for Shaffer’s studio band for six years.   “When Buck Shaffer passed away on Dec. 1, I knew we needed to come here – not sure if for me or for the people of Shinnston – but I just knew the band had to perform here,” said Kusserow. “The people here have been incredibly friendly and gracious and there are so many connections to the Shinnston people. There is a bond between Porterville and West Virginia that will not be broken and that is very special. When you have a bond like ours that has grown over decades, that is not something you can walk away from. Our history of the band started here in this town and it is a very special place.”

Tour takes on meaning for participants


 photo by  Esther Avila

 Matt Walters of the Fabulous Studio Band plays an altosax solo for the people of Shinnston, WV

Published in the Porterville Recorder on Tuesday, June 19, 2007  


INTERCOURSE, PA – What may have turned into a misfortunate moment turned into a successful impromptu concert when the bus carrying the Porterville Fabulous Studio Band caught fire as they drove through the Amish village of Intercourse in the Pennsylvania Dutch countryside Saturday.

  “Our bus caught on fire and there were flames coming out of it. The compressor on the air conditioner caught fire,” said bus driver Isabel Hudecek of Mars, Pennsylvania. “We quickly got everyone out of the bus and used a fire extinguisher and the fire was quickly put out. But there we were, just sitting around and waiting to see what we were going to do and someone said ‘Why don’t we have a concert in the meantime.”   And the 21 band members of the studio band did just that.   “They didn’t have their band uniforms but [band leader] Mr. Kusserow was great and they had a concert right there,” said Hudecek.   And because the area is a great tourist attraction, the band not only had a sudden large audience – they also sold $800 worth of CDs and tapes of their music before a replacement bus arrived to continue their tour to Gettysburg, PA.   It was the eighth day of their 11-day, 12-state tour.   The band departed on Saturday, June 9 and traveled to St. Louis, Missouri, hopped on their charter bus and headed to Jefferson Park and the Gateway Arch before spending their first night in Terre Haute, Indiana. A two-hour performance in Rochester followed on Sunday at the Moose Family Center on Lake Manitou before they made their way to tour the University of Notre Dame Campus.   “Our performance in Rochester, Indiana went very well and they want us to return whenever we are back here,” said Kusserow. “They especially loved our military medley and patriotic tribute.”   The band also toured the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio Monday before heading to Niagara Falls and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY where they performed for their 68th birthday party on Tuesday.  

“This trip has been nothing shorter than extraordinary. This is just one of those things that not many kids can honestly say that they have ever, or will ever, do in their lifetime,” said Kory McMaster, fifth trumpet with the band. “We have been to many places but the most memorable have been Niagara Falls, New York, Boston, and the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in Cleveland. It has been amazing.  I am truly honored and blessed to have the opportunity to tour with such amazing musicians and people. Mr. Kusserow has given us something that we will cherish for the rest of our lives.”

   Trumpet player Michael Kusserow agreed.   “The Trip has been great so far.  I am so blessed for being able to see all of these great landmarks that this country has to offer with such wonderful people,” said Michael Kusserow.  “This trip is a dream come true, and will be in my memory and in my heart for the rest of my life.”  

The trip continued Friday with a stop in Atlantic City for a performance at Sovereign

Avenue School – where Buck Shaffer’s son, music educator and drummer Skip Shaffer, sat in with the band to Count Basie’s “Magic Flea” which he opened with an extended solo.

  On Sunday, a crowd of approximately 200 people turned out for the studio band’s performance in Buck Shaffer’s hometown in Shinnston, West Virginia.   “I remember Buck Shaffer telling a story about a certain young man who was not even in high school yet,” said Randall Hall, former band member of Buck Shaffer’s Shinnston High School marching band. “This kid had complete control and I remember Buck told everyone how excited he was.”


Hall then introduced the person that Buck Shaffer had talked to him about – band leader Jim Kusserow, who opened the concert with “I Remember Basie,” before continuing with “Little Brown Jug.” 

  Once again, Skip Shaffer was featured on the flag waver he recorded when he was a member of the studio band in the 1970s and received a standing ovation for his performance.   The band continued to entertain the audience with authentic renditions of great big band compositions – including some of Buck Shaffer’s favorite Glenn Miller hits. Many musicians were featured with solos. Jim Kusserow joined the line of soloists with “What Kind of Fool Am I?”   “There is no place I’d rather be than to follow in the footsteps of the greatest high school music instructor I have ever known – and I’ve known some really good ones,” said Kusserow. “These kids have been getting a working opportunity – the same one I had in the 1970s – they are learning what it is like to be a traveling musician.”   The band completed their tour Monday with a performance at Kennywood Amusement Park before returning to Porterville today.

Fabulous' sounds fill the night

By Esther Avila for The Porterville Recorder
May 28, 2007 - 12:27AM
photo by Chieko Hara

PORTERVILLE -- The Fabulous Studio Band lived up to its name Saturday, performing Big Band and jazz arrangements to the delight of the audience at the Frank �Buck� Shaffer Theater inside the Porterville Memorial Auditorium.

