The Swingle Singers – A Chronological and Critical Discography

Originally posted on Amazon.com in 2012 in the form of a “listmania” (deleted by Amazon with all “listmanias”). Considerably expanded for repost here (December 2018)

It all started as a warm-up exercise. Ward Swingle – born in Mobile, Alabama in 1927, and for more on his bio see his Wikipedia entry (link will open new tab) – wanted something more interesting for warming up with his group of Paris studio Jazz vocalists than the usual vocalizes, and decided to sight-read Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. It brought out an intriguing jazziness in Bach, enhanced when Swingle added a Jazz rhythmic section (double bass & drums). Swingle approached Philips records with the idea of making a Jazz-Bach album that he could sell to family and friends. “Jazz Sebastian Bach”, released in 1963, was a huge commercial success. The group is still alive and active, 50 years later, although, of course, with none of the original members – but with still very much the same sound and singing techniques. Swingle retired from singing with the group in 1984, although he still acted as an arranger and music adviser. When I first posted this discography, he was still alive, and I was able to briefly correspond with him. He passed away on January 19, 2015 (excellent obituary in The Guardian).

What Swingle had invented was indeed unique. Unlike the Jazz vocalese typical of the Hendricks-Lambert-Ross trio and its Frenchified version by Mimi Perrin and the Double Six (of which Swingle had briefly been a member), Swingle didn’t invent lyrics to emulate the sounds and timbres of the instrumental, he “instrumentalized” the voice through scatting techniques, with carefully chosen consonants and vowels to enable for both the bubbling virtuosity of Bach’s “Badinerie” and the abandoned sensuousness of the Air in G or Largo from the Harpsichord Concerto. What was so enrapturing with it was that it returned instrumental music to its very origin and essence: the voice. Swingle elevated to the status of high art what we all do, inadvertently: humming our favorite tunes. But Swingle’s dee-dum techniques are to our humming what a Picasso is to your three-year old’s drawing. Later, in the late 1970s and 1980s, after they had moved from Paris to London, the Swingle Singers tried to expand their style and, one supposes, audiences by arranging lazz and the pop songs of the day for a capella vocal ensemble, and took to singing the lyrics (they even did so in the late 1980s and early 1990s with pieces of Bach and Mozart); I usually find that approach less interesting and less uniquely special. When they do that, nothing distinguishes them particularly from other a capella vocal ensembles.

Thomas Cunniffe’s great Swingle Singers presentation and discography, published on Jazzhistoryonline.com was invaluable in helping me solve some of the most arcane points of dating, content and lineup. I’m proud to say that it was an exchange of good services, and that I provided Thomas with info that he didn’t have, including the correct information about the CD reissue of Operazione San Pietro (1967), the sources of “The Swingle Singers’ Christmas Album” on Spectrum, and the existence (and dub) of one recording that even Ward Swingle had forgotten he had ever made: the soundtrack to the movie of Edouard Molinaro “La Liberté en croupe” from 1970 (the movie itself, which I was able to see online back in 2012, on a website that is now gone, is best forgotten). Some of my more recent details, added on the occasion of the repost of my discography here in December 2018, especially as regards the exact label numbering of some of the original French LP releases on Philips, some datings, do not match his. I’ve also added a few editions, LP and CD, which he doesn’t have. There are also excellent entries on Wikipedia for the Swingle Singers’ discography.

In 1972, Ward Swingle disbanded his Paris-based group and moved to London where he reformed a new one with (mostly) young English singers. The new group took various names, The New Swingle Singers, Swingle II, The Swingles, before reverting to the old The Swingle Singers (there’s an interview of Ward Swingle on YouTube from 1976, where he recounts the ensemble’s early history and gives some reasons for the separation, followed by a program of pops typical of The Swingles II). Thereafter they ceased recording for Philips, moving on (first) to CBS, then to a variety of labels including their own, “Swing”. The chronology of The Swingle Singers neatly divides then between their Paris period (1963-1973 – LP releases running until 1974), their London period up until the establishment of their own label (1973 to circa 1981), and then (which nicely dovetails with the advent of the CD era) to present. Philips did a good job at reissuing their material to CD (to the point of over-milking it even). CBS-now-Sony (second period), Moss Music Group and Polydor (or whoever has held the rights to that label) have done a pitiful job with their own archive, which for the main part remains in the vaults, gathering dust – or on the marketplace, used LPs for sale, for those who still own a turntable.

