Kline, an Oregon resident, and Toledo musician Art Stewart are having nostalgic success with “The Swingsters,” a 32-piece orchestra reminiscent of those post-World War II era bands still heard today on cable television’s Turner Classic Movies.
Like the Big Bands in those classical movies, The Swingsters include vocals. Vocalists aren’t Frank Sinatra or Doris Day, but they are the closest thing to it. Kline’s wife, Carol, is one of the vocalists and others include Pete Goodard, Helen DeCant, and Margaret Olson.
“We’re what’s called an old Big Band,” Kline explains. “What that means is we have the full Big Band - the 15 piece. In addition to that, we’ll utilize piano, bass guitar, guitar, rhythm, and lead. We’ll utilize a lot of clarinets, bass clarinets, flute, and it’s required to have the baritone horn, which makes us more of a Big Band orchestra. We don’t have any strings like violins yet.”
The Swingsters also include a full contingent of horns, including sousaphones. Like those famous BigBands, Kline’s band has music stands with The Swingsters’ logo design on the front. Kline said the stands were donated from a group called “The Shrines,” and he’s in the process of reworking them.
The Swingsters play mostly nursing homes, retirement centers, parties and events. Kline says piano restoration expert John Bailey and his wife are booking the band to play at the Pemberville Opera House. Historic village opera houses are nothing new to Kline. He has performed in many, including recently at Elmore’s Opera House.
“It’s fun to play in and it’s just like Genoa’s Town Hall,” Kline said.
The Swingsters also have regular gigs at Ryan’s Steakhouse in Fremont every two to three months, usually on a Thursday. However, it’s at the nursing homes and retirement centers that their nostalgic sound usually find their most appreciative demographic.
“Normally when a group goes into a nursing home, they figure that the time allotted to play is an hour. These people will listen for two hours straight,” Kline exclaimed. “We’ve recently added ballroom dancing to our music, too so we have some people that demonstrate the angles, and the cha-chas, and stuff like that. So we’re kind of like a variety show that comes in.
“Surprisingly, everybody plays down and plays at an easy level. The people respond through the whole two hours and a lot more,” he said.
Driving to gigs is no problem for Kline - he drives 200 miles a day for his work in suburban Detroit. Last week, he had to get away from his office in the late afternoon hours for a 7 p.m. gig in Milan — that’s Milan, Ohio, not Milan, Michigan.
In 25 years, Kline estimates he has driven over one million miles to his employment and to perform with various types of bands.
One of The Swingsters’ biggest upcoming gigs will be at a church in Shelby Township, Michigan, near where Kline drives for work. He expects the suburban Detroit gig in early May to draw 300 to 400 people.
Kline says once The Swingsters are booked for a gig, they need six practices to be “able to pull off the job.”
The Swingsters evolves
The Swingsters evolved from other bands that Stewart and Kline have participated in. Suddenly, they found an interest and their big band idea materialized.
“We had a lot of fun doing it, and we decided to keep it going,” Kline said.
Kline says he is the “owner” of the volunteer, non-profit organization, but calls Stewart his “right hand man.” Kline’s expertise is in management and organization, while Stewart, a music teacher, takes care of the arrangements.
Kline admits the band’s name is not unique, but it was never meant to be. It was meant to be nostalgic — a reminder of other bands and their sound. Kline said it was Stewart who came up with the name, but The Swingsters is also being used by five or six other regional bands, plus he recalls a portable record player called The Swingster.
Kline says he is in the process of establishing a website for the band, but digital equipment is no stranger to him.
Like other studios in Oregon, on Route 20 near Woodville, and one under construction in Northwood, Kline is using digital hardware and software — a resource which was not available to Tommy Dorsey or Glenn Miller.
“That’s kind of an interesting thing that’s going on around here,” Kline said.
In the past, Kline has been able to record in stereo and surround sound. Kline is making his own CDs, and has his own mixer board to help enhance and combine musical tracks.
“I’m learning how to work the microphones a little bit to make a more professional recording,” Kline said.
Kline began his music career in the sixth grade playing in the Woodville American Legion Band decades ago, and he has performed in many environments and many genres.
He believes the Woodville Legion Band discontinued, but he is still a member of the Genoa American Legion Band, which dates back to about 1937, Kline says. Genoa’s village band goes back even further than that as the Genoa Community Band, which he calls “a story in itself.”
Although The Swingsters currently has 32 members, about 12 to 13 typically show up for each rehearsal and Kline says they are not always the same people. Therefore, the band is welcoming new members.
Pastors Tim and Jeanne Davies of Christ Community Church in Genoa have provided The Swingsters with a place to have rehearsals — at their church and school on Route 163.
The Swingsters rehearse every first and third Thursday. Kline says anyone who wishes to sit in at rehearsals or join The Swingsters may call him at 419-698-1146.