Born at home on the West Side of Chicago, Carolyne is on record saying there were two strong musical influences in her life at a very early age. One, her maternal grandmother, a devout Mennonite, who homeschooled her to the second grade. “While Grandma played the piano, I’d stand next to her and sing. Only Christian songs of praise were offered, and it never entered my mind to sing otherwise,” says Swayze. The other was a surrogate grandmother, of a sort, who sang opera and jazz. “Music was all around me, so I guess it was only natural that I wanted to sing.”
Growing up, she claims to have been a curiosity to schoolmates very much involved with the Motown scene of the day. Having the responsibility regarding the care of her six younger siblings, she would often hang out with her friend's parents, listening to jazz. She laughs out loud recalling how at about age twelve, all dressed up with no place to go; she played records lip-syncing jazz standards sung by Nancy Wilson, Dinah Washington, and Peggy Lee, using her mother's electric egg beater as a pretend microphone. “I was a daydreamer for sure.” Singing for anyone who would listen, she soon came to understand the power of emotion through music. Hanging out with the bands would be a recurring theme, from which she would learn much musical theory from some very accomplished musicians. At fourteen, the Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour, the American Idol of the day, came to Chicago, and she got an audition. “It rained very hard that day,” she recalls, “and as we headed off in a taxi, to CBS Studios, I can remember trying to keep my new dress from wrinkling. You know, that might have just been the first time I was ever in a taxi.” If her mother had any expectations that getting her daughter on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour would get them out of the West Side’s housing projects, she would be sorely disappointed. Carolyne says, “Walking through those massive, double doors of the CBS studio showroom, I experienced such a severe case of stage fright, that upon trying to sing the Errol Garner classic, Misty, absolutely no words out. The solo piano accompanist restarted the song several times, and each time in place of the words, only some guttural sound, unrecognizable even to me emitted from my little body. After the third try, I was thanked for coming in, and sent home.” Smiling, with sad eyes she continues, “I will never forget my mother's thundering silence during the rainy bus ride home. Through abject humiliation, I gave up the notion of singing although I continued to listen, learn songs and daydream of the possibility. Neither did it stop me from ultimately sneaking into the marvelous jazz clubs along Chicago’s Rush Street
In 1970 at age twenty-two, worn out by family drama, and following a two-year stint in the Marine Corps, she found herself divorced with a young son and totally perplexed about what to do next. Having family in Fresno, she decided to go West. “It is ironic, born and raised in Chicago, the place where jazz was so identifiable; it would be Fresno, California where I would learn the craft.” She met Dick Scudder, a local jazz musician, who had at one time been an accompanist for Vic Damone. Scudder, looking for a singer, took her under his wings and taught her everything he knew about musical fundamentals. For the next eight years, she worked exclusively with his trio, before finally getting the nerve to fly from the nest.
In 1978, she took a job as an investigator with the San Francisco District Attorney's Office. Now, with a good job to support herself and her young son, she again turned to music, and over the next twenty years would work throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Five years at the San Francisco Hyatt Regency, and a featured artist on the hotel and country club circuits throughout the area, and two jazz cruises of the SS Norway. She would eventually also marry San Francisco bandleader Jimmy Diamond. Sadly, that marriage would also end, and after retiring from my public service career in 2009, she relocated to Sacramento. Forming a band of her own, she worked at various nightclubs and restaurants. No longer particularly interested in just performing, she tried her hand at songwriting. The result was several jazz-pop songs written and recorded by her (Too Late to Tell You, The Next Best Thing, Loveland, Pray It Forward, I'll Keep on Loving You, Goodbye to Christmas, Speechless Blues, I Never Found a Rainbow, Just to Get Back to You, and Without You There Is No Spring). In addition to a particularly poignant spoken word composition called the Seasons of My Time, she has recorded numerous cover songs.
In 2016, motivated by what she considered a sluggish jazz market, she formed the Sacramento Jazz Cooperative, Inc. (SJC) a 501(c)(3) nonprofit designed to expand the classic jazz market in the area through music education and performance. Partnering with other organizations, SJC is said to have sparked a new interest in jazz in the area as it hosts outstanding performance concerts by local and touring artist.
“I am energized by the jazz prospects that lay down the road and 'round the bend," she says.