Steve Swallow

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

Steve Swallow
Steve Swallow, Moers Festival, Moers, Germany, 2012
Background information
Born (1940-10-04) October 4, 1940
Fair Lawn, New Jersey, U.S.
GenresJazz, cool jazz, jazz fusion, avant-garde jazz, free jazz
Occupation(s)Musician, composer, educator
InstrumentsBass guitar, double bass
Years active1960–present
LabelsPalmetto, RCA, Atlantic, WATT, Blue Note, Winter & Winter, Verve, Impulse!
Associated actsJimmy Giuffre, Art Farmer, Carla Bley, John Scofield, Gary Burton, Michael Mantler, Pat Metheny, Paul Motian, Stan Getz, Roy Haynes, Paul Bley, Steve Kuhn, Joe Lovano, Pete La Roca, Jim Hall


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

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 19741976, 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. 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 Down Beat yearly polls, both Critics' and Readers', since the mid-80s. 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

As leader or co-leader

As sideman

With Rabih Abou-Khalil

With Carla Bley

With Paul Bley

With Gary Burton

With Dave Douglas

With Don Ellis

With Art Farmer

With Pierre Favre

With Stan Getz

With Jimmy Giuffre

With Chico Hamilton

With Tore Johansen

  • I.S. (Inner Ear, 2010)

With Steve Kuhn

  • Three Waves (Contact, 1966)
  • Trance (ECM, 1974)
  • Wisteria (ECM, 2012)
  • At This Time (Sunnyside, 2016)

With Pete La Roca

With Joe Lovano

With Michael Mantler

  • The Jazz Composer's Orchestra (JCOA, 1968)
  • The Hapless Child (WATT, 1976)
  • Movies (WATT, 1977)
  • More Movies (WATT, 1980)
  • Something There (WATT, 1982)

With Gary McFarland

With Pat Metheny and John Scofield

With Paul Motian

With Jimmy Raney, Jim Hall and Zoot Sims

With George Russell

With John Scofield


  1. Yanow, Scott. "Steve Swallow: Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 17 August 2011.
  2. 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.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
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