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John Swana: Philly Gumbo

Victor L. Schermer By

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JS: The Clef Club shouldn't be like the Knitting Factory. It should be a place where you can hear tradition and you can hear extreme, and it should be the whole gamut, not just the cutting edge. I like hearing all that stuff. The Clef club should be a forum for everyone who loves jazz, encompassing and embracing, all the different styles of the music

AAJ: People are too busy today to really listen. Hopefully, some of those who read this interview will be in a position to do something about the jazz scene in Philadelphia and respond to the points that you are making.

JS: The musicians themselves have also got to get out there and do something, be proactive.

AAJ: Let me mention a few musicians mentioned in your bio. I'd like you to tell me any thoughts and memories that might come to mind. The first one would be the great pianist, Kenny Barron.

JS: I love Kenny's playing. He brings a really strong quality and consistency. He's so matter of fact, and yet he has a really beautiful side to his performing. He has a real sensitivity, yet he can totally burn in a direct manner that I like.

AAJ: Mary Ellen Desmond, Philadelphia vocalist. You're on her debut recording, Darn that Dream.

JS: I like doing the standards with her. I like her repertoire. I'm playing with Mary Ellen tonight, in fact.

AAJ: Johnny Coles.

JS: He was a character, an original! We played a two trumpet gig at Bix [a defunct jazz club in Jenkintown, PA]. We played chess a couple of times. One time, he whispers, "John, when you practice get high."

AAJ: [laughter]: Some fatherly advice! OK, Chris Potter

JS: I just think Chris is great, one of the real cutting edge sax players of our time, the new generation. He encompasses all of jazz history in his playing, he wraps it all up and plays in his own way. Any emotion he wants to express is immediately connected with his fingers and his horn. He has harmony, rhythm, time, and soul. Through it all, he's a melodicist, that is, he has a strong concept of melody.

AAJ: Uri Caine.

JS: I'm going to Taiwan with him to play the Mahler stuff. I totally got a lot from Uri. He was playing a Rhodes at Gert's and he was swinging. "Who is this guy?" I wondered. Blown away, I asked him for lessons immediately. "Do you teach?" He said, "Aw, c'mon, we'll just hang out. Gotta get Herbie [Hancock] from the sixties, The Prisoner, Speak Like a Child, McCoy, The Real McCoy, Time for Tyner, Chick Corea, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs." He would just whip off these records. The big four pianists-Keith Jarrett, Herbie, McCoy, and Chick. He turned me on to all that stuff. And more! He was a big influence.

AAJ: Tell us about the Joe Sudler Swing Machine.

JS: I was really young and excited to play with this big band. It was a great experience. I remember Freddie Hubbard, Clark Terry, Jon Faddis, Bob Mintzer, Lockjaw Davis, J.J. Johnson, Slide Hampton all came in. There's even a video out with the band backing up Phil Woods. We were playing with all these great players, then suddenly the next thing I know we're playing weddings, and Bar Mitzvahs, with the same band! It was quite a shock.

AAJ: Joe Magnareli.

JS: What I love about Joe is that he's really soulful, warm, honest. I have a good rapport with him when we play: we're not trying to cut each other. I learn from listening to him. He's a beautiful person too, real warm. He's on the road at the moment with the Harry Connick Big Band. On June 15 at Chris' Jazz Cafe, Joe, myself, and Eric Alexander will be performing together for the Mellon Jazz Festival.

AAJ: To conclude, can you tell us your future goals, what's coming up?

JS: I'm recording in June with Sid Simmons, Byron Landham, Mike Boone, and Bootsie Barnes. I talked Gerry Teekens of Criss-Cross into doing something that these guys create. I've played with Sid for years. Also, I'll go to Taiwan with Uri. And in September, I'm to record with Horace Silver. I want to work on some compositions, take some chances on my next Criss Cross recordings. I also plan to keep exploring with my electronic equipment, to grow and get a stronger voice in that area.

AAJ: Well, we could go on and on-you're a musician's musician, that's obvious, and we'd like to hear alot more of your thoughts. More importantly, I hope this interview will inspire readers to listen to your outstanding playing, whether live or on recording. But that's all we have time for, John. I can't thank you enough.

JS: It was a real pleasure doing this with you.

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