WUSF All Night Jazz Focus Artist of the Week: Steve Swallow

Steve Swallow. Photo by Nomo Michael Hoefner

This week on All Night Jazz we focus on bassist Steve Swallow for his 80th birthday. Born October 4, 1940, in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, Swallow studied piano as a child and didn’t pick up the bass until he was 14.

He initially focused on the double bass, getting an early start with pianists Paul Bley, George Russell and saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre (JOO-free). He joined flugelhornist Art Farmer’s group in 1963 and it was with this band when he began his long career as a song writer.

In the ‘70s Swallow switched exclusively to the electric bass, one of the first jazz musicians to do so.

This opened up many new avenues for Swallow since he often approached the electric bass for its melodic capabilities, focusing on the upper register and playing it more like a standard guitar.

Swallow prefers the five string electric bass and uses a copper pick to achieve his delicate touch.

Throughout the ’60s he worked inside many of vibraphonist Gary Burton’s groups. In the late ‘70s he began a long and fruitful collaboration with keyboardist, composer and arranger Carla Bley. The two are long-time partners.

Swallow’s compositions have been covered by a variety of notable jazz greats, most recently guitarist and former Miles Davis alumni, John Scofield, whose latest recording, “Swallow Tales,” is exclusively comprised of Swallow’s songs.

We’ll hear the intricate bass of Steve Swallow, all this week on All Night Jazz.