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Trumpeter John Swana

Victor L. Schermer By

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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.

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 Minzer, 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: And Joe Magnarelli.

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: Could you reflect on your own approach to living, and why someone with the talent that you have is living in this city, hanging out with local musicians, and not doing the fast track lifestyle?

JS: Well, truthfully and sadly, Philly is a kind of provincial city. But for me, there are a lot of reasons why I didn't move to New York. For one thing, there was a slight fear of just breaking ties in order to move there. I believe that there's a very real personality type that you need to have in the music business- it's a social thing, and part of it is what "looks good" to people. I chose Philly for a number of reasons: I'm comfortable here, I have friends here. There's something that I like and don't like about the music scene here. I like playing with Sid Simmons, Mike Boone, Byron Landham, Tom Lawton, Larry McKenna, Shirley Scott, Trudy Pitts, Bootsie Barnes, Steve Giordano, Tony Miceli, Pete Smyser, and Mickey Roker, to name just a few. Uri Caine came from here. There's a feeling about Philly that's "homespun," but not so homespun that it loses touch with what's happening in jazz. Philly's close to New York, and those guys come and perform with us. At the same time, there's something about Philly that can be rough. This is a hard bop town, at least at Ortlieb's and Chris'. You can't be a Dave Douglas. You can't do a Knitting Factory type of thing and expect to work a lot of gigs in Philly. But there is a homemade thing that really has a lot of heart in Philly. Philly has a certain vibe, and it's hard to push out of that. There is a Philly sound, really. I feel blessed to be accepted by the guys in Philly. And it's easier to live here, it's comfortable to live here. At the same time, I love New York, and want to get up there more. But I feel more at home here.

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 a lot 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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