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Steve Swallow: Embracing Music and Greater Awareness

By Published: May 8, 2008

AAJ: In terms of your playing, I've always been impressed with your sensitivity as an accompanist and the virtuosic understatement that underlies all your work. In your eyes, how has your playing evolved over the years?

SS: Um, I like to think it has evolved. I very seldom listen to my past recordings. I'm reluctant to listen to them. I'm afraid I'll find myself better in 1965 (laughs). I recently listened to a recording with Monk I did in the mid-'60s [at the Monterey Jazz Festival]. Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised; I felt I sounded good. I knew it was indeed me and I found that interesting. It leads me to believe that what you play is like your fingerprint. It's you.

Steve Swallow A player should be reconciled to the fact that the elements of his playing are unchanged, like his voice. Of course, there are parts that can be rearranged and that's what I've tried to work with. Technique is the broad word for it, but I need to define it further. For me, it's the sound I'm getting. It's interpretation, how to phrase, how to make the music sing and breathe. It's been an ongoing process at a steady measured pace. Every now and then one has an "ah ha!" moment, but it certainly seems to be mostly a slow, consistent move forward for me. I wish I had had a greater sense of urgency when I was 20. It took me a lot of time to get focused and even more time to hit my stride; I was a late bloomer.

AAJ: You started out on piano and trumpet. What made you take up the bass?

SS: I just picked it up in 8th grade. It hit me like a ton of bricks; it was an instantaneous conversion and I left the piano and trumpet behind. The same thing happened when I was 29 and I touched the electric bass for the first time. I knew the electric bass and I were off into the sunset together.

AAJ: Ever pick up the upright for old-times sake?

SS: No. But every once in a while, if I see a beautiful one lying backstage at a festival, like Charlie Haden's bass, I'll pick it up and hit the E string, just to feel it vibrate against my body. It's one of the great feelings in life.

Selected Discography

Carla Bley, The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu (Watt, 2007)

Steve Swallow, Damaged in Transit (XtraWatt, 2001)

Paul Bley/Jimmy Giuffre/Steve Swallow, The Life of a Trio: Saturday/Sunday (Owl/Sunnyside, 1989)

Steve Kuhn, Trance (ECM, 1974)

Paul Bley, Closer (ESP-Disk, 1965)

Jimmy Giuffre, 1961: Fusion/Thesis (ECM, 1961)

Photo Credit
Juan-Carlos Hernandez

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