Mazz Swift

Simple Gifts

With (L to R) Ron Caswell, Mazz Swift, Kevin Louis at The Vermont Arts Exchange. Photo by Matthew Perry

With (L to R) Ron Caswell, Mazz Swift, Kevin Louis at The Vermont Arts Exchange. Photo by Matthew Perry

It’s a snowy day in mid-March and I’m thinking about my friends in the Bennington, VT area, and the annual pilgrimage I made up there for the better part of this century, almost always around this time of year.

It all started with an email I received in early 2004, from one Matthew Perry, head of an upstart arts center called The Vermont Arts Exchange. Matthew and his then-wife had just returned from attending a concert I’d given with my band at Mass MoCA in the Berkshires, and he wanted to know whether there was any way I might be convinced to bring them north, to help kick off the first season of what they were calling The Basement Music Series, at their home in The Sage Street Mill in North Bennington.

“You won’t get rich here, ” Matthew wrote. “We don’t have the sort of budget that Mass MoCA does.” While he could only offer a modest fee, he could promise a large experience, including a home-cooked meal, a cozy stay at the local B&B, and an audience that would be deeply engaged with what we did. Matthew was an artist himself, he explained. For him, it was about forging relationships, creating community, and supporting art that was outside of the mainstream. He also mentioned that, if we liked, he’d take us for a hike in the woods the next day.

Our show at the VAE was a blast, and I came back again and again, for ten consecutive years. The shows were always magical, the audiences eager, excited, and ready to embrace (and match) whatever enthusiasm I brought them. I presented new material, pulled together new ensembles, showcased work in progress. A level of trust was established that allowed for this sort of openness, year in and year out. I always felt that I was among friends, able to relax and dig in, which -- for me -- is the most conducive environment for performing there is. It felt like a home away from home.

Here's a clip of the cacophonous opening of one show there, complete with swinging lightbulb. Joining me here were Mazz Swift (violin), Kevin Louis (trumpet), Mark McLean (drums), and Ian Riggs (upright bass):

Sometimes, spring would arrive early, and I would hang out with Matthew's chickens in the backyard (the source of the eggs that he and his family served us for breakfast).

One year, our tuba player Ron Caswell payed a visit to their coop:

Those chickens would figure into another memory a few years later, on a day when were doing a matinee show for kids, following our evening performance from the night before. An adventurous 4-year old named Leah arrived early with her Mom, and went out to look at the birds. She chased one chicken and caught it, hoisting it up into her arms. An explosion of squawks and feathers ensued.  

At the show, Leah was brave enough to join us onstage, helping us out with “Take Me Out To The Ballgame:”

A few weeks later, Leah’s Mother sent me blown-up photos, which have been on my wall ever since:

On the back is the letter Leah dictated to her Mom:

“Dear Howard Fishman,

I liked being up on stage with you. I liked playing with the chickens. I hope you play again soon somewhere else near us. What is your favorite song? I paint on my Buddha Board. Do you like to paint or make art? What is your favorite color? Who is your best friend?

OXOX Leah”


Speaking of making art, one visit to the VAE featured an event at which the cost of admission included a pre-concert dinner, served in the homemade bowl of one’s choosing. Dozens of colorful ceramic bowls had been created and donated by VAE art students. I picked this beautiful blue one, and have used it for my breakfast just about every morning since then:


Natural, delicious, farm-fresh food has always been something I associate with my visits to Vermont. Dr. Bob Hemmer, VAE’s longstanding volunteer A/V set-up man, go-to-guy, and all around provider of good vibes, has been growing and harvesting vegetables at his home in neighboring Shaftsbury for years. On one occasion, Bob mentioned his varieties of heirloom garlic, and he saw my eyes light up. A few weeks later, a package arrived for me in Brooklyn -- a large paper satchel bursting with bulbs from four or five of his different strains, a gift that he would repeat in years to come.

