Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Swell, Steve (Stephen David)
In Newark, his father worked at Tilden Brakes, his mother at Prudential Insurance, and his grandfather had a carpentry shop. Moved to Union, NJ (Harmony Rd.) when he was 5 yrs. old (1959) and lived there until he graduated high school (Union High, class of '73). His grandfather Nathan Zwill (b. Kiev, Ukraine, 1905) emigrated to the United States around 1907 and changed the family name to Swell around 1920. His father, Leonard Swell (b. Newark, NJ, 1928) was an active alto saxophonist/clarinetist all through the 1940s, playing weddings and dances in the NY/NJ metro area, mostly with a local Newark band called the Rhythm Kings at the House of Brides on South Orange Avenue. His dad married Lorraine Clark (b. Camden, NJ 1929) in 1951 and ceased playing to raise a family but has since returned to playing locally in NJ with semi-professional groups. Steve is currently engaged to Barbara Backer Manes, a painter and lawyer (b. Bronx, NY). Steve has three sisters, who all grew up playing music together with their father. Cindy, clarinet (b. 1957), Kathy, organ, violin, piano (b. 1958) and Patty, flute (b. 1963) all born in Newark.
The family played together for fun at home on a regular basis with a Dixieland type of sound. Steve wrote some arrangements for them as well. Steve first took clarinet lessons from his father at age 9 but gave it up after about a year. He then began trombone lessons at age 10 in public school from Albert Schmidt, then later studied privately with Jack Traeger (age 11-15) then Larry Todd of the New Jersey Symphony (age 15-17) then with Arnold Fromme (age17-19) of the American Brass Quintet. Swell graduated high school in June 1973 and moved to Jersey City where he attended Jersey City State Teachers College that September (now New Jersey University). During this time Steve studied with Ed Hermann of the New York Philharmonic. In September of 1974 (age 19) he left school and entered New York professional music life with a steady gig at the then Americana Hotel (now the Sheraton Center) in midtown Manhattan. He moved to Queens at this point for 1 year then moved to 2nd Ave. and 6th St. in Manhattan in 1975. Steve was studying privately with Charles Mingus alumni, Jimmy Knepper, around this time.
From 1975 on, Steve jobbed around NYC employed in numerous big bands (Larry Elgart, Guy Lombardo, etc.), studio work (jingles for Ford, NY Yankees, etc., movies), salsa bands (Johnny Colon, Tito Rodriguez Jr., etc.), R&B bands (Black Magic, Seguida, etc.), rock bands (Felix and the Havana's, Brownie's Revenge), blues bands (Johnny Copeland), klezmer bands, numerous weddings and bar mitzvahs at all the major clubs, hotels and catering venues in and around NYC. From 1975-1977, Steve attended free classes given by Roswell Rudd at Jazz Interactions located in the West '70s, funded by the CETA program and participated in their Big Band run by Count Basie's legendary trumpet player, Joe Newman. When Roswell wasn't able to teach his class, Grachan Moncur III would substitute for him. Steve also briefly attended classes at Jazz Mobile, the trombone teacher there being Curtis Fuller. Steve also made the rounds of the various rehearsal bands as they were known at that time (Studio Wis, Studio Rivbea, Colin Studios, etc,.) and went and listened at all the clubs and loft spaces that featured new music as well as classic older stylists that were still very active at this time.
From 1977-1982, Steve did a series of bus & truck Broadway road tours (Chicago, The Wiz, Ain't Misbehavin'). He also performed on Broadway in Bob Fosse's Dancin' at the Ambassador Theater as a sub from 1982-1984. From 1979-1984 he was employed at Roseland in Don Glasser's Smooth as Glass Dance Orchestra. For nearly all of 1983 he was a member of Lionel Hampton's band and was a member of Buddy Rich's band the first 2 months of 1984. After his "liberation" from that ensemble he joined Jaki Byard and the Apollo Stompers, recording his first jazz record in Sept. of '84 for the Soul Note label. That band did a monthly weekend gig at Barry Harris' Jazz Cultural Center from 1984 until its closing in 1989. He also performed in Barry Harris' big band during that time as well. During the summer of 1985 Steve started to play regularly in Makanda Ken McIntyre's ensemble at his loft on West Broadway. His first concert with Makanda was at Carnegie Recital Hall (now Weill recital hall) for which he received his first review. Steve later studied with Makanda at Makanda's offices at City College. He also became a member of Jemeel Moondoc's Jus' Grew Orchestra at this time which had a regular gig at Nuyorican Poets Cafe on East 3rd St. and became a regular in Walter Thompson's band, as well. These opportunities led him to more gigs and contacts in what was then happening in the "new music" scene.
