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Interview with Violinist Mazz Swift of the Hear in Now Trio

By

Violinist Mazz Swift
© Caryn B. Davis
Mazz Swift is the violinist in the Hear In Now trio. The all-female string group combines improvisation with classical music, blues, and world-music. Douglas Detrick spoke to her about the formation of Hear in Now, and also about the group’s debut recording, Hear in Now.

  • Douglas Detrick (DD): the members of Hear in Now are spread out all over the world. You’re here in New York, Tomeka Reid is in Chicago, and Silvia Bolognesi is in Italy. How did the band come together?

    Mazz Swift (MS): Lalo Lofoco an Italian promoter, knew each of us from work with other musicians and brought us together to headline the Woma Jazz Festival in Salsomaggiore Terme, Italy. I met Silvia the day before, Tomeka came in the day of the gig, and then we put together a plan for the concert. We all brought some music, and a lot of it was improvised, but we had a great time. Tomeka recorded the show, so we went back to the hotel and listened to the recording, and we were just blown away by what we had done together. That was December of 2009. Over the next year and a half we got together several times in different places to record, and then by February of 2012 the album was finished and released.

  • DD: There is a lot of variety in terms of how the pieces are put together. Sometimes you all improvise together, sometimes the piece is mostly composed, and then there are many pieces somewhere in between. Was this something you all planned together when you were getting ready?

    MS: A lot of that material is what we brought to the first gig, and some was improvised. A couple pieces are brand new, like “Cakewalk” and “Ponce,” both came after that first concert. We have been very free-form since we started, which can get a bit funny sometimes, but it has worked well for us. That’s why the record is all over the place! We just want to do the things that we like, things that we know will be good.

  • DD: Did you ever have an urge to tighten down the music more, to set more parameters ahead of time?

    MS: No, we didn’t. Even in the studio a lot of these pieces were recorded in one take. Tomeka and I would say “Okay, next!” and Silvia would say “Wow, you guys are easy to work with! I like you guys!” We’re all improvisers and we get along musically with a lot of different people, but this came together in a way that was so much quicker than normal for me, so I think for that reason the group is really special. That’s why we make the extra effort that it takes for us to be together, and its not easy with everyone spread out all over the world. We try to let that spirit lead us, to let things come together organically.

  • DD: Were there any groups that influenced the three of you?

    MS: The Art Ensemble of Chicago was a big one for me. Actually, Tomeka and Silvia introduced them to me. I also work with a band called Burnt Sugar in New York, and playing with that group was a game-changer for me as an improviser. As far as more improvised music is concerned, William Parker is a really important musician for all of us. The way he runs a show is just amazing. He just suggests a possibility to his musicians, and then a whole beautiful creation comes out of it. I love to hear that.

  • DD: One comparison that comes to mind is John Zorn’s Masada String Trio. There are some similarities in the music, beyond just the same instrumentation, but your band is really coming to the music with a different attitude.

    MS: It’s funny, I don’t think any of us really look to string ensembles for our inspiration. I think we are all inspired by other instruments, and also by people who are playing our instruments in unique ways. We definitely play in a very “stringy” way, but we also play very percussively, and use lots of other sounds than the standard string techniques. We also try to play around with who does what in the music. We have two low instruments and a high one, so it makes sense to change who plays the melody, who plays rhythm, things like that.

  • DD: To me the band sounds like something in between the Art Ensemble and Duke Ellington.

    MS: Absolutely! Somewhere in the middle of those, I love it!

  • DD: In his liner notes, William Parker said a few very interesting things, one of them was this: “This is music that flies and hops over the fields of blues, jazz, bluegrass, classical, yet it is none of those things; it is MUSIC – nameless, eloquent, not locked into category. Twelve strings illuminated as one voice.” How do you feel about this?

    MS: I think its dead-on, its absolutely correct. I’ve been surrounded by jazz all my life, but I come from a strictly classical background. After a process of self-discovery, I came to playing folk music for years before I really got into playing jazz. Tomeka and Silvia both come from a jazz background, and that’s what they did before we met, but all of us have a very diverse view of music. I usually call this group’s music “avant-classical” because, to me, it sounds more like classical music with a jazz tinge.

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