Irène Schweizer

Photograph copyright Silvia Kuckner.

Quicktime video clip

Irène Schweizer in duo with Rüdiger Carl in New York in 1984 from Ebba Jahn's film Rising tones cross.


Born 1941, piano, drums.

Irène Schweizer's interest in music was particularly sparked by the dancebands she heard in her father's restaurant and by the opportunity to investigate the various instruments that had been left lying around. From around the age of twelve she began to experiment with early jazz styles on the piano and then at fourteen started to play the drums. Three years later she was beginning to move to 'modern jazz' and in 1960 the group that she was in entered an amateur festival in Zurich. In 1961/62 she worked as an au pair in England and also took piano lessons, particularly with the blind pianist Eddie Thompson from who she learned styles from stride to bebop. At this time she was playing hard bop and soul jazz similar to the music of Horace Silver.

On her return to Switzerland, she formed a trio with drummer Mani Neumeier and Uli Trepte and, through the exposure at the African Jazz Cafe in Zurich to South African players such as Dollar Brand, Louis Moholo, Johnny Dyani and others, and listening to free jazz - particularly Ornette Coleman's Free jazz - the music gradually took on a new twist. As she told Hale (1997), 'In 1966 we were invited to the Frankfurt Jazz Festival and we started to get known outside Switzerland. We also started to hear musicians like Peter Kowald, and Peter Brötzmann and the sounds of Berlin's Total Music Meeting. After a while we got tired of playing changes and rhythm. One day when we were rehearsing, something changed. We didn't really know how it happened; we just left all these systems behind'. Gustafsson (n.d.) reports that from around the same time Schweizer had been very influenced by Cecil Taylor but that once she heard him live, in 1966, she seriously considered giving up the piano as there was nowhere left to go.

Instead, she combined this disappointment with her knowledge of jazz styles and particularly her search for her own creativity, her own style, into a music that developed in a very individual way. As the only woman around at the time she also felt, on occasions, pushed to play more aggressively than she otherwise might have done. From 1968 to 1970 she formed a trio with Pierre Favre and Peter Kowald and after a time Evan Parker joined to make it a quartet. Her performances as a solo pianist began with an appearance at the Willisau Jazz Festival in 1976, and by this time she had also formed her long-standing partnership with Rüdiger Carl, begun in 1973 and continuing, through a variety of guises, to the present day. Over the years, Irène Schweizer has seemed particularly attracted to perform with percussionists and, on record, there are duos with Han Bennink, Andrew Cyrille, Pierre Favre, Louis Moholo, Mani Neumeier, and Günter Sommer.

In the late 1970s Schweizer joined the Feminist Improvising Group whose members already included Lindsay Cooper, Maggie Nichols and Sally Potter. In 1983 FIG evolved into the European Women's Improvising Group: 'The name Feminist Improvising Group was chosen because we were all so involved in the women's movement, but in the '80s people began to criticise the name and say it was too political... So we renamed it to make it more international and open. The initials EWIG mean eternal in German' (Hale, 1997). Arising from this an intermittently performing group, Les Diaboliques with Joëlle Léandre and Maggie Nichols was formed in the early 1990s. Schweizer was a founding member of the Taktlos Festival and one of the organisers of the Canaille festivals (see, for example, Canaille and Canaille 91). She is also one of the partners in Intakt Records.

Further information

Gustafsson, M., Hultberg, E., and Millroth, T. (n.d.), Irène Schweizer, in Solo improvisation & interpretation: essays. Almföf Edition. 48pp. ISBN 91 9719 200 7. pp. 22-24.

Hale, James (1997), Irène Schweizer: many & one direction. Coda, no. 276, (November/December), pp. 14-15.


