Swell, Steve

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Swell, Steve

Swell, Steve, trombonist; b. Newark, N.J., Dec. 6, 1954. Swell was born and raised in N.J., where he studied at Jersey City State Coll. before moving into professional musical life in N.Y.C, in the first part of the 1970s. He played countless gigs prior to 1983, when he toured with Lionel Hampton’s band for nearly a year. He then moved on to brief stints with Buddy Rich and pianist Jaki Byard’s Apollo Stompers, with whom he first recorded in late 1984. He then traveled headlong into N.Y.’s avant-garde jazz scene, first with composer Makanda Ken Mclntyre and then with Jemeel Moondoc, William Parker, Zane Massey, Roy Campbell, Herb Robertson, Joey Baron, Tim Berne, Phillip Johnston, Perry Robinson, Lou Grassi, and others. He currently leads or co-leads several groups: the N.Y.-based quartet ZigZag, a Russian-based free improvisational quintet, a trio with saxophonist Will Connell and drummer Lou Grassi, a large ensemble, the Out and About Quartet with fellow trombonist Roswell Rudd, and a duo with bassist Ken Filiano.

He has picked up the lead in the world of improvising trombone. He’s got the vivacious energy and wit of Roswell Rudd, with whom he studied in the mid- 1970s. He also has a fast-moving imagination that liberally doses all his solos and compositions with sly hints of pre-bebop jazz, touches of marching brass swagger, and far-reaching explorations of what his horn can achieve outside the realms of standard tonality, execution, and structure. Most of all, he injects his music with a considerable degree of wholehearted joy and a clear sense that he is having fun while playing. In the late 1990s, as he reaches into his forties, he has perhaps arrived at a point where he can exercise his considerable creativity while maintaining a secure and stable career as a first- call improviser, composer, and bandleader. His recordings with Phillip Johnston’s Big Trouble are now matched by powerful showings with saxophonist Michael Marcus, drummer Tom Schmidt, and vocalist Mary LaRose.


The Unknown (1993); Observations (1996); Out and About (1996); Moons of Jupiter (1997).

—Andrew Barlett