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Steve Swallow

Discussion in 'Bassists [BG]' started by lovethegrowl, Jan 22, 2014.

  1. lovethegrowl

    lovethegrowl Banned

    Oct 30, 2013
    I have been a bit of a Steve Swallow fan for 40 years, since I spent Summer of '73 at Berklee College of Music & frequently saw him perform with Gary Burton at the Jazz Workshop.

    Back then there weren't many prominent great electric bass players. (This was before "Jaco" & "School Days"). If you wanted to hear slap technique you could hear it in the background of a Sly & the Family Stone album. My basic instrument was trumpet, I screwed around at bass, that's all.

    Technically, everything I saw Swallow do seemed "playable" by my standards--that is, with a little work. However, his solos were well crafted & original. On a level entrancing. I simply couldn't get enough, & (Mark Ruffin's visceral reaction to Swallow playing with Steve Kuhn in Chicago was similar to mine.)

    I do remember going out and hoping to buy recordings of the Gary Burton Quartet on order to transcribe Swallows solos. It turns out that those Atlantic recordings were quite watered down, had virtually no solos of Swallow, & didn't capture the amazing chemistry of the quartet heard live. (Finally in 2008 or 2009, MCA did record the quartet live with Antonio Sanchez instead of Bob Moses on drums. This CD does give a sense of what they are like live, & Swallow's solo in Falling Grace particularly brings back nice memories.) I wish I had more recordings like that with him soloing.

    Because Swallow used a pick I assumed that he was a converted guitar player (kinda like me.) It wasn't until 2007 when PBS Radio did a segment on Chick Correa that I learned that Swallow had been quite successful as a Double Bassist with Stan Getz, & shortly after leaving Get & playing with Correa for a while, he canned the double bass to become strictly an electric bassist.

    Question. If Swallow came along today as am electric bassist, how far could he go? I am taking into account the transformation & development of the instrument. In Swallow's day guitarists & double bassists alike didn't gravitate to the instrument. Swallow's technique is frequently called "nimble", but technically isn't in a league with Bromberg or Wooten. Yes, when considering my question you may take into consideration less tangible factors, such as Swallow's song writing skills.
  2. cnltb


    May 28, 2005
    I think he'd get busy.
    he knows all the tunes-wrote some of them and plays very supportive whilst melodious lines.
    A perfect sideman with the ability to solo.
    Fluent technique he has too without the propensity to playing too much like soooo many others.
    rictrose likes this.
  3. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Supporting Member

    Brutal technique is way, way overrated. The only goal is to convey your ideas properly. At this rate, Miles Davis and Bill Evans wouldn't make it into Berklee today.
    As long as you can play the notes in your head in a timely manner, you don't need that much technique.
    Swallow is the perfect example of a musician who knows where he comes from and where he's going in the song.
    Michael4bass and rictrose like this.
  4. basshawk


    Dec 18, 2005
    Tucson, AZ
    I just recently picked up the Burton, Methany, Swallow, Sanchez Live, recording and am floored by Steve's playing. I had heard about Steve Swallow and have heard him play here and there and knew about his reputation as a great player, but had never heard him solo like this up to now. On Falling Grace, he is magical. His phrasing is hauntingly beautiful. It's one of those solos that you don't want to end. Just awesome.
  5. lovethegrowl

    lovethegrowl Banned

    Oct 30, 2013
    Glad someone agrees w/me. But, he wrote that tune & played it every night w/Burton. Lots of practice.

    Wish there were more recordings with his solos. He was spellbinding. Mark Ruff in (Sirius jazz) calls him one of the greatest bass players to have picked up the instrument.
  6. bass_case

    bass_case Maintain low tones. Supporting Member

    Oct 23, 2013
    Miami, FL
    First heard him on a Carla Bley recording. Took me a while to wrap my head around his style (What? he's play playing jazz bass with a pick???) His tone and lines are unique. Intricate but subtle.
  7. Passinwind

    Passinwind I Know Nothing Supporting Member Commercial User

    Dec 3, 2003
    Columbia River Gorge, WA.
    Owner/Designer &Toaster Tech Passinwind Electronics
    As far as he wanted to, is my guess. His writing has a timeless quality and when I saw him back in the 70s with Gary he didn't strike me as lacking any technique compared to any of the "rock star" guys, he just had the good taste not to show that too often. Seeing him play with Eberhard Weber in the band really reinforced that in my eyes.

