1962 - 1973
composed during the Contemporary period
The Swingle Singers is one of the most unique modern vocal groups, known for innovative, jazz-inflected performances of everything from Bach keyboard works to songs of the Beatles. The group formed from members of the Blue Stars, a jazz ensemble under the direction of Blossom Dearie. In 1962, Jeanette Baucomont (soprano), Anne Germain (contralto), Claudine Meunier (contralto), Claude Germain (tenor), Jean-Claude Briodin (bass-baritone), and Jean Cussac (bass-baritone) gathered in Paris under the direction of Ward Lemar Swingle (tenor) and Christiane Legrand (soprano); their goal was to improve their overall musicianship and sight-reading skills by performing intricate instrumental works vocally. While making their way through Bach's Well Tempered Clavier the idea came to "swing" the piece; the resulting fusion gave birth to the Swingle Singers. They began performing Classical and Baroque works with a jazz rhythm section, employing a distinctive scat style in the vocal parts.
Their debut album, Bach's Greatest Hits, avoided the potential pitfalls of kitsch and instead proved a testament to the durability and flexibility of Bach's music, as well as to the group's vocal prowess. It also became a commercial success, appealing to a broad audience that might not otherwise have shown interest in classical music. Numerous television and radio appearances followed, as did back-to-back world tours; their music was on U.S. and U.K. Top 20 lists, and they won several Grammy awards, including Best Choral Performance and Best New Artist in 1963.
After their debut album, the Swingle Singers applied the same formula to the music of Mozart, Handel, and Vivaldi well into the 1970s. Then, in 1973, Ward Swingle traveled to England to form a smaller group called Swingle II, to perform a broader base of repertory. Swingle worked with the group until he left for the United States in 1985, where he then spent a decade lecturing and guest conducting. During that time he continued to direct the Swingle Singers as they explored the music of Dvorák, Lennon, Mancini, Bizet, Rodgers/Hart, Debussy, George Butterworth, and Gerald Finzi on albums such as Pretty Ringtime, Notability, Ticket to Ride, and Screen Tested. As of 1999, Ward Swingle lives in semi-retirement near Paris. ~ Meredith Gailey, Rovi