Dr. Bill Swann: professor, jazz musician

Nothing says cool like jazz, and on the Maryville College campus, there is only one name that envelops the skill, passion and dedication to all things jazz: Dr. Bill Swann.

His story began in a place where most young men wanted to be after graduating high school: playing in a rock-and-roll band. Young Swann toured around the South as a pianist in a rock band for a while but soon became bored with the limited styles of playing that rock and roll offered.

When he wasn’t touring with his band, he attended classes at East Tennessee State University as an engineering major but was convinced that another level of music development was required for his future. Swan wanted to increase his knowledge and skill as a pianist but did not want to go the classical route that pianists often take.

That left jazz as his only other option.

Swann left ETSU and enrolled at the University of Tennessee at age 21, and after five or six years, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree as well as a master’s.

Swann then decided to take a year off to focus on finding his passion. After playing in a few gigs here and there and teaching private lessons, Swann put two and two together and realized that he wanted to teach.

He enrolled at the University of Mississippi in a doctoral program in the arts with a focus on music theory pedagogy. Coming from a family full of teachers and professors, teaching had always been a part of his life, and Swann felt that teaching in a small, liberal-arts environment would be perfect for him.

In 1999, while finishing his dissertation, Swann became an adjunct at MC. He joined the staff as a full-time professor in 2000. After 11 years of teaching music theory, aural skills and improvisation, as well as continuing to provide private lessons, Swann now holds the position of division chair of fine arts.

While also serving on several committees on campus, Swann has the honor and privilege of playing in the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra. Like its big brother, the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, the jazz orchestra is a nonprofit group and includes some of the best musicians in the South. Swann enjoys playing with professionals in the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra, like Maceo Parker, who played with the famous James Brown.

Swann says that playing in the group challenges him to keep on his toes and his skills sharp. He also uses this as an opportunity to expand upon his knowledge and experience, upon which he relies while teaching his students here at MC.

When asked about where his future might lead him, Swann responded that teaching at MC feels like exactly what he wants to be doing; he thoroughly enjoys all he brings to the college, as well as what the students and staff give to him.

Swann says that his future at MC is going to consist of mastering his new position of division chair and becoming a good leader for the fine arts department. In his spare time, of which he hasn’t much, he hopes to practice his piano and ear-training skills so that when he is retired he can still say that he is better than when he was the year before.

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