Swell studied at Jersey City State Teachers College before moving to New York City in 1975 where he began his musical life, playing in top 40 bands, salsa bands, big bands (most notably those of Buddy Rich and Lionel Hampton) and performed on Broadway in Bob Fosse's Dancin' . He then became a member of Makanda Ken McIntyre's band which led to tours and recordings with Tim Berne, Joey Baron, Herb Robertson, Jemeel Moondoc, Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor, William Parker, Bill Dixon, Butch Morris, John Zorn, Dave Burrell, Elliott Sharp, Rob Mazurek, Perry Robinson, Ken Vandermark.
He is greatly influenced by Roswell Rudd, with whom he studied in the mid-1970s. He was also a student of Grachan Moncur III and Jimmy Knepper.
Swell has led a number of projects, including Slammin' the Infinite (w/Sabir Mateen, Matthew Heyner, Klaus Kugel), Fire Into Music (with William Parker, Jemeel Moondoc, Hamid Drake), Unified Theory of Sound (with Cooper-Moore, Matt Lavelle) and his large ensemble Nation of We (aka NOW Ensemble).
Steve Swell - trombone
David Haney - piano
Adam Lane - bass
Bernard Purdie - drums