�I don�t know that I have ever heard this band play better. I�m ecstatic.

The quality of music and the way they play � is just amazing,� Dale Anderson, former Monache High band director, said. �I�m thrilled for Jim Kusserow and his students � to do what Buck [Shaffer] started here and then to take it to the top level � I�m really thrilled about it.�

The band opened with a lively arrangement by tenor saxophone virtuoso Don Menza. Sambandrea Swing � a drum feature that has been recorded by Louie Bellson � featured musicians Bethany Shaw on tenor sax, Matt Walters on alto sax and Kyle McMaster on drums.

Their second number, Count Basie�s �All of Me,� featured Jordan Shoemaker on piano.

It also portrayed the band�s ability to have fun during the concert. A front-line of woodwind and brass musicians lined up across the stage as Shoemaker played her intro. But to the audience�s surprise, they only played three � very loud � notes before returning to their seats, leaving the audience laughing as Shoemaker continued her solo.

Kusserow allowed each senior an opportunity for a solo. Senior Andrea Reader belted out a trumpet solo to Bunny Berigan�s �I Can�t Get Started� and senior Matt Walters played an alto saxophone solo � �When I Fall in Love.� Bethany Shaw picked �Misty� for her tenor sax solo and Sara Marcus chose �Over the Rainbow� for her trumpet solo.

The concert continued with the studio band performing authentic renditions of great Big Band compositions � including �Groove Blues,� �I�ll Take Romance� and �Reed Fracture� � a number that features the saxophone and rhythm sections.

The first half of the concert ended with a tribute to Gordon Goodwin. �Hunting Wabbits,� a wacky arrangement by Goodwin that brought smiles and giggles from the audience and featured all sections of the band playing things Kusserow said they normally wouldn�t be doing in a Big Band setting.

The second half opened with Stan Kenton�s arrangement �Promise of Dreams,� featuring Shoemaker once again on the Steinbeck grand piano.

�Buck [Shaffer] and Stan were very good friends,� Kusserow said as he reminisced about meeting Kenton and about his debut performance with the Fabulous Studio Band.

�I remember as a kid, being 11 years old and waiting to play my trumpet solo,� Kusserow said. �I remember waiting back stage and the tune I loved the most was this one that we�ll be playing next.�

�Basie Straight Ahead� was followed by �What Have They Done to My Song?� before senior Nicholas Eggleston was showcased with his alto sax solo, �Georgia On My Mind.�

Kusserow also joined the line of soloists with �What Kind of Fool Am I?� which was followed by an obvious audience favorite � Glenn Miller�s �In the Mood.�

The concert continued with a tribute to Shaffer � the playing of a recorded tape dated June 1, 1973.

Shaffer�s voice was heard throughout the auditorium: �We�re still here playing Big Band music. We�re going to go out and play this music for the American people.� The Fabulous Studio Band followed by playing some of Shaffer�s favorite music, Glenn Miller�s signature theme song � and one of the most popular of the swing era � �Moonlight Serenade� and Cole Porter�s �Begin the Beguine� � both featuring solo performances by Kelsey Procter on clarinet.

A moved Kusserow talked of Shaffer�s philosophy of providing Big Band sound for the American public � and of the band�s upcoming summer tour.

�These kids will get an experience that will last them a lifetime,�

Kusserow said. �I trust these kids like my own children. We�re going to have a grand time and play Big Band music all across the east.�

The band will visit and perform in St. Louis; Cleveland; Niagara Falls, N.Y.; Cooperstown, N.Y. and the Baseball Hall of Fame; Boston; New York; Atlantic City, N.J.; Gettysburg, Pa. and in Shaffer�s hometown of Shinnston, W.Va.

The concert ended with a standing ovation after the band played a Kansas City 12-bar blues number � �One O�Clock Jump.�

�They sound good and they sound strong. You can tell they are getting ready to go on tour. They�re ready,� said George Baker, band director of Strathmore middle and elementary schools, who also played in the band in the late 1970s. �They are well balanced and have good intonation. This is a good musical experience. I feel the band is prepared to go � they are up for it and they sound good.�


photo pending


Studio band had a fabulous time


By Esther Avila for The Porterville Recorder
June 24, 2005 - 9:00AM

PORTERVILLE -- Nine days. Eight days of performances. More than 3,700 miles. Members of Porterville's Fabulous Studio Band are back home from their scheduled summer tour - tired but satisfied.

"It was a long trip. We went through nine states in nine days," said lead alto sax player Matt Walters, 16. "On some days, we'd get up at 6 a.m., would travel to our gig, play and then not be back until 10 p.m. But it was a lot of fun and well worth it."

The 16 musicians, band director Jim Kusserow and assistant director Lynn Enos returned from their whirlwind schedule which included performances or stops in Las Vegas, Mount Rushmore, Deadwood, Devil's Tower National Monument and Yellowstone National Park.

"We spread the good word of Porterville public schools through great music throughout the West," Kusserow said. "Every place we played (said they) would book us immediately for next year and we had a great time."

