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Rob and Earl Swope: 'Bone Bros.


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Earl Swope
Rob and Earl Swope were brothers, with Earl three years older. Both played a gorgeous, deft and spirited trombone. In the late 1940s, Earl played with Woody Herman while Rob played with Buddy Rich, Chubby Jackson and Gene Krupa. The brothers from Washington, D.C., were in the same trombone section on only a handful of recordings: with Elliot Lawrence's band in 1951, with Joe Timer and the Orchestra in 1953 and with Dizzy Gillespie in 1955. But in those bands, the Swopes were largely swamped by the orchestration.

One of the best albums on which to hear the Swopes together and individually is on the fourth album that featured them—Jazz Under the Dome, by the Freddy Merkle Group. Merkle was a Washington, D.C., drummer who recorded just one album—this one—in May 1957 for the Vik label. The Washington group took on the original compositions and arrangements of Bill Potts, also from D.C.

The session was broken into two parts. The first featured a quintet—Earl Swope (tb), Al Seibert (ts), Bill Potts (p, arr, cond), John Beal (b) and Freddy Merkle (d). The songs they recorded were Shhhh!, Pernod 806, Lunch Box, Happy Daze and Pottsville, U.S.A.

The second session featured the addition of John Payne (tp), Joe Bovello (tp), Hal Posie (tp), Rob Swope (tb), Ted Efantis (ts) and Joe Davie (bar), bringing the group to 11 instrumentalists. The songs they recorded were D.C. Current, 555 Feet High, White House, Aide de “Comp" and Proto Cool.

The Swopes' solos are as follows:
  • Proto Cool—John Beal, Joe Davis, Ted Efantis and Bill Potts
  • Pottsville, U.S.A.—Al Seibert, Earl Swope, Bill Potts, and John Beal
  • White House—John Payne, Joe Davis, Earl Swope and Al Seibert
  • Pernod 806—Al Seibert, Earl Swope and Bill Potts
  • 555 Feet High—Rob Swope, Earl Swope, Al Seibert and Joe Bovello.
  • Happy Daze—Al Seibert, Earl Swope and Bill Potts
  • Aide De “Comp"—Bill Potts, Ted Efantis, Al Seibert, Hal Posey, Earl Swope and Joe Bovello
  • Shhhh!—Al Seibert, Earl Swope, Bill Potts and John Beal
  • D.C. Current—Ted Efantis, Rob Swope, John Payne and Earl Swope.
  • Lunch Box—Earl Swope, Al Seibert and Bill Potts.

As we can hear on 555 High, Rob Swope had a more pronounce attack while Earl was deliberate but with a smoother tone. Rob's last recording date was in 1959 while Earl's was in 1962. Both had spent years hopelessly hooked on heroin. Rob died in 1967 and Earl died in 1968.

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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