Friend of the proGram, John Scofield celebrates the music of his friend and mentor Steve Swallow in an outgoing and spirited recording, aply titled “Swallow Tales” – made in an afternoon in New York City in March 2019. John was a 20-year-old student at Berklee when he first met and played with bassist Swallow, and they have continued ever since, in many different contexts. “I love these songs”, says Scofield of the selection of Swallow compositions explored here – a broad range including tunes that have become standards, as well as some lesser-known works. The rapport between Scofield and Swallow is evident in every moment. John: “Sometimes when we play it’s like one big guitar, the bass part and my part together.” Behind the drum kit, Bill Stewart is alert to all the implications of the interaction. “What Bill does is more than ‘playing the drums,'” Scofield says. “He’s a melodic voice in the music, playing counterpoint, and comping, while also swinging really hard.” The guitarist himself plays with fire and invention throughout: “These two giants bring out the best in me.” Swallow’s compositions, John notes, “make perfect vehicles for improvisation. The changes are always interesting – but not too interesting! They’re grounded in reality with cadences that make sense. They’re never just intellectual exercises, and they’re so melodic. They’re all songs, rather than ‘pieces’. They could all be sung.”
I had the honor of chatting with Mr. Steve Swallow about the way this album (out now on ECM Records), came together, from start to finish. We get into the way the three “generations” got to the working part of this piece of art. Talking with Mr. Swallow was a learning reminder of how things are born into change. Hearing him talk about how he had to wear a bassist hat rather than the person who brought these tunes into the world originally was just thrilling. Hearing a little of that mentor pride is his voice as he speaks about the way Mr. Scofield goes after it when making music, especially this music was equally ear-opening for me. As someone who loves to share these sounds with others and weave them into little neighborhoods over the airwaves, it is moments like this, getting a little mind-time with the artist(s) that reminds me why pushing those buttons and twisting those knobs is an important part of getting the entire story out there on behalf of these creators. Take a moment, and be in the room with Mr. Swallow and I.