Steve did his first European tour with Herb Robertson in 1988. From 1989-1995 he toured Europe extensively with Tim Berne's Caos Totale and Joey Baron's Barondown. In 1994 he joined William Parker's Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra. The early to mid 1990s also saw him playing regularly with Philip Johnston's Big Trouble and Lou Grassi's Po Band and other various "downtown" aggregations. The years 1997-2003 saw him put together several cooperative groups, The Implicate Order, Particle Data Group, and The Transcendentalists and lead his own various incarnations of his own duos, trios, quartets and sextets as well as writing for larger ensembles such as Walter Thompson's Orchestra, The Brooklyn Jazz Composer's Orchestra, Corner Store Big Band and the Sound Vision Orchestra which performed his piece "Implicate Order" at the 2001 Visions Festival concert at the Knitting Factory. He continues his sideman work with many musicians from all over the world. Steve also continues to tour and record as a leader for a number of labels with different groups he has organized as well as teaching improvisation workshops around the world (Guimares Jazz Festival, Hochschule fur Musik, Dresden, University of Michigan, New England School of Music). He is also involved with the fledgling Jump Arts organization, is a board member of the Sound Vis ion Orchestra and is a member of The Lifetime Visions Orchestra led by Joseph Jarman. He taught a semester at Newark State Teacher's College (now called Kean University) in 1981, taught a Master Class at New England Conservatory (1999), and is presently involved in the Manhattan New Music Project's Creative Music Educators program, going into New York City Schools as an artist/mentor which is funded by the U.S. Department of Education.
Steve also did music transcription work on the music of the Bosavi tribe of New Guinea for MacArthur fellow, Steve Feld.
Observations (1996); Out and About (featuring Roswell Rudd) (1996); Moons Of Jupiter (1997); Atmospheels (1998); Flurries Warm and Clear (1999); Steve Swell's Particle Data Group (2000); The Implicate Order/at Seixal (2001); Steve Swell's Unified Theory Of Sound: This Now (2001); The Transcendentalists: Visions (2001), Real Time Messengers (2002); Poets Of The Now (2002); Invisible Cities (2002); Rules of Engagement (2003); Blue Collar, with Nate Wooley, Tatsuya Nakatani: Lovely Hazel (2003), _____ is an Apparition (2003); Steve Swell's BrassWoodTrio: Still in Movement (2003); Steve Swell's Suite for Players, Listeners and Other Dreamers (2003); Steve Swell's Slammin' The Infinite (2003); Desert Songs (2004)
George Gritzbach: The Sweeper (1979); Jaki Byard: Phantasies (1984), Phantasies II (1988); Walter Thompson: Not For Rollo (1989); Wendy Chambers: Symphony Of The Universe (1989); Long Night Big Day (1990); Tim Berne: Caos Totale/Pace Yourself (1990); System Band (1990); Joey Baron: Tongue In Groove (1991); Tom Varner: The Mystery Of Compassion (1992); John Zorn: Cobra (1992); Jim Payne: New York Funk/Volume I (1992); Michael Marcus: Here At! (1993); Phillip Johnston: The Unknown (1993); Tim Berne: Nice View (1993); Joey Baron: Raised Pleasure Dot (1993); Joe Fonda/Scott Miller: Bottoms Out (1993-95); William Parker: Flowers Grow In My Room (1994); Mary LaRose/Jeff Lederer: Cutting the Chord (1994); Wendy Chambers: Mass For Mass Trombones (1994); William Parker: Sunrise in the Tone World (1995); Phillip Johnston: Flood at the Ant Farm (1995); Lou Grassi featuring Burton Greene: PoGressions (1995); Tom Schmidt: Rabble (1995); Walter Thompson: The Colonel (1995); Ma rk Brine with Perry Robinson: New Blue Yodel (1995); Michael Callan: Legacy (1995); Joey Baron: Crackshot (1995); Mike Formanek: Nature of the Beast (1996); Joe