Dr. Bob's garlic

Dr. Bob's garlic

Bob’s two daughters, Rachel and Katelyn (you can see them playing their recorders with us on stage in the photo with little Leah), presented me with these drawings when they were still quite young -- they hang on my wall too:

Mathew Perry always tried to make our visits special, and he really outdid himself one year when he made this hand-colored, poster-sized, original woodcut to promote the appearance of my brass band project, the Biting Fish. It now hangs on my wall, a priceless, one-of-a-kind gift he offered to me, another reminder of the depth and richness of my relationship to him and his audience at VAE:

Matthew has also sent me various artistic renderings over the years, which also adorn my walls in Brooklyn. Here’s a cartoon he send me one winter:

And a coaster he made in the VAE clay studio that sits on my coffeetable:


I’ve chosen to represent myself for most of my career. Not having an agent to serve as a buffer has engendered its fair share of challenges, but the freedom to entertain offers like the one Matthew Perry made to me way back in 2004 is something I cherish. A traditional music industry agent or manager might have passed on Matthew’s overtures. I accepted. I had a good feeling about him. Trusting my gut led me to connections and memories that continue to enrich my life to this day.

Here’s one last drawing of Matthew’s that accompanied a check for my appearance one season. That money is long gone, but this drawing I see every day -- along with the woodcut, photos, and letters from children on my wall, the coaster on my table, the bowl I use for my oatmeal, and Dr. Bob’s latest crop of garlic (which I just used this afternoon for my lunch). Matthew Perry was wrong. I did get rich performing at the Vermont Arts Exchange. It’s just a different sort of wealth -- one that can never be spent, can never be taken away, and that brings thoughts of joy and warmth that will never end.

Drawings by Matthew Perry

Drawings by Matthew Perry

Here's a little slideshow from my annual trips up to the VAE:

About Those Uncollected Stories

My albums have thirteen songs on them.  This was a coincidence at first -- I didn’t realize that the first couple were sequenced that way until it was pointed out to me -- but it long ago became apparent in other, unrelated ways, that the number thirteen had some mysterious significance in my life. So, when it came time to sequence my third record, I didn’t mess around --  it got thirteen songs, just like its predecessors, and just like every recording I’ve made since.  I happen to like continuity and I just might be superstitious.

This current collection only exists because I’ve stuck with the thirteen track formula. If, for example, I record  twenty songs for a new album, and maybe fifteen of them warrant release, two of those fifteen end up getting cut, as a matter of course. An unexpected bonus about continuing to put out albums this way is that there are now more than enough of these lonely orphans lying around to make up an album of their very own.

Here are thirteen of them. Annotated session information and liner notes below.

1. Luck (outtake from Look At All This!)

2. Letter One (outtake from Do What I Want)

3. I’ll Fly Away (outtake from Better Get Right)

4. When It Rains (Recorded live in Portland, ME)

5. Soon (outtake from I Like You A Lot)

6. Time Will Destroy (outtake from unreleased album, 2003)

7. The Zoo (outtake from No Further Instructions)

8. Fields of Meat (outtake from Look At All This!)

9. Home (Mountain Road) (outtake from Look At All This!)

10. Baseball (outtake from The World Will Be Different)

11. Soul of A Man (outtake from Better Get Right)

12. The Prisoner’s Song (outtake from Look At All This!)

13. One For The Road (Recorded live in Durham, NC)

An Annotated Guide:

Recording "Look At All This!," Photo by David Sykes

Track One: LUCK

One of several outtakes from the Look At All This! sessions. Whereas my first three albums all featured a band that had already played countless gigs together, the group was assembled for the purposes of making this album was playing together for the first time as the tapes were rolling.

Photo by David Sykes

Mazz Swift and Ian Riggs had both been part of my live band for a year or so, but Jordan (Guy) Perlson and Michael Daves had each just moved to town, and were brand new to the fold. It didn’t take long for the new group to find its groove -- this track is one of the very first things we laid down.

Michael Daves and Jordan Perlson, Photo by David SykesPersonnel:

Michael Daves: Electric Guitar

Howard Fishman: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar

Jordan Perlson: Drums

Ian Riggs: Upright Bass

Mazz Swift: Violin

Recorded at: 23 E.10th Street, NYC, December 2004

Engineer: David Sykes


Photo by Anders Goldfarb

A song from “we are destroyed,”  and a melody that reappears throughout the narrative, each time with a new set of lyrics -- a device that allows the character of Eliza to keep a sort of diary of her emotional state as she travels west with The Donner Party. It’s a conceit; though she’s ostensibly writing letters home to a lover who has spurned her, the audience knows that she’s in uncharted wilderness, and that the letters will never reach their recipient.