1991-2005, Portrait, Intakt CD105.
1967, The early tapes, FMP 0590. Trio with Uli Trepte and Mani Neumeier.
1968, Santana, FMP 0630. Pierre Favre Trio.
1969, European echoes, FMP 0010/UMS/ALP232CD. Manfred Schoof.
1969, Pierre Favre Quartett, Wergo WER 80004.
1970, Born free, Scout Records ScS 11. One track on festival album with Favre and Watts.
1973, Ramifications, Ogun OG 500.
1974, For example, FMP R123. One track on commemorative/compilation 3LP set.
1974, Goose pannée, FMP 0190.
1975, Messer, FMP0290. Trio with Louis Moholo and Rüdiger Carl.
1975/1977, Messer und..., FMP CD 139. CD issue of Messer and part of Tuned boots (1977).
1975, Willi the pig, UMS/ALP210CD. John Tchicai/Irene Schweizer Group.
1976, Wild senoritas, FMP 0330. Solo.
mid 70s, The Swiss Jazz scene, vol. 7 and vol. 8, Musica Helvetica SBC MH 59/60.
1977, Hexensabbat, FMP 0500. Solo.
1976/1977, Wild señoritas/Hexensabbat, Intakt CD 071. Re-issues on CD of solo FMP LPs.
1977/78, Tuned boots, FMP 0550.
1978, The very center of middle Europe, hat HUT X. Duo with Rüdiger Carl.
1978, Western culture, ReR HC4. One track on Henry Cow CD.
1980, Die V-Mann suite, FMP 0860. Duo with Rüdiger Carl.
1981, Topology, hat Art CD6027. Large group led by Joe McPhee.
1981, Irène's Hot Four FMP OWN-90007/9. Two tracks on Rüdiger Carl compilation CD.
1983, Les douze sons, nato 82 LP and CD. Joëlle Léandre.
1984, Live at Taktlos, Intakt CD 001/Intakt LP 001.
1985/1987, Paris Quartet, Intakt 012.
1986, 26 C 4 Kombination, Unit UTR 4020/4021. Double sampler LP with one track by the trio Schweizer/Voerkel/Micol.
1986, Cordial gratin FMP 1160. With Joëlle Léandre.
1986, Canaille, Intakt 002. Four pieces recorded at the International Women's Festival of Improvised Music.
1986, Wundenkönigin und Fühlebär FMP 1260/FMP CD21. One duo with Peter Kowald.
1986, Irène Schweizer & Louis Moholo, Intakt CD006.
1986/1988, The storming of the winter palace, Intakt CD003.
1987, Zwei Quintette, FMP 1210/20. With Carl/Oliver/Wachsmann/Wittwer.
1987, Irène Schweizer & Günter Sommer, Intakt CD007.
1988, Irène Schweizer & Andrew Cyrille, Intakt CD008.
1989, Seite A Seite A, FMP S23. With Carl/Oliver/Wachsmann/Wittwer/Thompson.
1989, Dix improvisations, Victo CD 09. One tracks on a compilation CD.
1990, Irène Schweizer & Pierre Favre, Intakt CD009.
1990, Overlapping hands: eight segments, FMP CD 30. Duo with Marilyn Crispell.
1990, Piano solo vol. 1, Intakt CD 020. Solo.
1990, Piano solo vol. 2, Intakt CD 021. Solo.
1990, European masters of improvisation, Captain Trip Records CTCD-068. Duo with Mani Neumeier.
1991, Canaille 91.
1991, Elsie Jo live, Maya MCD 9201.
1991, Theoria, Intakt CD024. London Jazz Composers Orchestra.
1991, Study II/Stringer, Intakt CD095. London Jazz Composers Orchestra.
1992, Meetings, Splasc(h). Mario Schiano.
1993, Les diaboliques, Intakt CD 033.
1994, Violin music in the age of shopping, Intakt CD 038. Jon Rose.
1994, Grooves 'n' loops, FMP CD 59. COWWS.
1994, Splitting image, Intakt CD 048. Les diaboliques.
1995, Irène Schweizer & Han Bennink, Intakt CD010.
1995, Double trouble two, Intakt CD 053. London Jazz Composers Orchestra.
1996, Many and one direction, Intakt CD 044. Solo.
1977-1996, Book/Virtual COWWS, FMP OWN90007/9. Various tracks on Rüdiger Carl compilation.
1997, Propinquity Zwischenzeitstück Aria, Intakt CD 057. Duos with Urs Voerkel.
1997, Live at the Rhinefalls, Intakt CD 059. Les diaboliques.
1998, WIM Radiodays, stv/asm 001. Duo with Pierre Favre on compilation CD.
1999, Ensemble Oggimusica meets Irène Schweizer, Altri Suoni AS 054.
1999/2000, Twin lines, Intakt CD 073. Duo with Co Streiff.
2000, Chicago piano solo, Intakt CD 065.
2003, Ulrichsberg, Intakt CD 084. Schweizer/Favre.
2003/2004, Irène Schweizer: a film by Gitta Gsell, Intakt DVD 121. DVD.
2004, Where's Africa, Intakt CD 098. Schweizer/Ziegele.
2005, At the Le Mans Jazz Festival, Leo LR CD458/459. Joëlle Léandre.
2005, First choice: piano solo KKL Luzern, Intakt CD 108.
1998/2005, Willisau & Taktlos, Intakt CD 104. Schweizer/Anderson/Drake.
2004/2007, Root down, Intakt CD 135. Tommy Meier.
2006, Jubilee concert, Intakt DVD 141. Les diaboliques. DVD.
2007, Berne concert, Intakt CD 150. Trio 3 + Irene Schweizer.
2008, Radio rondo/Schaffhausen concert, Intakt CD 158. LJCO/Irène Schweizer.
2007/2009, The master and the rain, Intakt CD 181. Tommy Meier Root Down.
2009, Can walk on sand, Intakt CD 167. Omri Ziegele Where's Africa Trio.
2011, Jump!, Intakt CD 194. Jürg Wickihalder European Quartet.
2011, To whom it may concern: piano solo Tonhalle Zürich, Intakt CD 200.
2013, Live in Zürich, Intakt CD 228. Schweizer/Favre.
2014, Spring, Intakt CD 234. Irène Schweizer/Jürg Wickihalder.
2015, Welcome back, Intakt CD 254. Irène Schweizer/Han Bennink.
2015, A woman's work..., Nottwo Records MW950-2. Joëlle Léandre 8CD set.

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