Pianist Nelda Swiggett is an active performer and composer on the Seattle music scene. She formed her first band in 1990, and has since performed at many of Seattle’s leading clubs, concerts and festivals, including the Earshot Jazz Festival, Bumbershoot, and a KPLU-FM Summer Jazz Cruise, among others. Whether swinging hard with her jazz trio, grooving to salsa and Afro-Cuban rhythms at the Latin club, or laying down soulful gospel riffs at her local church, you can count on Nelda’s strong musicality and creative rhythmic sense.
After graduating from high school, Nelda entered the University of Washington as a classical piano performance major and a serious downhill ski racer – an unlikely combination that ended abruptly with a major ski accident and two months of traction in a hospital bed at Harborview. Piano was out of the question, but a guitar and flute helped wile away the hours. One day, an internist on his rounds picked up Nelda’s flute and began to improvise. He brought in recordings of jazz rhythm sections that he could play along with, and her hospital room became a jazz venue for passing doctors, nurses and patients. Soon she was learning to improvise herself.
In 1990, Nelda formed the Room to Move Sextet, with a three-horn front line featuring trumpet, tenor sax, and trombone. The band’s CD recording of original compositions, No Time for Daydreams, received extensive airplay on Seattle’s jazz stations as well as national and international airplay. In 1998, her talent for composition was recognized by an Artist Trust Fellowship from the Washington State Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her second release as a leader followed – Nelda Swiggett | Hands On.
In 2000, Nelda became intrigued by the rich instrumentation of the big band orchestra, and has since arranged several of her original compositions for the Seattle Women’s Jazz Orchestra. In 2001, she joined one of the Northwest’s top salsa bands, Cambalache, and immersed herself in the rhythms of salsa, Afro-Cuban, and Peruvian music. As self-anointed “montuno queen,” Nelda toured extensively throughout the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.
After her foray into big band and salsa music, Nelda chose an intimate setting – the piano trio – to present her original compositions. Her third CD, This Time (OA2 Records 2010), features herself on piano and vocals with band mates Chris Symer on acoustic bass and Byron Vannoy on drums.
In 2011, Nelda founded the five-piece band “Stringtet,” a collaboration between the Nelda Swiggett Trio and veteran Seattle Symphony musicians Rachel Swerdlow (viola) and Walter Gray (cello). Stringtet debuted at the Earshot Jazz Festival in 2011, and recorded nine new compositions in March 2013. Nelda’s fourth CD, “Blue-Eyed Painted Lady,” was released nationally by OA2 Records in March 2014.
In addition to her own projects, Nelda keeps a busy schedule gigging as a freelance pianist, coaching jazz combos, and teaching private jazz and classical piano lessons. She also enjoys making music with her family. She and her husband Clif Swiggett (trombone) perform weekly as a duo. Their sons Dylan (drums) and Jack (piano) are also accomplished jazz musicians, and the entire family occasionally performs together under the moniker the “SwigTones.”