CD Release show for DO WHAT I WANT, April 2002

This track is an outtake from Do What I Want, an album we recorded in downtown Manhattan in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, smoke and stench still wafting through the air.  We used the same studio we’d recorded I Like You A Lot in the year before, and we were the same band, but whereas that album had been essentially a live-to-tape, all-acoustic affair, we were now exploring a new sonic palette and when it came to choosing songs for the final album sequence, this track felt like it didn’t belong -- it somehow seemed like a leftover from the band’s previous incarnation.


Russell Farhang: Violin

Howard Fishman: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar

Jonathan Flaugher: Upright Bass

Erik Jekabson: Trumpet

Recorded at Sorcerer Sound, NYC, October 2001

Engineer: Tim Conklin

Track Three: I’LL FLY AWAY


Photo by Kaity Volpe

This was always a strong contender for inclusion on Better Get Right, but at the time it somehow felt redundant at the time to have it appear along with "Down By The Riverside." Don't ask me why.

Essentially a “live” track in the studio, this recording features an exceptionally soulful, greasy solo from Roland “King” Barber during the breakdown section.

Photo by Ed Bobrow


Roland Barber: Second trombone solo, vocals

Etienne Charles: Trumpet,  first ensemble solo, vocals

Jose Davila: Sousaphone

Howard Fishman: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar

Andrae Murchison: Trombone, first ensemble solo, vocals

Jordan Perlson: Drums

Engineer: Dana Leong

Recorded at Life After Dark Studios, Harlem, NYC, December 2008

Track Four: WHEN IT RAINS (Live)

Photo by Jason Woodruff

A song that I’ve been performing in concert for some years now,, but one that has somehow never made it onto an album.  A couple of different studio outtakes exist from The World Will Be Different sessions, but there was something about the insouciance of this live version from Portland, Maine that trumped them.

We were joined this night by the great Allen Lowe on tenor, whose fat, swinging tone perfectly fits the old-fashioned feel of the song.

Songwriters will sometimes say of a tune that it simply wrote itself. This was one of those songs for me.


Howard Fishman: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar

Allen Lowe: Tenor Saxophone

Nathan Peck: Upright Bass

Mazz Swift: Violin

Recorded live in concert at One Longfellow Square, Portland, ME., December 4, 2010

Track Five: SOON

(Ira Gershwin/George Gershwin)

Photo by Pierre Jelenc

The only song recorded for I Like You A Lot that was not included on the album, this was a one-off, recorded very late in the evening -- a song we’d played a few times together in concert, but never with piano, and never with this sort of feel. It had been a while since we'd done it, and I wasn't so sharp on the lyric, singing the beginning of second verse at the top instead of the proper one ("Soon/My dear you'll never be lonely/Soon/ You'll find I live for you only").

Photo by Nicolas Hill

This has always been one of my favorite standards. Once, when I was a teenager, my grandmother Minna Bromberg and I were watching a documentary about the Gershwins, and someone played a rendition of “Soon.” In the second measure of the song, when “blue” notes tug at the melody and harmony (“the lonely nights will be ended”) I remember her saying “that’s a Jewish melody.”


Russell Farhang: Violin

Howard Fishman: Vocals, Piano

Jonathan Flaugher: Upright Bass

Erik Jekabson: Trumpet

Engineer: Tim Conklin

Recorded at Sorcerer Sound, NYC, September 12, 2000


In the late summer of 2003, what we were still calling The Howard Fishman Quartet decamped to Telefunken Studios on Talcott Mountain in Connecticut to record what was supposed to be the follow up to Do What I Want.  It was a strange and confusing time. Erik had left the group to move to California, and though Russell and Jon were still on hand, within just a few months both of them would be gone as well.

Photo by Anders GoldfarbAfter touring and promoting the previous two records, playing hundreds of shows together up and down the East Coast, we’d hit a bit of burnout. As usual, I brought a batch of new songs to the sessions, but this time something was different. For one thing, the studio set-up proved to be a challenge; for the first time, we were unable to make eye contact with one another while tracking. Worse, the arrangements of the songs, rather than taking shape organically, felt formulaic and flat. There was creative dissension. There were bad vibes. The magic was gone.

