Trumpeter John Swana

Victor L. Schermer By

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AAJ: At the outset of Chet's career, Charlie Parker chose the young Chet for his group at a huge audition of trumpet players in L.A. because Bird felt that Chet played like Bix Beiderbecke. Chet's father gave his son Beiderbecke recordings when he was growing up, so Parker heard right!

JS: The first trumpet solo I learned was a Beiderbecke solo.

AAJ: We were talking about Philly jazz, and I've heard both good things and rather serious complaints from the musicians about Philadelphia as a jazz scene, and I wonder what your thoughts are about how jazz could be improved and revitalized here in Philadelphia.

JS: I'm here for a reason. Tom's here, Bootsie [Barnes, tenor sax], Larry McKenna [tenor sax] who's really mastered the melodic concepts of bebop from Stan Getz and Hank Mobley. But about the scene- I've been pretty successful on the scene here, but I wish it was more open to cutting edge stuff and that people took more chances. I would never want to lose whatever is already here and established, but from that, it would be neat to see more chances taken.

AAJ: Does the conservatism have something to do with the audience in Philly?

JS: It's probably a combination of the audience and the people who are booking the gigs.

AAJ: I have two objections to jazz hiring practices in Philadelphia: One is that at the big jazz festivals, they don't use enough local musicians.

JS: I don't like that either- it's jive.

AAJ: And, secondly, they don't support enough large concert formats at the local colleges and so on. Tom Lawton, for example, has done some memorable jazz performances on the concert stage, but the opportunities are all too few.

JS: The colleges are the way to get the venues out, to really do it creatively. And by the way, it really ticked me off when WRTI [an FM station run by Temple University in Philadelphia, which had for years offered the best jazz on a 24-hour basis] merged with classical station WFLN, so that it has jazz for only part of the day now. I like classical music, but to me the merger stunk of upper class white takeover! The whole jazz community was so unorganized, that nobody could do anything about it.

I love the Philadelphia Orchestra, but I felt like telling them when they went on strike- you guys are complaining about an $80,000 starting salary- I'm playing at Ortlieb's for peanuts for G-d's sake! Someone came up to a friend of mine and asked him to sign a petition to support the Orchestra, and he said- you guys get over a million dollars in grants from the foundations, etc., and the whole jazz community gets next to nothing! Jazz music needs more concrete support here, whether financially, or with its own radio station, etc.

I like both classical and jazz, and I think everybody should be exposed to them, because the popular music is getting worse and worse, and people's attention span is getting less and less.

AAJ: There's no reason why this town shouldn't have a fine, excellent jazz station, and a fine, excellent classical music station. We're talking here about creative vitality in a city, and what's happening more broadly in a culture which is being increasingly compromised.

JS: Isn't it because money talks first and it's about making a buck?

AAJ: It's about that and it's about a deleterious cultural change. I was lucky enough to be sent a recording of a radio interview show that Irene Kral, Loonis McGlohon, and Billy Wilder did together in the 1970' s, and the sheer intelligence and sincerity of it blew me away, as if it were in some forgotten time. Indeed, that show occurred just at the time that the society was transitioning from a hippie culture to a yuppie culture, and in some ways that tells it all.

JS: Who is Irene Kral?

AAJ: She was a marvelous vocalist who sang with Kenton and some other big bands, then went on to her own career with small groups and with Alan Broadbent, the pianist. She achieved some posthumous fame a few years ago when her singing was heard on the soundtrack of Clint Eastwood's The Bridges of Madison County. Clint Eastwood, is, of course, a devoted jazz fan.

Kral recorded a song called "Wheelers and Dealers," which is about the money hungry, valueless culture that you're talking about. You're talking about a city, Philadelphia, which is touting the Avenue of the Arts, and building a multi-million dollar Regional Performing Arts Center, but has so little support for creativity itself. Just compare, for example the Clef Club to the Knitting Factory.

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, Mc Coy, 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.
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