Biography

Jazz pianist and composer Nelda Swiggett has been active on Seattle’s music scene since the early 90’s. Her first band, the Room to Move Sextet, featured a three-horn frontline performing her original compositions. Other bands followed, including the Nelda Swiggett Quartet, the Nelda Swiggett Trio, Nelda Swiggett’s Stringtet (with viola and cello), and Megabopolis — another “mini big band” with trumpet, tenor sax and trombone. Over the years, she has headlined her own group performing her original music at many of the Northwest’s top jazz venues, including Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley, Bumbershoot, the Bellevue Jazz Festival, and the Earshot Jazz Festival.

Nelda is an award-winning composer and OA2 recording artist. Her multiple CD recordings have received rave reviews and extensive airplay around the globe. Nelda’s melodic originals draw from a long list of influences, from jazz to Afro-Cuban, to gospel, classical and more. In 1998, her talent for composition was recognized by an Artist Trust Fellowship funded by the Washington State Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2015, Nelda won the Seattle Women’s Jazz Orchestra’s international Jazz Composition Contest for Women Composers, and her big band chart, “Cat Dreams,” debuted at the 2015 Earshot Jazz Festival. Nelda’s big band arrangements have been performed by Seattle’s nationally recognized Garfield High School Jazz Band I, the Seattle Women’s Jazz Orchestra (SWOJO), and others.

Nelda’s current project, the Alaska Suite, is inspired by the impacts of climate change, and features the emotional power of multiple mediums — a five-piece chamber jazz ensemble, spoken words, images and poetry. Nelda is a Seattle native, and spent her childhood hiking, climbing and skiing the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. Her father Jack Christiansen was a passionate explorer of the wilderness. From a young age, Nelda followed him deep into the heart of the Olympic and Cascade mountains, mostly off trail, route finding with map and compass. Her love for the natural world started early and over time strengthened into a sense of urgency and personal responsibility to protect it.

When Nelda entered the University of Washington, she was a classical piano performance major, until a serious ski accident landed her in a hospital bed in traction for two months. When she returned to college, she dropped out of the music program, fell in love with jazz, earned a Bachelor of Science in Scientific and Technical Communication, and embarked on a dual career as a technical writer and jazz musician. Who knew this combination of skills would later support her efforts to communicate the science of climate change through the power of music.

Nelda met her future husband Clif Swiggett at a Halloween party in 1987, and they’ve been playing music together ever since. Their duo, Clif & Nelda’s little BIG Band, debuted in 2013, and features Nelda on piano and vocals and Clif on trombone and percussion. They’ve performed at jazz clubs, private parties, weddings, and concert venues around the Northwest, and love to share their joy of music with all audiences. 

REVIEWS

“Swiggett has a unique touch…intensely appealing pianism…a voice with a depth similar to that of Abbey Lincoln…”  
– Lofton A Emenari, WHPK 88.5 FM, Chicago

“…a stunning project…held together by the highly original mind of Ms. Swiggett.”
– JazzTimes

“… a bright palette, a sinewy execution and a powerful, assertive command… the sound is all Swiggett’s: refined and confident, open and inviting.”
– All About Jazz

“Jessica Jennifer Williams comes to mind…we are in that territory.” 
–  Wondering Sound Reviews

“Swiggett’s vocal delivery is satisfyingly to-the-point, and behaves only as one ingredient, equal to all others…”
– Midwest Record

“Her music is precise without being dry, clean without being dull, and light without being fluff. The sound is as clear, direct and crisp as the gaze of her piercing blue eyes.”
– Earshot Magazine

“Seattle based pianist Nelda Swiggett has a bright smooth swinging quality to her mainstream approach and a minimalist almost bare knuckles attitude. Her key strokes are bold and assertive, as if she knows exactly the direction of her music.”
– All Music Guide