A Big Band Tradition From Laura Pursell


Retro was in the air Thursday night with a performance by singer Laura Pursell and her All Star Band at Spazio in Sherman Oaks. Echoes of the ‘40s and ‘50s--of briskly swinging music, of vocalists whose work was an integral element of an ensemble, of jazz instrumentalists cutting loose over danceable rhythms--filled the room.

Pursell, who has three CDs in release--"It Had to Be Swing,” “UnKISSed” and “That’s What Christmas Used to Be"--offered her vocals in the fashion of such big band canaries as Jo Stafford and Helen Forrest. Most of the selections came straight out of the top hits chapter of the great American songbook: “Almost Like Being in Love,” “Watch What Happens,” “Skylark,” “Pennies From Heaven.”

And the arrangements, virtually all written by Rusty Higgins for a seven-piece ensemble, were reminiscent of the little big band groups that were popular in the West Coast jazz movement of the ‘50s.

From a contemporary perspective, the musical mix seemed a bit busy at times. Pursell, a still maturing singer, displayed an attractive sense of musical line in her rendering of “Skylark,” and the rarely heard verse to “Pennies From Heaven” offered one of the set’s few opportunities to hear her dark-toned voice in an unaccompanied setting. It would be interesting to hear her singing take the central position in the spotlight.


On this evening, however, swing was the thing. And when Pursell was joined by singer Julia Holland to romp through upbeat renderings of “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” and “Undecided,” the only element missing was a floor full of jitterbugging dancers.

Pursell and her All Stars return to Spazio on April 25, as the attractive jazz and supper club continues to diversify its bookings. Monday nights, for example, are now devoted to Latin jazz, with Bobby Matos, Louie Cruz Beltran and the Banda Brothers, among others, scheduled to perform in the next few weeks. And on Sunday, singer Judy Chamberlain hosts an Oscar night buffet with multiple 10-foot video screens for the television broadcast, followed by a jam session and big band dance music.