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Steve Swell: Unlimited Musical Possibilities

Victor L. Schermer By

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AAJ: What are some of your interests other than music?

SS: Every summer, I go camping with my girlfriend in the Adirondacks, Maine, the White Mountains, the Berkshires, the Green Mountains. I'm also a voracious reader. I love reading the classics, poetry. I write some poetry and do some painting.

AAJ: Do you include your poetry in some of your music, as Cecil Taylor does?

SS: Occasionally I do, but not on a regular basis. When I write for voice, I sometimes use my own poetry. Music for me always involves other musicians—it's very social. Poetry and painting allow me the solitude I sometimes need.

AAJ: What do you have coming up in terms of projects and gigs? And how do you envision your life in the next few years?

SS: For one thing, I'm hoping to get some grants. I'm going to Europe in September with Gerhard Ullmann, the German saxophonist. We have Gerald Cleaver and the wonderful bassist Pascal Niggenkemper. We have some radio gigs and a concert in Hamburg and Berlin.

AAJ: Germany seems to be a center of jazz today.

SS: Germany, but also France, Poland, and other countries. In October, I'm involved with a project of William Parker, we're playing the Edge Fest in Ann Arbor and in Connecticut. I will also be doing a tour in November with Frode Gjerstad, Paal Nilsen-Love and Jan Rune-Strom in the U.S. and Canada.

AAJ: William Parker is an amazing avant- garde jazz bassist, composer, band leader.

SS: Yes. He's the fulcrum of what I would call the traditional avant-garde African-American centered music that came out of the 1960s. We've know each other for a long time now, and any chance I have to be involved in one of his projects is great. He did a beautiful Duke Ellington tribute concert in Italy a couple of years ago, which was released on his Centering Music label. He deserves all the recognition he seems to be getting now. He's not only a great musician, he's also a wonderful person. He frequently helps people in need and is very community-oriented.

AAJ: Do you have any upcoming record releases?

SS: I have a recording set for release in 2016 with Dave Burrell, Jemeel Moondoc, William Parker, and Gerald Cleaver on the RogueArt label. I just got commissioned by Silkheart Records in Sweden to do a Bela Bartok- related work. That will include Rob Brown, Connie Crothers, and Andrew Cyrille. And I'm going to do a trio tour with Peter Brotzman and Paal Nilsen-Love in February in Austria, Germany, and Italy.

AAJ: Finally, what would you like to suggest to young and talented musicians about how to develop their careers?

SS: I'd recommend two things. First, get out and do every possible live gig you can do, in any genre, just do everything, even if it's a wedding or bar mitzvah. Play standards, salsa, R&B, free jazz, whatever. Second, listen to things you might not normally listen to.

Photo Credit: Michael Galinsky
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