I Enjoy The Musical Genius of Jon Michael Swift

Matt Ward works with Jon Michael Swift on a number of creative projects.


It’s a little past three o’clock in the morning, early January 2017; I’m sitting behind a camera, Rode NTG-2 shotgun mic hooked to a Tascam portable audio recorder, and moving tiredly to check the levels on a second recorder that’s hooked to an interface. To say I’m ready for a break is a euphemism – I’m ready to go home, shortest route possible through the bitter cold, and hit the sack. My brain feels like it’s about to override my will to stay awake, as if to say “All right Matt, you can’t handle this – time for sleep.”

The thing I can’t handle is the thing that’s been blowing my mind since a little before midnight – just three hours ago, three hours since megastar Ed Sheeran dropped a midnight release of his new single Shape of You.

Its name is Jon MIchael Swift, and it’s telling me it’s ready to nail another take of Shape of You with (in three hours) complete guitar music, percussive effects, vocal leads and harmonies, memorized lyrics – that hey Matt,  I’m feeling wide awake and may even throw in an improvised guitar solo this time!

So I – I, the person exhausted by three hours of just recording this mad genius, of essentially just sitting on a stool watching him stick the guitar riff, hack the bass and chorus, deconstruct the vocals, memorize the lyrics, mastermind the loops, all with an ease and coolness no one person ought to be gifted with – I get myself up, jot down the take numbers, recording file names, time stamps (my hand feels to tired to write, yet Jon has been playing for hours, and ripping random solos and arias between takes like it’s no big deal), and let him know he’s good to go.

I make a quick ISO adjustment on the camera, because he’s outlasted the batteries on our photography lights.

I then press three record buttons and watch Jon Michael Swift play and sing Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You to near perfection, nearly note-for-note – except for the original, improvised solo he throws in to tie it all off.

I enjoy the musical genius of Jon Michael Swift.

When it’s over, Jon casually racks his guitar and turns off the looping rig; hooks the camera up to the computer and uploads the video and audio files (I’m supposed to be doing this and I know it, but I’m staggering around stupidly tired trying to wrap up XLR cables and generally making an even bigger mess); lines up the audio and video and cuts it quickly (also my job) and uploads it YouTube (his setting are in German).

“You tired? Want to do some other stuff?”

Good lord, please God no.

“Let’s meet up Sunday then.”

Sweet relief.

And I’m borderline-impolitely out the door and into the bitter cold, portering my film gear across the central Pennsylvanian tundra.  Then, for the first time it really hits me that I just watched someone hear a song for the first time and then play and sing it, with improvisations just hours later.

Jon hates adulation and constantly has me make changes to the website and other projects to make them less self-centered or monetized or market-y. Before we started the video I posted above, he told me he hates that he’s “anklebiting Ed Sheering so hard his ankles are bleeding in England.” The only thing he’s said so far about his Shape of You cover is that he thinks he could have done better. And I’m sure as I sit here writing this, he’s metaphorically cooking up some more mad-music-science and improv which he’ll wish he could word at harder and longer.

But because Jon wouldn’t do it, I wanted to give him some props here on his own site. This may be the last you ever hear of this user – Jon might delete me for being to promotional. But every good employee and friend tells his boss the truth; so whether he likes it not, I thought it ought to be said:

I enjoy the musical genius of Jon Michael Swift.

I hope you do too!