Jazzy-classical mashups: Ward Swingle

Here’s the next post in my music history self-study project. I’m checking out each winner of the Grammy Award for Best New Artist, reading a bit of bio info and sharing whichever random points catch my interest, and also building a Spotify playlist of the songs I like best from that artist. I’ll share each post to my Facebook page and invite you to join the conversation there.

This week’s winner: Ward Swingle, Best New Artist of 1963

Ward Swingle & The Swingle Singers. Photo: Hugo van Gelderen/Anefo - Nationaal Archief
Ward Swingle & The Swingle Singers. Photo: Hugo van Gelderen/Anefo – Nationaal Archief
  • I didn’t recognize this name, but my jazz-loving friends surely will. Ward Swingle made classical music jazzy, as one obituary headline put it. His idea to create vocals for the instrumental arrangements of Johann Sebastian Bach kept him and his Swingle Singers on the Billboard chart for over a year.
  • I had to laugh at reports that Swingle’s new treatment of the classics was *ahem* more warmly embraced by pop music critics vs. classical reviewers. I imagine that even that long ago, this was still far from the most scandalous thing happening in the music world.
  • The Swingle Singers continued on successfully for several decades, with lineup changes over the years, and an a capella version of the group is still active. Ward Swingle retired from performing in the 1980s but remained music director and consultant to the evolving group and worked on a variety of projects beyond the Swingle Singers, including arranging, conducting, and publishing, until shortly before his death in 2015. It seems to me that his education and career would be quite interesting to classical and traditional music students.

Check out my Spotify playlist “Deb Stanley’s ‘Best New Artists’ Study” to see which Ward Swingle recordings I added. [Note: I tried to make sure I included only recordings with which Ward Swingle himself had some involvement, but the newer material from the more contemporary versions of the The Swingle Singers is also worth checking out.]