This bio is a few years out of date. I will update it some time.

In the meantime, click here to see my resume and here for a list of some of my compositions.


When I was growing up I went back and forth between wanting to be either a rock star or a famous orchestra conductor. Like many of us, I grew up around a wide variety of musical influences. My parents were classical musicians, one of my brothers was a jazz musician and another was into funk and disco. Soon after I started taking violin and piano lessons I remember being a chameleon when it came to which style of music I wanted to play. In high school I played keyboard in a rock band, piano in the school jazz band and violin in the orchestra. Consequently, I was a social as well as musical chameleon, changing my personality slightly, or perhaps exploring different aspects of my personality, depending on which crowd of people I was with. Recently, the contrasts have become even more extreme. One night I play with a punk band in a dingy bar where the audience throws beer to show their appreciation, the next night I play string quartets in a church sanctuary. I certainly do not believe in the supremacy of any one genre of music any more than I believe one type of person is better than another. The one thing that all of the friends I have played music with have in common is an immense satisfaction gained from making music together.

In my compositions, I draw from all of my musical experiences. I am constantly discovering new stylistic influences and ways of thinking about music and incorporating these into my musical language. Development of a personal style is a never ending process. I enthusiastically embrace the fact that I will always be evolving and growing as a composer and a musician.


I have received several notable awards for my compositions including the Charles Ives Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, an Eisner Prize from the University of California, Berkeley, the Mabel Daniels Prize for music from Tufts University and a piano soloist award from the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival. I recorded and arranged strings for Boston rock bands Guster and Papas Fritas. Both bands went on to have distinguished careers releasing several CDs and touring internationally. I have performed with many accomplished Seattle area musicians including trombonist Stuart Dempster and pianist/composers Amy Rubin and Wayne Horvitz. I have had over 40 compositions premiered including three orchestral works and a violin concerto, for which I performed as soloist. I have also written for dance and theater performances. I produced six concerts of my own works in Boston, Berkeley, CA and Seattle.


In Seattle, I studied violin with Karla Kantner and Bryan Boughten; piano with my father, Dwight Swafford; and jazz piano with Joni Metcalf. I played violin in the Seattle Youth Symphony under conductor Vilem Sokol and in the Roosevelt High School Chamber Orchestra, a self directed group, and piano in the award winning Roosevelt jazz band conducted by Scott Brown.

I received a BA in music and clinical psychology from Tufts University. I studied composition with John McDonald and violin with Magdalena Richter. I received a PhD. in composition from University of California, Berkeley where my principal teachers were Olly Wilson, Edwin Dugger and Richard Felciano. I also studied improvisation with Steve Coleman and analysis with Andrew Imbrie. After Berkeley, I studied composition with Louis Andriessen in Amsterdam.


I spent the last four years back home in Seattle, WA where I was an active member of Seattle's vibrant new music community. I received grants from the Mayor's Office of Arts and Culture, 4Culture and the Jack Straw Foundation. I was the violinist for Playback Theatre Northwest, a theater group that uses a particular set of techniques, both abstract and representational, to re-enact audience stories. I was a member of experimental bands Cipher, The Golden Crackers, Doublends Vert, Irish punk band Meisce and a duo with pianist/composer Amy Rubin. I toured the northwest and west coast with all four groups. Doublends Vert released a self titled debut CD on Present Sounds Recordings and a second CD, Cistern (Line records, 2005) , recorded in an empty two gallon reservoir with a 43 second reverbation, in Port Townsend, WA. Meisce released a CD and an EP on Fistolo records. I reunited with Guster for two performances at the Moore Theater. I was a concert organizer at Gallery 1412, a long running experimental music venue. I was the orchestra contractor and concertmaster for the Degenerate Art Orchestra. This expanded version of the Degenerate Art Ensemble performed eight new compositions by Seattle composers, including my piece Odes to Complacency, to an audience of 1,100 people. In April of 2006 I joined the excellent pianist and composer, Amy Rubin, to form the Rubin/Swafford duo. Our repertoire consists primarily of tangos by Astor Piazzolla and several of our original compositions. We have recorded two CDs and performed throughout the Seattle area including Seattle's City Hall and the Sorrento Hotel.

I moved to New York in March, 2007. Since my arrival I have performed with and arranged strings for Guster at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan, and played violin with the Alan Ferber Nonet at the Tea Lounge in Park Slope and with Butoh dancer Vanessa Skantze at Galapagos Art Space in Williamsburg. I formed an 11 piece string ensemble called String Power which gave its debut performance at the Tea Lounge in September 2007.

Copyright © 2007 Tom Swafford All rights reserved. Designed by Tony Greaves