Gallant: Blues for Allah Project (1996); Chris Cauley: Finland (1996);Anthony Braxton: Trillium R Opera (1997); Lou Grassi: Mo'Po (1997);Mary LaRose/Jeff Lederer: Walking Woman (1998); Roswell Rudd: Broad Strokes (1999); William Parker: Mayor Of Punkville (1999); Alan Silva: The Sound Vision Orchestra (1999); Lou Grassi featuring Marshall Allen: PoZest (1999); Jemeel Moondoc: Spirit House (2000); Elliott Sharp Censorship Project: State Of The Union (2000); Lou Grassi featuring Joseph Jarman: Joy Of Being (2000); Herb Robertson: Knudstock (2000), Music For Long Attention Spans (2000); Didrik Ingvaldsen with Andy Shepard: History & Movement (2000); Ori Kaplan featuring Steve Swell: Delirium (2000); Jeff Raheb featuring Dave Liebman: Topaz Under Moon (2000); William Parker: Raincoat in the River (2001); Jemeel Moondoc: Live at the Vision Festival (2001); Alan Silva: Celestial Communications Orchestra (2001); Butch Morris: Conduction #117 (2001); Elliott Sharp: Radiolaria (2001); Implicate Order with Ursel Schlicht, Martin Speicher, Ken Filiano, Lou Grassi (2001); Assif Tsahar: Embracing the Void (2001); Mary LaRose/Jeff Lederer: Obbligato (2001); Avram Fefer: Lucille's Gemini Dream (2001); William Parker: Spontaneous (2002); Sean Bergin: Mob Mobiel (2002); Dominic Duval: American Scrapbook (2002); Bob Washington: Recollections of Darby Hicks (2002); Chad Taylor: Titration (2003); Tom Walsh: Phat Hed (2003); El-P: High Water (2003); Rob Brown Quartet (2004); Irving Stone: Memorial Concert (2004); Patrick Brennan: The Drum Is Honor Enough (2004);
Radio, television, film:
National and international radio play of numerous CDs and performances across the US and Europe (his composition, "Implicate Order" for the Sound Vision Orchestra performed at 2001 Visions Festival at Knitting Factory broadcast on WKCR; live performance of Transcendentalists on WFMU; 2000; live performance of Blue Collar at WKCR, July, 2004) etc.; Roswell Rudd "Broad Strokes" concert at 2000 Knitting Factory Festival broadcast on Black Entertainment Television; William Parker's "Organic Orchestra" concert at Roulette broadcast on Korean TV (2002); Many other concerts broadcast in Japan, Europe and US of various groups including Alan Silva, Jemeel Moondoc, William Parker, The Transcendentalists, Tim Berne, Joey Baron and Steve's own groups; Performed on soundtrack for Robert Mazursky's film, "Faithful," starring Cher and Ryan O'Neal;
Many unissued private recordings and videos from 1985 to present from numerous US and European venues
Works by Swell:
-- "Born To Groove" book by reknowned ethnomusicologist, Charles Keil includes Swell's article, "Call and Response" on teaching in NYC public schools. (Wesleyan University, 2005)
--"CIMP-The First Five Years", book on the history of the CIMP label, includes his article and poem, "Rediscovering the Present," compiled by Bob Rusch (Cadence Jazz Books,
--"Intervals 2", book of poetry by musicians, 2 poems of Swell's included, compiled by Steve Dalachinsky (Sysiphus Press and Beehive Press, 2001)
--"Tenant News: State Files Suit in Artist's Housing Scam"-Allegro article (Local 802 Union Paper, July/August 1984)
Interviews, articles, profiles, books citing Swell:
Profile in Wind Player magazine (June, 1994)
Interview in Cadence Magazine (February, 1998)
Interview in ImproJazz, France (Spring, 1998)
Interview by Vittorio LaConte, allaboutjazz.com-italy (2002)
Interview By Eric Normand, Jazzo Sphere Magazine (2003)
Interviw By Jay Collins, Onefinalnote.Com-(2004)
Artist Feature By Sean Patrick Fritzell, All About Jazz-Ny (2004)
The Traveler, by Perry Robinson (2002)
Masters Of The Jazz Trombone, By Steven Loewy (2005)
Music Inspired by Art: A Guide to Recordings (Scarecrow Press, 2nd Edition), by Gary Evans (2005)