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Biography

More on the kitschy easy listening side than the smooth, cool Latin recordings of Cal Tjader, Don Swan was nonetheless one of the better white musicians to make inroads into Latin jazz during the '50s. Swan was born Wilbur Clyde Schwandt in Manitowoc, WI, on June 28, 1904; he studied composition at the University of Chicago and became an arranger for various big bands, even working with comedian Bob Hope's touring show. In 1940, he was hired as an arranger for Xavier Cugat's orchestra, a post he would hold off and on for the next 20 years. Swan's resulting experience and familiarity with Latin music helped put his services in great demand – not only as an arranger, but also as a composer, for both white big bands (Skinnay Ennis, Freddy Martin) and Latin dance orchestras (Perez Prado, Desi Arnaz). Swan signed to Liberty Records as a recording artist circa 1956-1957, and recorded a string of five Latin lounge LPs, beginning with Mucho Cha Cha Cha. Subsequent LPs like All This and Cha Cha Too, Hot Cha Cha, and two volumes of Latino! found Swan heading up all-star groups of West Coast session men, walking the line between Latin jazz and exotic gimmickry. The success of his albums allowed Swan to form a touring group, and he played extensively in New York and Las Vegas. Swan retired from music in the mid-'60s, and eventually moved to Miami, where he died on July 23, 1998, at the ripe old age of 94.

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