It was around my 12th birthday when my mother bought me a recording of John Swallow. I believe it was on the Crystal record label and on the front of the record jacket was a big picture of John smiling and holding his trombone. I used to stare at the picture while I listened to him play. And boy, did he play!
I loved every piece on the recording and, of course, the way in which he played them. It sounded so free and clear with a wonderful variety of articulations and nuances. When I listened to "Blue Bells," I could not believe a trombone could play that fast!
I remember falling in love with the Alec Wilder sonata. I would try to play along with the recording and did not realize, until I saw the music years later, that my record player was playing it up a half step. Every time I would hit the high E flat at the end of one of the movements, I said out loud to my mother, "I hit the John Swallow note!" (which, of course, was supposed to be a high D). So, for quite a while, I called high E flat "the John Swallow note"!
As you can probably imagine, I was very excited when I had my first lesson with him at the New England Conservatory. It was October 6th, 1973. When I saw him, I was a little shocked because he had longer hair than on the front of the album cover, where he had a crew cut!
He was very friendly and warm, with a certain spark in his eye. I knew we would get along! He taught very differently than my former teachers and opened up new areas of technique and sound. He was not fixed on 'standard' orchestral concepts and I loved the opportunity to broaden my musical pallet. Even though most people thought of him as a great chamber music player, teacher and soloist, he was, by the way, a terrific orchestral musician, having played in major symphony orchestras like Chicago and Utah as well as the New York City Opera and Ballet orchestras.
For many years after I left the conservatory and was in the BSO and the Empire Brass Quintet, I would go to him for advice and friendship. We would go out to dinner, quite frequently on Monday nights, times I remember with great fondness.
I had the wonderful opportunity to be with him on his 75th birthday when I was on sabbatical from the BSO and was teaching at USF in Tampa. His wife, Myra, Carol, John and myself went to lunch. It worked out because John and Myra were in Florida visiting one of his sons and his grandchildren.
When I found out that we were going to actually get together, I wrote him a piece that morning for solo trombone, called "Happy 75th, John!" which I gave him at his birthday lunch. I also wrote him another solo piece a few months later, after I got off of a phone call with him and named it "After a Call." The two pieces together are called "Swallows." I recorded them both on my "Occurrences" CD. He was very touched and was very encouraging of my compositional journey.
I hope that I can go out to dinner again with him. He was certainly one of my musical mentors.