I do not list the compilation LPs in which the Swingle Singers appear live with limited selections, from various festivals;  Cunniffe lists a number of those, Prague 1965 Jazz Festival, Ljubljana 1970 Festval. I do have to mention one though, because Cunniffe omits it, but it’s on discogs.com – an invaluable website for the discographer -, and has a slightly more substantial contribution from the ensemble, with 6 tracks: Idsteiner Schloss-konzerte 1979/80 on TTS Records HGP 8018.

Part I : the Paris Swingles, 1963-1973

1. Jazz Sébastien Bach. Recorded December 1962. Originally Philips 840.519 PY (1963), published in the US as “Bach’s Greatest Hits”, Philips 600 097 (1963).

 

The-Swingle-Singers-Jazz-Sebastian-Bach-CD-2000CD reissue “Jazz Sébastien Bach”, Philips 824 703-2 (Phonogram Germany, no copyright date, circa 1985, reissue with same label number and barcode, different cover), compiling Jazz Sébastien Bach 1 and 2 (see below #9). 
Seminal, and, still today, phenomenal. The Swingle Singers haven’t “jazzified” Bach, they’ve uncovered the inherent Jazziness of Bach’s music. Ward Swingle’s special brand of scatting is to our humming our favorite tunes under the shower what a Picasso is to your kid’s drawings.

Other CD reissue (digipak) Philips 586 726-2 (Europe), 314 542 552-2 (USA) (2000)
Though using the same front cover (which was the one of the original LP release – however, “Sébastien” has become “Sebastian”), this is NOT the same disc as the compilation above of the 1963 and 1968 recordings, but the reissue of the 1963 album only, part of the 11 digipak-CDs (gathered in an 11-CD box in 2005, “Swingle Singers” Philips 982 632-5) published by Universal and reissuing “straight”, with original French covers, the Philips albums from the 1960s and early 1970s, each with a TT of circa 30 minutes or under  – I call it “milking us cows”. And who’d want this one, since Philips had already released the double album compilation, twice as good a deal and selling cheaper- I don’t know. Track listing is more precise. Universal also gathered the CDs in pairs of two bound in a cardboard casing (which still makes two short-LP-timed CDs rather than one fully-timed one), with Christmastime the odd-CD left out. Bach vol. 1 came with its companion vol. 2 from 1968 (see below #9) on Philips 542 554-2 (details under the links of the individual releases).

2. Going Baroque (1964). Originally issued in France on Philips 840.555 PY, US  PHS 600-126.

 

First (and best) CD reissue in 1986 by Phonogram Germany on Philips 826 948-2, “Anyone For Mozart, Bach, Handel, Vivaldi?”(US edition different cover), with contents of “Swinging Mozart” (see below #3) – but, inexplicably, without the Allegro from Haendel’s Concerto Grosso op. 6 no. 4 that was on “Going Baroque”.

Note that the US edition uses the cover of the original album “Les Romantiques” (see below, #4.), although no tracks from that album are reissued here.

Reissued “straight” as digipak CD on Philips 546 746-2 (2001)Going Baroque/Swinging Mozart [CD] - Front_Standard, and mated with “Swinging Mozart” in Philips 586 154-2 (details with individual release). Compiled in 11-CD box “Swingle Singers” Philips 982 632-5 (2005, see link above #1)

 

3. Swinging Mozart (1965). Recorded September-October 1964 (dating information from Tom Cunniffe’s discography). Originally on Philips 842.109 PY and in the US on Philips PHS 600-149 with the title “Anyone for Mozart?”

