The Seattle Times Company

NWjobs | NWautos | NWhomes | NWsource | Free Classifieds |

Snohomish County

Our network sites | Advanced

Originally published Wednesday, December 19, 2007 at 12:00 AM


17 women, pinch of attitude recipe for good music

The Mood Swings has a simple formula for making good music. Take: 2 cups Sammy Nestico. 1 ½ cups Duke Ellington. 1 cup Gershwin. 1 cup Latin spice...

Times Snohomish County Bureau

The Mood Swings

When: 1-3 p.m. Saturday.

Where: The Village at Alderwood mall, between Romano's Macaroni Grill and Gene Juarez Salon, 3000 184th St. S.W., Lynnwood.

Admission: Free.


The Mood Swings has a simple formula for making good music.


2 cups Sammy Nestico.

1 ½ cups Duke Ellington.

1 cup Gershwin.

1 cup Latin spice.

2 tablespoons funk.

A pinch of attitude.

Blend well, and you have the 17 "musically minded women" who are changing the face of big-band jazz in the region.

The Mood Swings will hold a free outdoor tented concert Saturday between Romano's Macaroni Grill and Gene Juarez Salon in the Village at Alderwood mall.

They'll do jazz-arranged Christmas songs, among them, "Let it Snow," "Home for the Holidays," "The Christmas Song" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Year-round, they're known for doing Ellington, Basie and Stan Kenton as well as Gershwin, Porter and Rodgers and Hart. They even spice things up with a hint of Latin, cha-cha and mambo, and even rock — like Blood, Sweat & Tears' "Spinning Wheel," done to a jazz beat.

To assemble the talent, five women placed ads in 2005 for "motivated players who want to get together and increase their musicianship." They put up the ads at high schools and colleges, online at Craigslist and in stores such as Kennelly Keys Music.

The response was immediate, from 16-year-old trombonist Sasha Schumacher, the youngest player, to 72-year-old June Ellis, an alto saxophonist and the oldest player.

Ellis, of Edmonds, is the group's matriarch — "I'm mother hen, and they're all my baby chicks."

"I'm 72, but I still play a mean saxophone," she said. "We play terrific jazz. We play '20s, '30s and '40s, all of that."

Playing jazz licks "keeps me young," Ellis said. "I practice every day because I have to keep up with these young whippersnappers. I'm thankful that I have this group. It keeps my mind active, and it's good therapy for me."

Tina Schumacher, Sasha's mom, said her daughter, a Snohomish High School junior who plans a music career, has grown with this band.

"When you're playing with people who have played for 30 years, you learn how the business works, marketing yourself and working in a group, and gig and practice times," said Tina Schumacher. "It's been a wonderful experience for her. Woman have their own flavor when they play music."

Of the trumpet section, Lisa Vallins, the band's manager, said, "Their timbre and pitch and the lip strength is so important to play the instrument, to get that pure sound in the higher octaves."

It also has put them in demand, including a recent gig by one of the group's combos at Everett's Prohibition Grill. Last summer, the band played a 96-degree scorcher at Whidbey's Coffee in Mukilteo and matched the pitch of airplanes buzzing overhead at this year's Arlington Air Show.

One combo was just hired to play in a women's spa at University Village, and they've played even when it was so windy "we had to paper-clip our music to keep it from flying away," said Lisa Vallins, the group's manager.

She calls the Mood Swings "a strong group of women who offer a lot of styles of music and bring joy to our playing. We have fun; we're dedicated to the music, but we don't take ourselves so seriously."

Tim Leese, who joined as the group's conductor this fall, said "There's a very good chemistry with this group ... a nice spirit amongst the women."

It was a cold, windy day Saturday at the group's performance at University Village, but Beth Waters said when the music starts, everybody forgets the cold.

Waters and Chantal Ambroise are the group's female vocalists, and Waters will take the stage with the group's first male vocalist, John Cusano, at the Lynnwood concert. She will sing four tunes: "Let it Snow," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "Jingle Bells" and "The Christmas Song."

Cusano will sing "Home for the Holidays" and "Feliz Navidad."

Paula Cusano, John's wife and the group's drummer, said that for some time they'd been kicking around the idea of having a male vocalist.

One night at rehearsal, John auditioned with "Home for the Holidays." Then his "Feliz Navidad" clinched the deal.

Cusano had done roles at Nebraska's Opera Omaha for seven years, but his first gig with the band, Dec. 10, marked the first time he had performed in public in 25 years.

"He's got a really good voice for big-band sound," said Paula. "It's a complete turnaround from the opera he did."

Now the band's kicking around Sinatra tunes for its male singer.

"Whatever they want me to do, I'll do," said Cusano. "It's so great to be up there and singing again."

Diane Wright: 425-745-7815 or

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

More Snohomish County News headlines...

Print      Share:    Digg     Newsvine