For most of the members, it was their first Studio Band tour.

"Just being able to see all those states, that was so great," said guitarist Jimmy Pettis, 18. "I have to say playing at Mount Rushmore was one of the highlights. I had never seen it before and we played patriotic and Big Band music right at the base of the mountain."

Because of heightened security, the band members were required to haul their heavy equipment from the front parking lot to the back of the amphitheater at the base of the mountain.

"We had to make several trips with the equipment. Not all of those cases had wheels, so they were bulky," Pettis said. "We carried it all about a quarter of a mile in, then down an elevator and finally down some stairs to get to the stage."

Kusserow said he never felt prouder than watching the young musicians work so hard to set up, and then have less than an hour to prepare for their concert.

The students said they were just as proud of their director.

"We couldn't ask for a better director," Pettis said. "Mr. Kusserow worked hard and made every effort to make this (tour) special for everyone. Miss Enos, too, took care of all of us. She's the No. 1 band mom."

Following their Mount Rushmore performance, the band stayed for what Kusserow described as an inspirational Ranger Program.

"After the presentation, they lit up the mountain. It was gorgeous," Pettis said. "This (tour) was an experience of a lifetime. I had never done anything like this before."

For Walters, the best part of the trip was playing in Bend, Ore. for a small, enthusiastic audience of 20 to 30 people. But what he found the most interesting were the vast weather changes - from falling snow to hot sun - sometimes within a matter of minutes.

"One moment it would be cold and we'd be going through snow and 20 minutes later, it was hot," Walters said. "It was funny. We had shorts and sandals and bathing suits and then (at one point) we stop for a snowball fight."

The concerts and all of the tourist activities brought the small group closer together, Pettis said, adding it will definitely be a trip to remember for the rest of their lives.

"I worked the whole trip around Mount Rushmore," Kusserow said. "The dance jobs are enjoyable but when we go out and see places like (Mount Rushmore) and we play there, that I think is when kids get the most benefit. I am thankful for Buck Shaffer for showing me what the road is like and for setting the model for how it is done. And just like his old album cover states, 'Have Band, Will Travel.' "

This story was published in The Porterville Recorder on June 24, 2005

Studio Band strikes a chord

By Esther Avila, For The Porterville Recorder
May 30, 2005 - 9:00AM
photo by Porterville Recorder

PORTERVILLE -- With the first notes of "Magic Flea," the 19 members of the Fabulous Studio Band sent the crowd gathered at the Frank "Buck" Shaffer Theatre inside the Porterville Memorial Auditorium down memory lane to an era of Big Band, orchestra and swing music Saturday night.

The band, consisting of mainly Porterville High School and Porterville College students and directed by Jim Kusserow, also played a couple of contemporary selections, including "Watermelon Man" by Herbie Hancock.

Kusserow, who has been associated with the Studio Band since before his debut solo performance in 1969, kept the audience entertained by weaving bits and pieces of background information about each song.

"Throughout the years I have traveled with the band a lot," Kusserow said. "And I remember Buck Shaffer always saying that more people were proposed to during the playing of this song and any other tune. (This is) one of the most popular ballads of all times."

And with that the band went straight into Hoagie Carmichael's "Stardust" - and like all the other tunes played, it featured some of the students on their instruments.

"The next tune is a real departure from what we've been playing. If I'm having a bad day and everyone is mad at me, if I let (the band) play this, then everything turns out all right," Kusserow said. "It is not swing, it is not big band - but a very good arrangement to close out the first half of the program - The best of Earth, Wind and Fire."

Some of the younger crowd, including four boys at the back of the auditorium, could be seen dancing along to the tune.

In the audience, longtime Porterville residents Connie and Wil Bergen said they have been attending the Studio Band concerts for many years.

"They're always very good. We always enjoy them," Connie Bergen said during intermission. "We're never disappointed."

The second half kicked off with "I Remember Basie" and was followed by "Gershwin Medley" by Dick Jones.

"Back when Buck Shaffer started this band (more than) 50 years ago, there were no arrangements available and no way to get tunes for a band like this. Mainly because there was no such thing as another band like this," Kusserow said. "The only way to get tunes was to have a writer. Buck Shaffer had Dick Jones. And some of the charts that stood the test of time were a medley of tunes called Gershwin Medley."

But the real bread and butter of the band is the ability to play the sounds of (the) Big Band era and recreating their music, Kusserow said.

And that they did, including some of Glenn Miller's biggest hits, "Moonlight Serenade" and "In the Mood."

But it was Eddie Davis on the congas who stole a portion of the show with his impressive solo performance during the band's rendition of George Benson's "On Broadway." Davis had the audience smiling and responding with hearty applause and whistling.

Following an introduction of all band members, the band ended with "One O'Clock Jump" but a long standing ovation prompted an encore presentation and the band played one more Glenn Miller song - "String of Pearls" - to the audience's delight.

This story was published in The Porterville Recorder on May 30, 2005