First CD reissue Philips 826 948-2, “Anyone For Mozart, Bach, Handel, Vivaldi?” with contents of “Going Baroque” (see above).

Digipak reissue Philips 548 538-2 (2001), twofer Philips 586 154-2, 11-CD box “Swingle Singers” Philips 982 632-5 (2005)

 

 

4. Les Romantiques / Getting Romantic (1965). Originally on Philips  842.124 PY “Les Romantiques”, US Philips PHS 600-191 “Getting Romantic”.  

 

Digipak-CD reissue Philips 586 736-2 (2002) (European edition “Les Romantiques“, US edition “Getting romantic“, same label number and barcode).

Compiled (with “Swingling Telemann”, see below) in Philips 586 737-2 (details with individual releases). Compiled in 11-CD box “Swingle Singers” Philips 982 632-5 (2005)

Note that there’s an issue with the dating of the recording. The CD reissue gives a copyright year of 1967 (leading Thomas Cunniffe to consider it the Swingle Singer’s 6th album, after “Swingling Telemann” and “Place Vendôme”), but it can’t be the year of recording, since the album was released and reviewed in the United States at the end of 1965 (see my review for the details on that).

 

5. Swingling Telemann (1966). Originally on Philips  840.578 PY, US Philips PHS 600 214 with title “Rococo À gogo”.

Digipak Philips 586 735-2 (2002), compiled with “Les Romantiques / Getting Romantic” in Philips 586 737-2 (see above), and in 11-CD box “Swingle Singers” Philips 982 632-5 (2005)

The music and music-making are great, but the timings are disappointintly short

 

6Swingle Singers & The Modern Jazz Quartet: Place Vendôme (1967). Originally published in Europe on Philips 840.257 BY and in the US under the title “Encounter” on Philips PHS 600-225.

 

First CD reissue in the West on Philips 824 545-2 (1989), “All trask newly remixed digitally from the original tapes under the personal supervision of John Lewis on October 2, 1988 at Phonogram Studio in Tokyo” (corresponding Japanese edition 30JD-10092). Details of all the reissues hereunder will be found at the linked page.

Digipak-CD reissue (2005) on Philips 982 626-.

 

 

Compiled with “American Look (see below #12) on Philips 982 626-1 (2005). 

Compiled in 11-CD box “Swingle Singers” Philips 982 632-5 (2005, see link above #1)

2005 non-digipak CD reissue on Philips 0602498305560

 

 

 

Various Japanese editions

Augmented reissue (with 9 tracks from “Les Romantiques / Getting Romantic” and “Sounds of Spain”) on “Compact Jazz The Swingle Singers” Mercury 830 701-2 (1987), “Swingle Singers Best Selection” Japanese Philips UICY-8014 (2002), “Swinging the Classics” Emarcy Jazz Club Legends 532 258-3 (2009).

Recorded from September 27, 1966 to October 30, 1966, the collaboration between the Modern Jazz Quartet and the Swingle Singers, all Bach-derived or Bach-inspired compositions by MJQ’s pianist John Lewis. The jazz here is typical Lewis/MJQ: elegant, gentle, pretty, non-aggressive, agreeable but not extremely challenging. TT 37:20 – a major improvement!

7. Sounds of Spain / Concerto d’Ajanjuez (1967). Originally on Philips 844 718 BY, US PHS 600-621 as “Spanish Masters” (1968).

 

Digipak CD Philips 981 160-1 (2004), compiled (with The Joy of Singing / Les 4 Saisons, Philips 981 160-2, see below #14) in Philips 981 160-0 (2004), and in 11-CD box “Swingle Singers” Philips 982 632-5 (2005, see link above #1)

Once again beautiful arrangements, but once again with these “original jacket” reissues, shamefully scanty timings, and the “old pal” factor, so essential in the pleasure of transcriptions, is here absent, since, other than the Adagio from Rodrigo’s Aranjuez Concerto, these are not your standard hits of classical music.

