La MaMa Blogs: February 2022

Sunday, February 20, 2022

6 Questions for Mazz Swift of GRAND PANORAMA

Photo by nisha sondhe photography

Critically acclaimed as one of America’s most talented and versatile performers today, violin/vox/freestyle composition artist Mazz Swift has engaged audiences all over the world with the signature weaving of song, melody and improvisation Swift calls MazzMuse.

Mazz Swift composed and performs the score for Grand Panorama—created, designed, and directed by Theodora Skipitares—which tells the story of Frederick Douglass's obsession with photography. There are 12 performances in the Ellen Stewart Theatre from February 17–March 6. The opening night performance is Pay What You Can starting at $10. Tickets can be purchased here.

1. What role does the score play in Grand Panorama?

This feels like a better question for Theodora Skipitares (the creator and director of Grand Panorama), but to me it seems that the music is in conversation with the subject matter. I'm trying to create soundscapes and musical ideas that not only support the visual material that is presented, but also allude to or represent some of the unspoken underpinnings of what might have been going on emotionally for the culture during the time period of this new technology, and what it meant to Frederick Douglass as a visionary for the liberation of Black people and Americans in general from the tyranny of slavery.

2. How would you describe your work as an artist?

I am first and foremost an improviser. So when it comes to composition, I am always thinking about organic ways to allow my music to flow. I set up frameworks within which I build textures, hang ideas, sculpt sound, bounce vocalizations off of, etc...I see my work as a sort of practice for mindfulness and presence, a place to learn how to match my actions with my highest self. I don't always hit the mark, which is what makes it a practice; art-making is a place of forever-education. How to set my life up to create more optimal circumstances within which to create and collaborate. 

3. How did you begin composing music?

I simply just started making stuff up. :) First I recorded myself into a little tape recorder I had as a kid. Then I started writing jigs and reels based on the Irish music I was learning when I got older. Then I started collaboration with a theater-maker—the fascinating Tigyst Harmon—where we began experimenting with the creation of works based on our own personal stories. Then I just started telling people I was a composer which forced me to start doing it with more intention.  

4. Who and what has inspired you?

This is incredibly complex and too difficult to answer in this one sitting. I'm gonna decline to name any one person because unless I can name every person who inspires me, you won't get the full picture. So instead I'll list a random selection of energies—in no particular order, and not even close to being comprehensive—that inspire me: ambition; melancholy; improvisation/meditation (two sides of the same coin as far as I can see); things and people I don't understand; newly dead friends; friends who are still here and fighting for their dreams; complex rhythms; drones; purely electronic beeps and boops; the suspicion that greatness is possible even though the odds seem to be against that being true... 

5. What does working at La MaMa mean to you?

As a native New Yorker, I've known of La MaMa for many years, but have only recently found myself in the theater world. So getting to work within this legendary space, alongside the force that Theodora is, feels like a real honor and privilege. It feels like I'm stepping into a world that I have unconsciously been working very hard towards being a part of; it is an affirmation of my belief in experimental and cooperative creativity.

Photo by Jane Catherine Shaw

La MaMa presents

Grand Panorama

Created, Designed, & Directed by Theodora Skipitares
Score Composed & Performed by Mazz Swift
Set Co-design by Donald Eastman
Narrator/Singer: Jayson Kerr

February 17–March 6, 2022

Ellen Stewart Theatre
66 East 4th Street, 2nd floor
New York, NY 10003

Thursdays – Saturdays at 7PM
Sundays at 2PM


Adults: $25 in advance; $30 day of show
Students/Seniors: $20 in advance; $25 day of show
First 10 tickets to every performance $10 each (limit 2 per person)

* Thursday, Feb. 17th performance is Pay What You Can starting at $10

Suitable for ages 10+