Although some nice things from those sessions survive (including a late night set of standards with just Jon and me on upright bass and guitar), the album was shelved and most of the songs were rewritten and re-recorded the following year with an entirely different band for the record that would become Look At All This!

“Time Will Destroy,” a scrap, seems a fitting representation of where the band was at the time.

The silver lining that seemed impossible to imagine back then is that Russell, Jon, Erik and I would reunite years later, and have continued to perform and record together whenever the stars align.


Russell Farhang: Violin

Howard Fishman: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar

Jonathan Flaugher: Upright Bass

Engineer: Chip Karpells

Recorded at Telefunken Studios, Simsbury, CT, August 2003

Track Seven: THE ZOO

Photo by Jim McLaughlin

This recording comes from an all-night session with Jon and Jordan -- a marathon that began in the early evening, concluded after sunrise, and featured numerous takes of something like two dozen different songs (none of which these guys had ever heard before).  I think we recorded almost all of the basic tracks for The World Will Be Different that night, several from No Further Instructions, and a handful of oddities that simply didn’t or wouldn’t fit on either of those albums.  This is one of those latter, sort of a companion piece to “Garbage” from NFI, before it became apparent that most of the songs on that album seemed to be about Romania. 


Jim Campilongo: Lead Electric Guitar

Howard Fishman: Electric Guitar

Jon Flaugher: Electric Bass

Jordan Perlson: Drums

Engineer: Alan Camlet

Recorded at Hoboken Recorders, NJ, 2009


Photo by David SykesThe meat seeds for this song were planted on a long car ride with Ian Riggs, as we made our way from Brooklyn to a tour stop in Camden, Maine.  Ian has a keen appreciation for the random and the absurd, one of the reasons we’ve always gotten along so well.  

We were talking about the idea of “meat” as something that gets bought and sold -- an abstract word that many people take for granted but is in fact a polite way of describing the flesh of a murdered animal that has been prepared for human consumption.  How soon, we wondered, will humanity be giving polite names to every living thing on earth, as it all gets repurposed for our use and disposal?  

Ironically, the lyric that would give the album Look At All This! its name comes from a song that doesn’t even formally appear on the album. “Fields of Meat” wound up being a hidden track, neither sequenced nor credited, and appearing after a few minutes of silence following the end of the album’s final song, “Pictures.”

I fought for this track to be on the album proper, but this was the first time I’d used an outside producer for one of my records, and I lost the fight.

I always thought that this song deserved to have a track of its own, not least because without a credit in the hidden track, some listeners over the years have told me that they hear me saying "Fields of Me" ("Mountains of me, etc.) -- interesting, but incorrect.


Michael Daves: Electric Guitar

Howard Fishman: Vocals, Piano

Jordan Perlson: Drums

Ian Riggs: Upright Bass

Recorded at: 23 E.10th Street, NYC, December 2004

Engineer: David Sykes


"Night Hills," oil on canvas, HF 2008While composing songs for the ill-fated travelers in “we are destroyed,” I imagined instances in which they must have keenly felt the effects of their self-imposed geographical dislocation, and felt a yearning for the familiarity of home (and all the feelings that can be conjured by that word).

Although this song’s lyrics would later be rewritten and retitled as “Where Do We Go From Here?,” the version here has the original words, inspired by memories of being in my childhood home on a cool summer evening -- an electric fan in the window, crickets chirping outside, the occasional soft whoosh of a vehicle passing by, but otherwise all darkness and safety, the excitement and promise of tomorrow just on the other side of cozy, restful sleep.


Michael Daves: Lap Steel Guitar

Howard Fishman: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar

Ian Riggs: Upright Bass

Recorded at: 23 E.10th Street, NYC, December 2004

Engineer: David Sykes


"Resonate," by Sean Patrick Gallagher

A song that is sometimes much longer in performance. A number of lyrics were expurgated for this recording (including some thoughts about Andy Petitte and Alex Rodriguez).  

People that don’t know me well often tell me that I’m quiet, and sometimes ask what I’m thinking about. This is what I’m thinking about.


