Trumpeter John Swana
Your bio says that you started to transcribe the solos of Freddie Hubbard, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Tom Harrell. A propos of Miles, again you seem to have evolved your own style, very different from Miles. So what do you find valuable in his work?
JS: Well, it depends on the context. Actually, if I hear that kind of style with a group, I tend to move towards Davis' kind of texture. In my early twenties, Miles left Columbia Records, and they sold all his recordings at an incredibly low price! I just went nuts and bought all the sixties Miles. Every night, I'd go off by myself and put on a Miles record. I love Miles. If I'm in a certain texture, especially with the mute, I start to hear more of the Miles thing. I really come out of Freddie Hubbard more, and the stronger I'm playing, I sound more like Freddie.
AAJ: You definitely play more towards Freddie than Miles, I mean as far as your sound and your musical intention.
JS: I think that might also have to do with my classical background.
AAJ: Your sound is so clear and your articulation so fine, that I have wondered if you had had any aspirations to be a classical musician.
JS: When I went to West Chester University, I was slightly aimless. I knew I wanted to play trumpet, but I had no plan of action. I studied with Ken Loudermilk. He took students he thought had potential and would really get them ready for auditions for the masters programs at New England Conservatory and Julliard, etc. I was one of those guys- he was going to do that for me I was one of his protégés and did move in a classical vein for a while.
But even in the first year there, I started getting into jazz. I listened to Miles Davis' album, 'Round Midnight, where they do "Tad's Delight." And also the Miles Davis album, Bags' Groove, with "Oleo," "But Not For Me," and "Airegin." Sonny Rollins is on it and sounds great. But when I first heard Miles, I didn't like his tone- now I actually love it. And I think a different horn might give me a different texture. He played a Martin, and a different mouthpiece than I use. In fact, in terms of their sound, I like to listen to certain trombone players and consider how that would translate into trumpet. When I hear a really good trombone player, they have a resonant, open sound.
AAJ: Like Steve Davis, with whom you've recorded.
JS: Yeah, he was just at Ortlieb's [jazz club in Philadelphia]. And of course, J.J. Johnson has a beautiful tone. Have you ever heard the Billie Holiday record, Lady in Satin?
AAJ: One of her last recordings.
JS: Its a great record. J.J.s on it, and Urbie Green. When Holiday sings, it's really soulful and dirty, and then the trombone players, like J.J., come in and he's right there, and Urbie. The perfect notes.
AAJ: Urbie introduced J.J. to studio recording, and they hung out together after recording dates. J.J. tells some very light hearted stories of their drinking escapades!
Since you've alluded to your equipment, I wanted to say that Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, which the Philadelphia Orchestra performed recently, has a bass trumpet part. It's close to the trombone register.
JS: I used to have a bass trumpet.
AAJ: Do you play the flugelhorn? The cornet?
JS: The flugelhorn, yes. I don't play the cornet, however- I feel as if it's cheating. Its darker than the trumpet, but if you can't get that dark sound on the trumpet, then its cheating to use the cornet. That's just me- no criticism of others who play the cornet.
AAJ: Do you have trumpets of different registers?
JS: No, because I don't do the classical thing any more. I do have a pocket trumpet, which I've used to warm up on the highway before gigs, while keeping my car on cruise control!
AAJ: What's your basic equipment?
JS: A Bach medium large 72 bell, lacquered trumpet with a one and a quarter C Bach mouthpiece. I don't change equipment often- I'm conservative in that way.
AAJ: What mutes do you use?
JS: The Harmon. On "older style" type gigs, I'll use a cup mute. On that Dizzy and Roy album, Roy is using a straight mute and a Harmon, and Dizzy uses a cup.
AAJ: We've talked about Dizzy and Miles as major influences. Which other musicians would you see as role models, mentors, inspirations?
JS: In my second year of high school, I saw Tom Harrell with the Gerry Mulligan Big Band at Glassboro [subsequently called Rowan] State College.
AAJ: My trombone teacher, Alan Raph, played with the Mulligan Concert Jazz Band in the 1960's.
JS: This was in 1979 or 1980. Tom walks in front of the band, up to the mike and starts playing. I was listening to him, and a light bulb went off in my head, and I said to myself, "I want to play like that!" I taped it and transcribed everything on that tape. Eventually, I did a recording date with Tom Harrell (John Swana and Friends) and I ended up lending it to him. Everything he played was beautiful, right in there. At the Mulligan concert, I was afraid to introduce myself, he looked scary, so I didn't go up to him. He blew me away. The next year, I heard him with the Mel Lewis Big Band. With Mulligan, he played more in the bebop style, but with Mel Lewis, he played a blues, and was stretchin' it, taking the harmonies out, very heavy, very deep. Tom was a big influence on me. I checked him out with Horace Silver, and a two trumpet record with Harrell and John McNeill. McNeill is also known for his jazz method books.
And of course, Freddie Hubbard, obviously. Freddie totally knocked me out. He's so cocky, in a natural way.