8. Going Baroque – Operazione San Pietro (1967). Originally released on CAM (Creazioni Artistiche Musicale) SAG 9003. 

CD CAM Culture Publishers CPC8-1209 (2002)

Don’t let the title mislead you in thinking this is the 1964 “Going Baroque”. It is in fact a rarity: the music composed by Ward Swingle for the 1967 Italian comedy film by Lucio Fulci, “Operazione San Pietro”. The music is based on Bach’s Little Organ Fugue K. 537, which later became a favorite of the ensemble (6 recordings including this one). The other tracks are original compositions of Ward Single – but, as agreeable as they are, there is nothing in Swingle’s own music that is likely to send you to heaven as do his arrangements of Bach, Mozart and Vivaldi.

9. Le volume 2 de Jazz Sébastien Bach”, Philips 844 847 BY  (1968), US edition”Back to Bach”, Philips PHS 600-288 (1969)

CD reissue “Jazz Sébastien Bach”, Philips 824 703-2 (Phonogram Germany, no copyright date, circa 1985), compiling Jazz Sébastien Bach 1 (1963) and 2.
See cover and comment under Jazz Sébastien Bach vol. 1 above

Other CD reissue (digipak) Philips 542 553-2  (Europe) or 314 542 553-2 (US) (2000)
As with Jazz Sébastien Bach vol. 1, this is the “original jacket collection” reissue of the original LP, with its short timing of 32 minutes. Prefer the compilation of 1 & 2. 

Compiled with Jazz Sebastian Bach 1 in Philips 542 554-2, and in 11-CD box “Swingle Singers” Philips 982 632-5 (2005) (see above #1)

10. Noëls sans passeport / Christmastime (1968). Originally on Philips 844.858 BY “Noëls sans passeport”, Dutch edition “Christmas with the Swingle Singers” same label number different cover, US edition Philips PHS-600-282 “Christmastime”. 

Tom Cunniffe, in his Swingle Singers discography on Jazzhistoryonline, gives the dates as September 1967 and February 1968, which would place it before Jazz Sébastien Bach vol. 2, but label number indicates that it was released after. Obviously. Philips waited for Christmas.

Digipak CD reissue Philips 548 303-2 (2000). Compiled in 11-CD box “Swingle Singers” Philips 982 632-5 (2005, see link above #1)

This one was the “odd-CD-out” from the 11 reissued by Universal in the 2000s, not gathered in a twofer with a companion from the same series.

CD reissue Emarcy Jazz Club 06007 5340943 “Christmas with the swingle Singers” (2012)

Augmented CD reissue Spectrum  554-755-2 “The Swingle Singers Christmas Album” (1998).

This is one of the best-kept secrets of the Swingle Singers’ discography: “Christmastime”, with its (again) frustratingly short timing of 31 minutes, was reissued in 1998 on Spectrum (a label of PolyGram), augmented of 10 tracks from the 1986 album “Christmas”, originally on Polydor POLD 5206 (LP), for a way more generous TT of 61 minutes (although the four remaining tracks from the latter album would have easily fit).

Note, that, in 1978, the group then called just “Swingle” reprised the entire contents of “Christmastime”, but with a totally different instrumental accompaniment (more “pop”: keyboards, guitar, bass-guitar, percussion), and lyrics sung: “Swingle Bells” on EMI-Columbia SCX 6603 (UK) / Moss Music Group MMG 1124 (US) (see #24)

11. Luciano Berio: Sinfonia (original version in 4 movements). New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Berio. Recorded 12 October 1968. Originally on Columbia Masterworks MS 7268 (1969). 