Howard Fishman: Acoustic Guitar, Vocals, Fender Rhodes

Bill Malchow: Accordion

Jordan Perlson: Drums

Engineer: Alan Camlet

Recorded at Hoboken Recorders, NJ, 2009

Track Eleven: SOUL OF A MAN


The Biting Fish live at Dizzy's, Jazz@Lincoln Center, 2008, photo by Kathleen Scully

A song originally recorded in 1930 by the great Blind Willie Johnson, this is another essentially live track -- another one-off,  from the end of the very first day of tracking for what would become the album Better Get Right.  The band had never heard the song before the tape was rolling, but that didn’t matter.  I just asked them to listen, and to play what they felt. This is what happened.


Roland Barber: Second trombone solo

Etienne Charles: Trumpet

Jose Davila: Sousaphone

Howard Fishman: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar

Andrae Murchison: . Trombone, first trombone solo

Jordan Perlson: Drums

Engineer: Dana Leong

Recorded at Life After Dark Studios, Harlem, NYC, December 2008



Another “palate cleanser,” recorded between takes of other things we were working on for the Look at All This! album.  I’ve always loved Vernon Dalhart’s 1924 recording of this song, which I first heard in New Orleans, at Butch Trivette’s house,  when I lived there in the early 90’s.  Michael Daves was noodling around on a banjo, and used it for this one and only take -- according to him, his first recording ever on the instrument.


Michael Daves: Banjo

Howard Fishman: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar

Ian Riggs: Upright Bass

Recorded at: 23 E.10th Street, NYC, December 2004

Engineer: David Sykes


(B. Dylan)

Photo by Anders Goldfarb

Choosing just thirteen songs for my live “Basement Tapes” album, culled from our three-night stand at Joe’s Pub in New York City wasn’t easy, given the dozens and dozens of songs we tackled of the complete, peculiar, underground (and now, finally available) recordings made by Bob Dylan and The Band in 1967. This rendition of “One For The Road” actually comes from a different three-night stand of this music, at Duke Performances in North Carolina.

Spontaneity, surprise and irreverence are such a part of this music for me -- I like to think this performance captures a little of all of those things.


Howard Fishman: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar

Jordan Perlson: Drums

Ian Riggs: Electric Bass, vocals

S. Stephen Stevenson: Trumpet, vocals

Roland Satterwhite: Violin, vocals

Recorded live at Duke University, Durham, NC, 2008

Mazz Swift

Playing a festival in Bowling Green, Ohio. Photo by Bianca Garza

Violinist and vocalist Mazz Swift is one of the most dynamic, fearless, and fun musicians I've ever performed with.  We first met ten years ago, at the now-defunct MAKOR in NYC. In a story she frequently likes to tell, Mazz was already a fan of my music, having picked up a copy of my first album at the als-defunct bookstore cafe THE READ in Williamsburg. She came to my MAKOR show to hear the quartet, and introduced herself to me after the show, dropping a mention that she played violin. Little did she know that Russell Farhang had left the band fairly recently, and I was scrambling to try to fill his shoes with a series of fiddling fill-ins.  I asked Mazz for her number, and suggested we get together and play sometime.

It was a fortuitous meeting.  I subsequently went to hear her perform with her then-musical partner Brad Hammonds at a little Irish bar in Murray Hill, and was impressed by the energy and focus of her improvisations, and the clean, vibrant tone she coaxed from her instrument.  At a subsequent get-togther at her apartment in Hell's Kitchen, it took me all of five minutes to know that I could make music with this person.  Some people just feel music the same way, ot at least in individual ways that complement and bolster the other, and that was the case with Mazz and me.  I hired her for a gig, and we haven't looked back since. Here she is in a nice live clip of the band from a few years ago playing in Brooklyn:

Mazz is featured on a number of my albums, including LOOK AT ALL THIS! (where her backup vocals raise the roofbeams on "Best Is Yet To Come"), PERFORMS BOB DYLAN & THE BAND'S "BASEMENT TAPES" (which includes her gorgeous lead vocal on "I Shall Be Released"), THE WORLD WILL BE DIFFERENT (that's her furious, impassioned violin solo on "A Ghost"), and NO FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS (where she outdoes herself on second vocals on "Set Me Free" and leads the string quartet for almost all of the album).

Performing at BAM in Brooklyn, photo by Carole Cohen

Like most of the musicians who I'm lucky enough to have perform with me, Mazz is much more than a sideperson. She fronts a project of her own called MazzMuse, and is currently in the process of recording two new albums. You can read more about it here.

