Born: Jun 2, 1941 in Schaffhausen, Switzerland
Styles: Avant-Garde Jazz, Early Creative, Modern Creative, Free Improvisation
Pianist Irene Schweizer performed and recorded with leading European improvisers and free jazz musicians since the 1960s, including female improvising groups starting in the late '70s. One of the initial organizers of the Taktlos and Canaille music festivals, she is also a founding member of the Intakt label. Born in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, in 1941, Schweizer grew up hearing dance bands in her father's restaurant. When she was about 12 years old, she started playing on the piano, and a couple of years later picked up the drums as well. At the age of 17, Schweizer's interest moved away from early jazz styles toward modern jazz, leading to her entry in a Zurich amateur festival in 1960. From 1961 to 1962, the aspiring pianist lived in England, working as an au pair, and taking piano lessons primarily with Eddie Thompson, who taught her stride, bebop, and more. When Schweizer returned to Switzerland, she was playing soul-jazz and hard bop, and started up a trio with drummer Mani Neumeier and Uli Trepte. Her playing was soon influenced by the South African players she heard at Zurich's African Jazz Cafe. Her exposure to Johnny Dyani, Dollar Brand, and others also came around the same time Schweizer heard Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz. In addition to these influences, Schweizer was heavily affected by the recordings of Cecil Taylor. Her trio became known outside of Switzerland, and was invited to play the Frankfurt Jazz Festival in 1966. While there, Schweizer heard such German improvisers as saxophonist Peter Brotzmann and bassist Peter Kowald. The same year, she finally heard Cecil Taylor live, and as sometimes happens when musicians witness someone they revere, she considered giving up the piano as a result. Lucky for music fans, Schweizer instead turned to developing her individual style and technique. During the late '60s, she was active in a trio with Kowald and Pierre Favre which Evan Parker eventually joined. This group disbanded a few years before her collaborations with Rudiger Carl began in 1973 (Schweizer and Carl continued to work together off and on throughout their careers). Schweizer began giving solo performances starting in 1976, at the Willisau Jazz Festival. Schweizer also became involved in the Feminist Improvising Group, joining Maggie Nichols, Lindsay Cooper, and more. The group changed its name in 1983 to one with less political connotations: the European Women's Improvising Group. Out of this large group arose an intermittent trio of Schwiezer, Nichols, and Joelle Leandre, called Les Diaboliques, formed in the early '90s. Schweizer has recorded with amazing musicians from around the world, including pianist Marilyn Crispell, and leading percussionists Han Bennink, Andrew Cyrille, Gunter Sommer, and more.
- Joslyn Layne (All Music Guide)