Steve Swallow

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Steve Swallow
Steve Swallow, Moers Festival, Moers, Germany, 2012
Steve Swallow, Moers Festival, Moers, Germany, 2012
Background information
Born (1940-10-04) October 4, 1940 (age 82)
Fair Lawn, New Jersey, U.S.
Occupation(s)Musician, composer, educator
Instrument(s)Electric bass guitar, double bass
Years active1960–present
LabelsPalmetto, RCA, Atlantic, WATT, Blue Note, Winter & Winter, Verve, Impulse!

Steve Swallow (born October 4, 1940)[1] is an American jazz bassist and composer, known for his collaborations with Jimmy Giuffre, Gary Burton, and Carla Bley.[2] He was one of the first jazz double bassists to switch entirely to electric bass guitar.


Steve Swallow in San Francisco 1981

Born in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, United States,[3] Swallow studied piano and trumpet, as a child, before turning to the double bass[2] at age 14. While attending a prep school, he began trying his hand in jazz improvisation. In 1960, he left Yale University, where he was studying composition, and settled in New York City, playing at the time in Jimmy Giuffre's trio along with Paul Bley.[1] After joining Art Farmer's quartet in 1963,[1] Swallow began to write. It is in the 1960s that his long-term association with Gary Burton's various bands began.[1]

In the early 1970s, Swallow switched exclusively to electric bass guitar, of which he prefers the five-string variety. Along with Monk Montgomery and Bob Cranshaw, Swallow was among the first jazz bassists to do so (with much encouragement from Roy Haynes, one of Swallow's favorite drummers). He plays with a pick (made of copper by Hotlicks), and his style involves intricate solos in the upper register; he was one of the early adopters of the high C string on a bass guitar.

In 1974–1976, Swallow taught at the Berklee College of Music. He contributed several of his compositions to the Berklee students who assembled the first edition of The Real Book. He later recorded an album, Real Book, with the picture of a well-worn, coffee-stained book on the cover.

In 1978, Swallow became a member of Carla Bley's band.[1] He has been Bley's romantic partner since the 1980s. He toured extensively with John Scofield in the early 1980s, and has returned to this collaboration several times over the years.

Swallow has consistently won the electric bass category in DownBeat yearly polls, both Critics' and Readers', since the mid-1980s. His compositions have been covered by, among others, Jim Hall (who recorded his very first tune, "Eiderdown"), Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Stan Getz and Gary Burton.

Partial discography[edit]

As leader/co-leader[edit]

As sideman[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Who's Who of Jazz (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 384. ISBN 0-85112-580-8.
  2. ^ a b Yanow, Scott. "Steve Swallow: Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 17 August 2011.
  3. ^ Morton, Brian, 1954- (2011). The Penguin jazz guide : the history of the music in the 1,001 best albums. Cook, Richard, 1957-2007. London: Penguin. ISBN 9780141959009. OCLC 759581884.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)

External links[edit]