Featured Artist: Dave Swift

Dave Swift is one of the highest profile bass players in the UK. For the past twenty-five years, he has been the bass player for “Later…with Jools Holland,” a very popular British music show. As part of the house band, Dave has the opportunity to play with a wide array of established and upcoming talent. 

He has worked—on the show, in the studio, and on tour—with artists including Adele, Joe Bonamassa, B.B. King, Amy Winehouse, Paul McCartney, David Sanborn, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Wood, Jeff Beck, Paul Simon, Smokey Robinson, Al Jarreau…and the list continues. Check out Dave’s Wikipedia page for the full list. 

Most recently, Dave has been working with Mike Rutherford and producer Tony Visconti and is currently in the middle of recording an album with guitarist Jose Feliciano, who he will be touring with in the UK later this year.

We are proud to have Dave as part of the Sadowsky family and  happy that he could take some time out of his hectic schedule to talk about his Sadowsky five string and what it’s like to be such an in-demand musician.

How did you first hear about Sadowsky?

I’m pretty sure I first heard about Sadowsky from reading interviews with Marcus Miller in various guitar and bass magazines in my youth. Little did I know back then in my mid-teens, just starting out in the music industry, that one day I’d ultimately have my very own Sadowsky bass!

What Sadowsky instruments are you currently using and why?  

I currently own just one Sadowsky bass which is a P5. I’ve always been more a fan of P basses over J basses. Maybe it’s because my first three basses were P copies, and that feel, sound, and vibe was deeply ingrained early on. Also, I feel a P bass fits in with my gig with Jools Holland better than a J bass would. However, I really needed and still do need a 5-string bass. I tried a number of other brands of P5’s, and I was very dissatisfied in most of them. That’s when I decided to order a Sadowsky.

It turned out to be the best 5 string P bass I’ve played! It’s a solid, powerful sounding bass, with great consistency of volume and tone across all strings and registers, and has a low B string to die for!

What are your preferred control settings (pan, tone settings, etc.)? 

My preferred Tone settings are simple. I always like to play in active mode, with the active bass and treble set halfway. I may then boost the bass control a little for certain songs, but I rarely need to boost the treble control, as the nature of a lot of the music I play doesn’t require a glassy top end.

What is your string type and gauge preference?

I use Dunlop Super Bright Nickel strings, gauges 45-130. I’ve always preferred Nickel strings, and also strings with a lower tension and more flexible feel. These strings tick all the boxes for me.

Do you have a specific setup preference?

As long as the action on any bass I play is not too low, I’m happy. I also play double bass, and I’m a very physical player who likes to “dig in,” so on my bass guitars, I need at least a medium action for my playing style.

Also, I asked Roger to use a “reverse P” pickup configuration on my P5, which he kindly agreed to do. I really love this configuration, as I feel it gives more heft and weight to the G and D strings, and it creates space for my right hand when playing with a pick, which I do 95% of the time.

Who are your biggest influences (past and current)?

My biggest influences on bass guitar are James Jamerson, Carol Kaye, Jaco Pastorius, Marcus Miller, Anthony Jackson, Steve Swallow, Bobby Vega, and more recently Cody Wright.

I started off playing with a pick, and due to a thumb injury a couple of years ago, I returned to using one. I really enjoy playing with a pick more than my fingers—so it’s no surprise that a number of my favorite bass guitarists are known predominantly for their pick playing.

On double bass it’s Ray Brown, Charles Mingus, Scott LaFaro,  Charlie Haden, and Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen. I actually got to meet two of Scott LaFaro’s sisters years ago, and not only did I get to play Scott’s restored Prescott double bass, but I also contributed to a book called Jade Visions, The Life and Music of Scott La Faro written by his sister Helene LaFaro-Fernandez. It’s a very proud achievement for me!

How did you make the jump to being a professional musician? What’s the biggest difference in playing on a professional level? 

I left school at 16, and had a couple of regular jobs for a short while, including working in a music shop. I’d been doing gigs since I was 14 (as a trombonist as well as a bassist) but it wasn’t until I turned 17 that I realized I had enough work to turn professional. So, it wasn’t actually that big a jump, as I’d been gigging from day one.

I continued to be a professional musician playing double bass, bass guitar, and trombone (the latter being my first instrument). I did all manner of session work, live gigs, and travelling the world on luxury cruise liners.

I moved to London in 1988 and within a couple of years I auditioned for the gig with Jools Holland, which was the highest profile gig I’d ever done. That was 1991 and this is my 25th year as Jools Holland’s full-time bassist.

I guess the biggest difference is, if you’re a full-time player, you really need to keep on top of things and take care of business. You need to be honing and improving your skills constantly, and to always be networking. When music is your living, you have to keep up with changes in music, styles of playing, technology, and always keep ahead of the game.

The level of musicianship, particularly on the double bass and bass guitar has gone through the roof in recent years, and there is a lot of competition out there, so playing music for a living means you have to be diligent, determined, dedicated and tenacious!

Are there any recent projects that you’d like to let people know about?

My gig with Jools Holland keeps me extremely busy throughout the year. Jools has his own BBC TV show “Later…with Jools Holland” and a BBC Radio 2 show.  I’m the house bassist on both of these. I also do two lengthy UK tours every year with Jools, one in the summer and one in the Autumn/Winter. On top of this, we do numerous gigs abroad throughout the year, as well as many prestigious private events. You can also always check my website to see what I’m up to: daveswiftbass.com.

So, as you can see, I don’t have too much spare time to get involved with other projects.
However, not long ago I played double bass on the debut album of singer/songwriter/pianist Thomas Solomon Gray called “New Beginnings” and I’m currently doing some recording and live work with a 21-year-old female singer/songwriter called Georgia and her band “The Vintage Youth.” She is a cross between Amy Winehouse and Paloma Faith. I predict big things for this young, talented artist!

If you were to get another Sadowsky, what would it be?

To be honest, I haven’t really thought much about getting a new Sadowsky, the main reason being I’m so happy with the one I have!

If I did get another, I guess I might go for another Super P but in a different color, with a matching headstock, or perhaps a Sadowsky 5 string Jazz bass, just to “shake things up!”