CD “Prophets of the New”, Sony 88765499922 (2013), barcode 887654999221 (with Berio’s Nones, Concerto for 2 pianos, Allelujah II from LP RCA ARL1-1674 or RL 11674, 1976

The original version of Berio’s Sinfonia, still in 4 movements, with the Swingle Singers and the New York Phil under the composer. James H. North’s masterful discography of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (The Scarecrow Press, 2006, ISBN 9780810858541) dates this one precisely: 12 October 1968, two days after the world-premiere, confirming contemporay mentions in The Billboard (see review for details). Took ages for Sony to reissue it to CD (it hadn’t been yet when I first published this discography on Amazon.com), but when they finally did, they commendably filled the CD to the brim with more Berio from RCA. The ensemble re-recorded it (with 5th movement) in 1984 under Boulez – but then it was the English Swingles, with only Ward Swingle remaining. But there is a megarare double-LP from the South-West German Radio (later reissued to CD by Col Legno) that documents the world-premiere of the completed work, on 18 October 1969, under Ernest Bour (see #13).

11-b. Berio: Laborintus II for three female voices, speaker, 8-voice chorus and instrumental ensemble (1965). Ensemble Musique Vivante under the composer. Originally on Harmonia Mundi MV 34.764 (1969).

CD reissue Harmonia Mundi “Musique d’abord” HMA 190764 (1987) and subsequent reissues.

It is only as a bonus that I mention this recording: technically, the Swingle Singers do not particpate, but the three vocal soloists are Swingle members Christiane Legrand, Jeanette Baucomont (spellt by Harmonia Mundi “Janette”) and Claudine Meunier. The members comprising the “Chorale expérimentale” that also participates aren’t mentioned, but I wouldn’t be surprised if male members of the Swingle Singers were among them (although I can’t recognize by ear Ward Swingle’s typically light tenor timbre). Recording date is not indicated (the LP was published in 1970), but the presence of Baucomont permits to date it prior to 1969: that’s when she left the group and was replaced by Nicole Darde. The music is wild, and I love it.

12. American Look 1969. Originally on Philips 6311 007 (1969). 

Digipak CD Philips 982 620- 1 (2005). Paired with “Place Vendôme” (see above #6) in Philips 982 626-1. Compiled in 11-CD box “Swingle Singers” Philips 982 632-5 (2005). Also non-digipak CD reissue Philips 0602498305553 (2005). Details under link

The Swingle Singers in 1969: change – tackling no more the classics of classical music, but the American vernacular; no more staying very close to the originals, only adding a drum-and-double-bass rhythmic underpinning, but pulling the vernacular in the direction of the classical music forms, fugues and canons; but also permanence, remaining true to the unique style of purely scatting even the vocal pieces.

 

13. Berio: Sinfonia – complete version in 5 movements. Südwestfunkorchester Baden-Baden, Ernest Bour (world-premiere, 8 October 1969). Originally on LP SWF 21/22

An ultra-megarare LP on the South-West German Radio’s (Südwestfunk) own label SWR 21/22, the Swingle Singers performing Sinfonia live with the Südwestfunk Baden-Baden Orchestra under Ernest Bour, presumably the world premiere on 18 October 1969 in Donaueschingen. So rare in fact that Cunniffe omits it, and that I discovered its existence by chance, as I was working on this discography for repost on this website (December 2018). But there is a great entry documenting it on the, once again, invaluable discogs.com. It showed up on eBay in 2015… [post-script 11 October 2019] and again in September 2019… and I bought it.

Fortunately, it’s been reissued in 1996 on CD 3 of Col Legno WWE 12CD 31899 “75 Jahre Donaueschinger Musiktage 1921-1996” (75 years of the Donaueschingen Music Festival”, 12 CDs, came with two different covers), barcode 5099703189926. Another great entry on discogs.com.

14. La Liberté en croupe (1970): “Mon Enfance est un rubis” and “Laurence”, two songs by Philippe Sarde (lyrics Eddie Marnay) based on his soundrack for the film by Edouard Molinaro, Philips 6009 103 (7″, 45rmp)

A true rarity in The Swingle Singers’ discography – so rare, in fact, that not only did Thomas Cunniffe not list it back in 2012 when I exchanged with him, but even Ward Swingle had forgotten he had ever recorded it. Not that it asbolutely needs to be remembered, although the angelic voice of soprano Christiane Legrand shines in the sweet and corny “Mon Enfance est un rubis”. Back in 2012 the film could be viewed on YouTube – it’s now gone. Director Edouard Molinaro, who gained a small notoriety in France as a director of commercial films, considered it one of his unjustly neglected films. Well, sorry, but no: it is justly neglected and best forgotten.

