Conversations – A New Era: Q&A with Jazz/Fusion Musician Rick Swann

Rick Swann



Q – Tell us about your upbringing as a Musician in Northern Ireland
A – I was born in Ballymoney, Co. Antrim and was raised in Coleraine! I started playing piano from when I was able to reach the keys from the floor and I guess I was very fortunate to be born into a family that encouraged and had strong roots in the Northern Ireland music scene. My Grandfather was an influential show-band leader both as a trumpet player & saxophonist. Likewise, my Great-uncle Gabriel McLaughlin was a prominent musician primarily in development in Jazz in Northern Ireland. I remember being enthused with this Legacy from a young age and being shown pictures of other relatives who performed, violinists, saxophonists’ e.t.c.
Maybe things have changed since I was in primary school however at that time, the board tested the musicality of students with an aural exam. Unfortunately I was deemed as ‘non-musical’ and wasn’t selected to receive an instrument. In fact if it hadn’t been for the constant ‘nagging’ of my mother to the school, I may have never received my first trumpet! Almost 20 years later, I am a full-time musician; I guess this was an important factor in developing my determination in investing in the next generation of aspiring musicians!
Q – It’s apparent that you have a very busy schedule, what kind of projects & performances take up your time?
A – Leaving university I went to work on the cruise ship circuit for a while. When I was returning the UK/Ireland was in the depths of recession! Opportunities were scarce and the ‘gig’ pool had vastly dried up! I’ll be honest, when I had been traveling I had made a list of many of the jazz festivals in Europe and whilst Ireland was in single figures, countries like Spain and France had over 300, each! This was tempting and I was gearing myself to make a move! Just a few weeks before my planned moving date I ended up being offered a few high profile residencies working in a very different circuit to what I had been accustomed to! Two fantastic Belfast venues had offered weekly, sustainable work! This was performing alongside DJ’s & to be honest at the beginning I was somewhat reluctant! After a few nights I soon realized that this gig was both complex yet extremely rewarding! Since then I have been performing in ‘El Divino’, ‘Filthy McNasty’s’, ‘The Albany’ & now ‘Chinawhite’, all in Belfast. Amidst this I was able to notice the Belfast entertainment scene start to blossom again! I had also written, produced and performed two sell-out tours showcasing the life and music of both Louis Armstrong & Ella Fitzgerald! As many more opportunities started to arise with regular appearances in mainland Europe and the south of Ireland I wanted more and more to give something back into the scene that had blessed me immensely.
I was fortunate that my first ‘professional’ performance had been at the age of 12, in addition I had been supported greatly by Ken Jordan’s Ulster Youth Jazz Orchestra! Many prominent figures on the Irish Jazz scene including Ken Jordan, John Scott Trotter & Linley Hamilton had given much of their time investing in me and I wanted an outlet to pass that Legacy on. This was the key factor in establishing the Belfast Jazz/Blues Jam Session! Still meeting every Wednesday night (a mid-week night to facilitate working musicians schedules) I had originally set out to find the ‘unknown students & bedroom heroes’ whom I firmly believed were scattered all around Ireland! Now in it’s 5 month I have not been disappointed, many performers pack our stage week on week alongside myself & a phenomenal house band that over time has included Northern Ireland Jazz Godfather John Scott Trotter, renowned creative bassist Alan Niblock & the fantastic rhythm of Rebecca Montgomery on drums! Other fantastic creative investors have included Matt Evans, Linley Hamilton, Michael Barkley, Meilana Gillard & Scott Flanigan to name only a few! The most rewarding aspect is watching each week as some of the performers who were ‘shaky and inexperienced’ at the beginning have embraced the evening and become seasoned, confident instrumentalists & vocalists!
Q – Do you classify yourself as a Jazz musician?
A – Although my heart primarily lies in Jazz I have been blessed with the opportunity of performing with great ensembles in every genre including Dance, Rock, Metal, Classical, Gospel, Blues & even country! To be honest I would primarily classify myself as a Jazz musician although I would be hesitant to exclusively use this as a label. Music of all kinds has virtue & I welcome opportunity to perform all varieties of creative sound!


Q – What is on the horizon for Rick Swann?
A – Last week I became a father & my mindset has changed although maybe not in the way many people would expect. Where many may shy off and get a more sustainable 9-5 job I have opted to focus on taking my career to a new level and boosting the sustainability of my career as a musician. I’m very blessed to be able to focus on what I love yet my daughter is in every part of my determination to work hard and succeed. In December I will be in the studio recording an ‘industry’ only album from which I may release a few singles, I’ll again be returning to the studio in January with a fantastic line-up of musicians for what I refer to as the ‘Album Album’. Another blessing, I’ve gained some tremendous relationships with some fantastic musicians, promoters and agents throughout Europe and this will be the foundation of 2015. The next year includes both the release of the Album in September and some phenomenal international dates with some great musicians! As much as I’m traveling I still want to invest in the creative scene within Northern Ireland & although there may be a move to Spain on the cards for 2015 I plan to return monthly! This will also inevitably give me the opportunity to focus on the projects I am most passionate about!


Q – Many people would have the opinion that Jazz would be somewhat out-dated, would you agree with this?
A – Absolutely not! Jazz was never truly dead although it may have taken a few bizarre turns along the road! Over the past few years especially I have been approached by an rapidly increasing list of venues, promoters and entertainers who have released that Jazz is coming into a new phase! Jazz as well and truly become ‘cool’ again and the music is again speaking to the masses! Pop icons such as Lady Gaga, Amy Winehouse & Christina Aguilera have all incorporated ‘Jazz’ into their sets and furthermore Jazz is being increasingly infused into other genres! From where I’m standing this is a very exciting time to be performing in the genre and I can tell that this growing interest is only the beginning of Jazz’s re-birth worldwide!


Rick Swann






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