Steve Swallow has long been many jazz critics' favorite electric bassist: rather than playing his instrument in a rock-oriented manner, Swallow emphasizes the high notes and, to an extent, approaches the electric bass as if it were a guitar.
He originally started on piano and trumpet before settling on the acoustic bass as a teenager. Swallow joined the Paul Bley trio in 1960 and with Bley was part of an avant-garde version of the Jimmy Giuffre 3 during 1960-1962. Swallow recorded with George Russell and was a member of Art Farmer's quartet (1962-1965), Stan Getz's band (1965-1967), and an important edition of Gary Burton's quartet (1967-1970). The latter group (starting with the addition of guitarist Larry Coryell) was actually one of the first fusion groups, and it was during that time that Swallow began playing electric bass; within a few years, he stopped playing acoustic altogether. Swallow spent a few years in the early '70s living in northern California, during which time he mostly played locally. After the late '70s, he was closely associated with Carla Bley's groups, although he occasionally worked on other projects (including a reunion of the Jimmy Giuffre 3).
Swallow has also proved to be a talented composer with "Eiderdown," "Falling Grace," "General Mojo's Well Laid Plan," and "Hotel Hello" among his better-known pieces. The 21st century saw the release of several Swallow sets, including Damaged in Transit (2003), Histoire Du Clochard: The Bum's Tale (2004), and an intriguing set with poet Robert Creeley, So There (2006). Hotel Hello appeared in 2007, followed by Believe in Spring, a collection of standards with Hans Ulrik and Jonas Johansen issued on the Stunt label, and Carla's Christmas Carols in 2008. In 2010, he recorded IS with trumpeter Tore Johanson for the Inner Ear label. Swallow formed We3 along with Adam Nussbaum and David Leibman; they recorded Amazing in 2011.
In 2012, he and drummer Joey Barron played in Steve Kuhn's trio for the recording of Wisteria on ECM. It was a busy year for the bassist: he also recorded another duet offering, The Agnostic Chant Book, with reed and woodwind master Jonas Schoen. He led his own quintet for Into the Woodwork, which was issued on Xtra WATT, in June of 2013, and shared triple-billing with Carla Bley and Andy Sheppard on Trios, which was released in September of that year. In 2016, Swallow once again joined Bley and Sheppard for Andando el Tiempo. The following year, he collaborated with Bobby Previte, Jamie Saft, and Iggy Pop on Loneliness Road. ~ Scott Yanow & Thom Jurek, Rovi