It's a thrill to make music with Mazz. I look forward to every gig that we do together, and I'm always inspired by the musical dialogue we engage in onstage. I love Mazz's passion, her humor, and her absolute presence when we're making music. Recently we played some duo shows together in New Orleans, which opened up some entirely new sonic possibilities and landscapes for us.  It's a pleasure and an honor to call Mazz a part of my musical family. Here's one more look at her incredible talent, from her performance at Joe's Pub in NYC performing my song "Good Times" better than I ever could:


"YOUR VOICE" : JULY 22, 2009

The July 22nd concert at JOE'S PUB at the PUBLIC THEATER in NYC has become something of a concept evening entitled "YOUR VOICE," featuring a number of friends covering my songs, backed by me and the band. 

Here is a list of confirmed guests, and the songs they are scheduled to perform.  In addition to these folks, there may yet be some unannounced surprises coming to sit in with the band. Hope to see you there!


Wednesday, July 22 @7pm sharp

JOE'S PUB @ The Public Theater in New York City.  Tickets and info here.

Marika Hughes: "Someday" (from LOOK AT ALL THIS!)

Susan Oetgen "Anywhere at All" from "we are destroyed"

Sasha Dobson "It Won't Be Long II" (from upcoming new release)

Roland Barber "Want you to Be Mine" from DO WHAT I WANT)

Bill Malchow "Katie La La" (from LOOK AT ALL THIS!)

Skye Steele "In Another Life" (from DO WHAT I WANT)

Sheriff Uncle Bob "Luck" (unreleased outtake from LOOK AT ALL THIS!)

Richard Julian "Dreams of You" (from I LIKE YOU A LOT)

Ian Riggs "Pictures" (from LOOK AT ALL THIS!)

Mazz Swift "Good Times" (from THE HOWARD FISHMAN QUARTET)

Hope to see you there!





This is when we're going to pop the corks and have a party. Joe's Pub has been my musical headquarters for almost all of the last decade, and it's only fitting that the big throwdown will be here. The best sound, the best lights, the best place to see a show in NYC, period.

Tonight will feature my original music, and a number of my "Romania" songs will get the full string quartet treatment. For those of you who missed the one and only previous outing of these songs in their final form at the Settlement House back in October, now's your chance!

Performing with me tonight will be:

Mazz Swift, Violin, Viola

Roland Barber, Trombone

Skye Steele, Violin

Bill Malchow, Piano, Accordion

Marika Hughes, Cello

Jon Flaugher, Upright Bass

...and maybe a special guest or two.

See you there!




DUMBO, Brooklyn


"we are destroyed" by Howard Fishman

A newly-revised version of my music theater project, this time directed by Ed Schmidt and featuring actors Robert Boardman, Susan Oetgen, Justin Nestor and Nicole Pacent. Also featuring a version of my quartet including Mazz Swift (violin), Jon Flaugher (bass), Ben Holmes (trumpet) and yours truly on guitar and piano.


Autumn in Romania

I\m pretty excited about debuting my "Romania Project" on October 24th, 2008 here in NYC with my old pal Michael Benanav.You can buy tickets here.

You can read the longform blog post I wrote a few years ago about the trip that inspired this project here.

Performing with me will be a large cast of characters, including:

Skye Steele on violin

Roland Barber on trombone

Nathan Peck on upright bass

Mazz Swift on viola and violin

Bill Malchow on piano and accordion

and Marika Hughes on cello

Here's a preview of me and the band performing one of the songs from this cycle, "In Romania":


Should be a pretty special night. Hope you can make it!

Barbes 9/27/08

I'll be at BARBES in Brooklyn this Saturday night, playing in acoustic trio format with Mazz Swift on violin and Nathan Peck on upright bass. Mazz has been playing with me for years, and appears on my recordings LOOK AT ALL THIS! and BOB DYLAN & THE BAND'S 'BASEMENT TAPES.' 

Here she is playing with me at Barbes earlier this year:


Nathan has just started performing with me, and he's a fabulous player. He's this guy:

Barbes is one of the best places to play and hear music in the city, and it\'s also one of the smallest. Unless you plan on standing, get there early!