Today’s Know Your Player is about the legendary jazz bassist Steve Swallow. Steve is truly a pioneer on the electric bass guitar, and he is a unique voice in the pantheon of great bassists. Swallow has played with countless artist including Gary Burton, Art Farmer, Carla Bley, Pat Metheny, and John Scofield, as well as composing and performing his own work. His selected discography is here.
From All Music:
Steve Swallow has long been many jazz critics’ favorite electric bassist, for rather than playing his instrument in a rock-oriented manner, Swallow emphasizes the high notes and approaches the electric bass, to an extent, as if it were a guitar. He originally started on piano and trumpet before settling on the acoustic bass as a teenager. Swallow joined the Paul Bley trio in 1960 and with Bley was a part of an avant-garde version of the Jimmy Giuffre 3 during 1960-1962. Swallow recorded with George Russell and was a member of Art Farmer’s quartet (1962-1965), Stan Getz’s band (1965-1967), and an important edition of Gary Burton’s quartet (1967-1970). The latter group (starting with the addition of guitarist Larry Coryell) was actually one of the first fusion groups, and it was during that time that Swallow began playing electric bass; within a few years he stopped playing acoustic altogether. Swallow spent a few years in the early ’70s living in northern California during which time he mostly playing locally. After the late ’70s he has been closely associated with Carla Bley’s groups, although he occasionally works on other projects (including a reunion of the Jimmy Giuffre 3). Swallow has also proved to be a talented composer with “Eiderdown,” “Falling Grace,” “General Mojo’s Well Laid Plan,” and “Hotel Hello” being among his better-known pieces. The 21st century saw the release of several Swallow sets, including Damaged in Transit (2003), Histoire Du Clochard: The Bum’s Tale (2004), and an intriguing set with poet Robert Creeley, So There (2006).
Swallow has played a variety of electric basses over the years, including a Fender Precision, Parker Fly, and a Citron Steve Swallow Signature Series (which he currently plays and endorses). The Citron bass is a hollow-body bass with a gypsy style oval soundhole. He plays it with a copper pick, and uses primarily an upstroke rather than a downstroke. Swallow gets a very clean and clear tone in all registers with this bass, which helps him achieve a distinctive lyrical sound. At times he digs in with the pick and gets an aggressive, slightly distorted tone. Conversely, he can play lightly with the pick, producing a lush acoustic sound. Steve is also one of the first to embrace a 5 string tuning of EADGC instead of the lower tuning of BEADG which also contributes to a natural baritone range. (I have adapted the EADGC tuning on one of my basses and have been able to execute some interesting harmonic concepts with this tuning. Watch “Cyrus Rising” in Dave’s video’s.)
The quickest way to learn about an unfamiliar player is to listen to some of his work, so let’s get to it.
Steve Swallow Solo Bass
“The Red One” with Pat Metheny, John Scofield, and Bill Stewart
“Utviklingssang” by Carla Bley w/Steve Swallow and Andy Sheppard
“Chicken Dog” by John Scofield w/ Steve Swallow and Bill Stewart
“Question and Answer” by Pat Metheny w/ Steve Swallow, Gary Burton, and Antonio Sanchez
“Bite Your Grandmother” by Steve Swallow w/ Joe Lovano, Mulgrew Miller, Tom Harrell and Jack Dejonette