    I used to love hanging at the Jazz Workshop and Paul's Mall in the mid 70s.
  8. Roscoe East

    Roscoe East

    Aug 22, 2011

    Very subtle. tbh I find it requires an immense amount of focus and concentration to appreciate Steve Swallow's artistry, because on the surface he seems to do so many things...eh, well, I'm almost tempted to say "wrong" but I know that's not right.

    Personally I find his tone awful (irrespective of what bass he's playing). His walking lines never quite swing to my ear, they're always a bit stiff and square (not in the hipster, daddy-o, "in Bedrock, twitch-twitch" sense of square, but in the geometric sense). And his soloing always strikes me as pensive to the point of being hesitant

    ...but that's because he's always listening. The guy doesn't have a canned lick in his entire repertoire; he's always 100% in the moment, and his musical vocabulary is so deep that he can mine some exquisitely piquant gestures from those moments. One just needs to be patient, and remove expectations, in order to appreciate his genius.

    He'll never be a NAMM Show featured artist...he's too subtle.
  9. lovethegrowl

    lovethegrowl Banned

    Oct 30, 2013

    Personally I find his tone awful (irrespective of what bass he's playing).

    I read that since having his basses custom made he prefers piezo pickups. I'm not too crazy about his tone.

    Back in the day he used I think a hollow body Gibson (Gretch ?) that had a typical hollow body bass sound.
  10. Roscoe East

    Roscoe East

    Aug 22, 2011

    As I recently wrote back in the "Good Bassist, Bad Tone" thread
  11. lovethegrowl

    lovethegrowl Banned

    Oct 30, 2013
    I don't remember the Gibson sounding too bad. Did it have Piezo pups? My recollection was that it was a bit plain sounding.

    I have a recording, Wisteria, w/Steve Kuhn & Joey Baron. In one track Swallow uses distortion, some kind of overdrive for a solo. It seams anachronistic, almost comically so, for the style.

    I have another CD, "Out of Nowhere", w/Don Ellis & Paul Bley (1961). Swallow 20-21 years old) was playing upright then. This album is comprised of standards (e.g. Just One of Those Things, My Funny Valentine) that are set in an abstract, dissonant, Avant Garde, whimsical jazz style. At times I have a hard time fully comprehending what's happening. It goes to show how well Swallow could mold himself to suit the style of others.

    Recently, I purchased an original Steve Swallow Quintet CD, "Into the Woodwork". It's nice, but I did hope to hear more of the type of soloing heard on the "Falling Grace" track of the fairly recent Gary Burton Quintet CD. I was a bit disappointed.
  12. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
  13. Matt_T


    Dec 18, 2013
    Springdale, AR
    He would probably carve out a niche for himself similar to what he's doing now but with even less recognition.

    I really liked Swallow's playing around the time of Out Like a Light and Shinola. It had more of an aggressive rock feel to me. The newer stuff is still cool, though.
  14. Roscoe East

    Roscoe East

    Aug 22, 2011
    No piezos, just a stock EB-2d with a standard Gibson mudbucker and (I think) that tiny minibucker in the bridge position.
  15. lovethegrowl

    lovethegrowl Banned

    Oct 30, 2013
    I agree. Less recognition because jazz connoisseurs want flash & technique. Swallow came around at a times when the instrument was pretty neglected.

    It's a shame that people don't always appreciate subtlety.
    Michael4bass likes this.
  16. cnltb


    May 28, 2005
    Anyone here know which exact plectrums Swallow uses?
  17. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
    Steve uses very thin Hotlicks copper picks that haven't been in production for several years. I suspect Dunlop might still do custom orders for him. These Ice Pix Copper "Flex" look like they might be very similar.
  18. cnltb


    May 28, 2005

    Do you happen to know what specific gauge he uses?
    And...you don't have a picture of such a plectrum, do you?:)
  19. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
    My camera is at work but I'll post some pics (pun intended) for you in a couple of days. It's a very ordinary Fender shape that's extremely thin. .010" or .009" I think....copper shim stock basically.
  20. robboy

    robboy Supporting Member

    Jul 13, 2006
    Boca raton Florida
    Thanks Ed for the youtube link as it took me to this one of Steve Swallow with Scofield one of my favorites both not afraid to be melodic and different.