15. Les 4 Saisons / The Joy of Singing. Philips 6385 501 (1972), US edition Philips PHS 700-004 (1973)

1972, a gap of three years since “American Look”, and the final album by the Paris-based Swingle Singers singing Swingle’s arrangements, “Les 4 Saisons” in France, “The Joy of Singing” in the US (and in Germany, but with the same label number as the French edition), and a great one too, from lovely to dazzling, and with a TT still as short, 32 minutes.

Digipak “The Joy of Singing” Philips 981 160-2 (2004), see my review with all the details about the other releases.

Compiled (with “Sounds of Spain”, Philips 981 160-1, see above #7) in Philips 981 160-0 (2004). Compiled in 11-CD box “Swingle Singers” Philips 982 632-5 (2005)

The only one to have been reissued in SACD form, Vocalion CDLK 4606 (2017), barcode 0765387460624.

 

And the Paris-Swingles period ends with two LPs also from 1972 that have become rarities, coming up only rarely on eBay : Michel Zbar’s Swingle Novae on Inédits de l’ORTF, and André Hodeir’s Bitter Ending on Epic – a fitting title? (I finally found Bitter Ending in December 2018, which prompted me to transfer my Swingle Singers reviews and discography from Amazon to this website).

16. Michel Zbar: Swingle Novae for vocal octet, speaker, jazz double bass & drums and orchestra. Jean-Marie Gouëlou (speaker), Jacques Cavallero (double bass), Marcel Sabiani (drums), Ensemble Ars Nova, Boris de Vinogradow. Inédits de l’ORTF 995 038 (1973)

Paired with Jean-Claude Eloy’s Faisceaux-diffractions. Tom Cunniffe dates this one 1972, but 1973 is the date of the legal entry (“dépôt légal”) in the catalog of Bibliothèque Nationale and of the review in Harmonie. Not reissued to CD.

17. André Hodeir: Bitter Ending – Jazz on Joyce (2). Roger Guérin (trumpet), Pierre Gossez (alto saxophone), Jean-Louis Chautemps (tenor saxophone), Jacques Cavallero (double bass), Marcel Sabiani (drums). Epic EPC 80544. Recorded September 1972, released 1974. Not reissued to CD.

After Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, a setting mainly of the final Anna Livia Plurabelle monologue, in a style straddling free jazz and contemporary music. Cunniffe dates it September 1972 based on recording, but copyright e.g. release is 1974.

However, as a footnote or post-script to the Paris Swingles period and discography, I need to mention this, a forgotten rarity, from 1976:

“Quire is a choir” RCA BGL1-1700 (1976)

Quire is in fact a vocal quartet founded and conducted by The Swingle Singers’ (and sister of Michel Legrand) Christiane Legrand, with three other members of the Paris Swingles: Claudine Meunier, José Germain and Michel Barouille, accompanied of a small jazz section (Christian Chevallier vibraphone, Francis Lemauger guitar, Chris Lawrence & Guy Pedersen double bass, Martin Drew and Daniel Humair drums).  They concentrated on vocally “instrumentalizing” the great Jazz standards. The group didn’t last long – one explanation I found online for their rapid disappearance (by Jazz journalist Ken Dryden) is that, due to the great amount of over-dubbing involved in the recording process, the group couldn’t perform live, unlike the Swingle Singers. It’s their only recording.

See the entry on discogs for more LP editions

Reissued to CD by BMG Japan, BVCM 37305  (2002), barcode 4988017608432

 

 

(to be continued – stay tuned, 23 December 2018)

Comments are welcome