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Edwin Swanston: 1922-2003
Edwin Swanston
Pianist, composer, arranger, teacher

Born: September 20, 1922 in New York City, New York
Died: June 13, 2003 in New York City, New York

Pianist, composer and vocal coach

by Jackie Summers
Copyright © 2003 Jackie Summers


Edwin S. Swanston was a pianist, composer, arranger, organist and vocal coach. He began studying music with his father, E.I. Boutive Swanston, when he was six, and he gave his first solo performance at the age of 8. During his childhood Edwin learned to play not only the piano and organ, but also the violin, viola, bass violin and pipe organ.

By the age of 16 he was receiving offers for professional jobs as a musician, and at the age of 19 he was asked to join a newly forming local band that would prove to be his first big break. He was later one of 6 members of this band who were picked up by the Louis Armstrong Big Band. Swanston traveled with the Armstrong Band for 3 years, then left the band to return to his native New York where he married Wilda Merrick.

Swanston’s career brought him into direct contact with many of the most legendary names in jazz. He played piano not only for Armstrong, but also for Gene Krupa, Andy Kirk, "Hot Lips" Page, Lucky Millinder, Art Blakey, the Lucky Thompson Orchestra and the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band, among others.

After his father, Swanston studied privately and at the Manhattan School of Music. He received his B.A. from Touro College. In 1949 he joined forces with Luther Henderson, Mr. Camillucci and Buster Newman to run Vamp Studio, a voice studio that catered to illustrious clients including Eartha Kitt, Shirley Jones, Bea Arthur, Kenny Coleman, Jean Tyson and Tina Stewart. Swanston worked at Vamp Studio until 1959.

Music was the driving force in Swanston’s life, through which he traveled extensively in Asia, Europe, the South Pacific and America. Swanston was the pianist for two movies in the 40s, and he played for 3 Broadway plays as well. He has made numerous television appearances and recorded with many world-famous musicians on some of the countries largest record labels.

Several of Swanston's original compositions have been recorded, including "Love's Melody", which George Shearing recorded on Capital records in 1959; "Blue Friday" and "Zonky", recorded by Ike Quebec for Blue Note Records in 1959; "Nightstick", recorded by the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1960; and "Upside Down Blues", recorded by the Harlem Blues & Jazz Band.

Swanston taught music in the Bronx public school system for 13 years and has offered private lessons for voice, piano, organ and arrangement. He was the organist choir director at St. Augustine Presbyterian Church in the Bronx for 19 years. He continued to perform solo, with his jazz trio, and with the legendary Harlem Blues & Jazz Band.

He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Wilda J. Swanston, five children, ten grand children and 2 great grand children.

Jackie Summers


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