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SoundCheck: The Sounds Pretty Good Combo Swings Its Way Through The Ozarks Ballroom Scene

Courtesy of Steve Samuelson

When we have bands on KSMU’s Studio Live, we usually hear from local songwriters and bands that specialize in rock, country or bluegrass. But this week we’re bringing you something different. The Sounds Pretty Good Combo is a jazz swing band focusing on the Great American Songbook.

“So, we play waltzes and rumbas and cha-chas and swing and things like that. Even a polka and a tango at each job. We play for the ballroom dance clubs around Springfield. There are three in town now. So, that’s what we do mostly. And because I’ve taken ballroom dance lessons, and our former trumpet player was a dancer also, we know the tempos and know how to make the dancers satisfied. So, that’s kind of our specialty,” said Steve Samuelson, bassist for Sounds Pretty Good.

The band also holds a unique position in the dance world of the Ozarks:

“We think we are the last existing band that plays for ballroom dancing that does not use any tracks. We’re all live. There is an excellent musician out of Branson that does ballroom dancing, sings, plays guitar and has tracks. But we think they’re the last one that’s live.”

I asked Samuelson how he got into ballroom dance music, because that’s not something we see in the mainstream anymore.

“I know I don’t look it, but I’m in my seventies, and I actually used to listen to songs from the Great American Songbook when my parents were listening to Lawrence Welk. Even though I listened to Elvis Presley, Lawrence Welk was on in the background.”

Something that I realized quickly about the Combo in talking to Samuelson is that he’s the steady rock of the group. There is an array of players who can join him at any time.

On piano, he can have Sheilah McDowell, a full time piano instructor at Piano Craft, or Barry Stacy.

“Barry taught for a while at Drury University in the Music Therapy Department and taught jazz piano playing and jazz improvisation there. And he’s played around an awful lot, both in Mississippi and Colorado and here. He sounds like he’s got 20 fingers.”

Stacy will be joining Samuelson for Studio Live, along with a new drummer.

“Also, Craig Edwards was playing drums with us the last time we were on the show,” said Samuelson. “Craig is still technically a member of the band, but we’ve got a new drummer and his name is Steve Joyce. These are the two people that will be playing with us and I feel so blessed to have them.”

In addition to piano, bass and drums, the Sounds Pretty Good Combo usually has a horn player. Their most recent trumpet player moved out of the area, so the band is on the lookout for a new trumpet or saxophone player.

“I’d like to have an open invitation for anybody who knows songs out of the Great American Songbook who would like to sit in with us at the Tie & Timber performance. If they’d come play one or two songs with us, we would love to have them. And who knows, that may turn out to be our next horn player,” said Samuelson.

So for any trumpet or saxophone players out there, the Sounds Pretty Good Combo would love to have you sit in for a couple of songs at Studio Live Social Hour this Friday night, September 10, 2021, from 6 to 8 pm at Tie & Timber Beer Company. This just might be your shot to join a swingin’ band.

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