Leszek Możdżer: Polish Jazz Is Doing Well
"Polish jazz has a rich tradition and strong representatives; mature musicians take care of younger ones and support them," says Leszek Możdżer, one of the best-known Polish jazz pianists.
The International Day of Jazz was established in 2012 by UNESCO to “bring together communities, schools, artists, historians, academics, and jazz enthusiasts all over the world to celebrate and learn about jazz and its roots, future and impact" and to "raise awareness of the need for intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding and reinforce international cooperation and communication." This year, Paris was the capital of the festivities. On 30th April, discussions, concerts and meetings concerning jazz music took place worldwide. In Poland, the International Day of Jazz was celebrated in Warsaw, Kraków and Katowice, amongst others.
We often hear that Polish jazz is doing well, but doesn't this opinion distort reality? Musicians complain of a severe financial situation, of problems with finding a publisher – or sometimes even with finding a place to play.
This year, I was a member of the committee of the international jazz band competition at the Jazz on the Oder festival in Wroclaw. I was really surprised at the very high level of each ensemble who came. What I heard was a shock for me. It is not an exaggeration to say that Polish jazz is doing well; it's true.
Polish jazz has a rich tradition and strong representatives who belong to the so-called elite – the elite is a group of people who are disinterested in beauty and doing good. Polish jazz has a very strong elite: Zbigniew Namyslowski cares for young musicians, Janusz Muniak nurtures young talents at his club and Tomasz Stanko engages young artists. All mature musicians care for young people and support them. Sometimes I happen to sit on the jury of various competitions around the world and I must say that what is happening in Poland today is truly unique. We have great musicians.
We are talking now about a high artistic level, but unfortunately it is also a little more mundane, mercantile matter. However, awards and good reviews do not translate into popularity for jazzmen or selling their CDs.
As for jazz, unfortunately, we have quite a large backlog when it comes to promotion. Jazz musicians are very often sensitive, hard-working people. Bunglers a bit, I think. They do not know how to take their own photos properly, and they have not – especially at the beginning of their career – such large budgets that get the interest of managers and work on creating their image. Popular music largely consists precisely in creating an image: someone who's got a photographer’s telephone number is needed, and the latter must have good equipment, backgrounds, lighting, etc. Young musicians neglect such things; they do not realize that playing an instrument well is not enough. Moreover, the club scene is completely broken – musicians have to get 50 US dollars for one performance – they often need it even just to able to play. However, I am optimistic. It seems to me that young people have begun to understand what's going on and I think everything will be all right.
Is it not true that it is all due to jazz suffering from bad publicity? People used to think of jazz as difficult, incomprehensible, snobbish music.
The musicians actually sometimes play to empty rooms, but I do not feel that the Polish audience is immature. No, on the contrary. I've spoke to many different musicians from all over the world who confirm that the Polish audience is very attentive, friendly, and that Polish listeners give you a lot of themselves. I think it's rather about the ability to promote such ventures – all the big jazz festivals, including Jazz on the Odra, Jazztopad, Warsaw Summer Jazz Days, are completely sold out.
Club concerts are worse – one-off events which listeners unfortunately do not know about. But on the other hand, there are places like the Warsaw club Pardon, To Tu, whose founders really love this music and in this scene many people really interested in jazz, people from music circles, have naturally appeared.
You're a jazz musician, but you had a classical education. In your opinion, what distinguishes jazz from other genres of music?
When I started listening to jazz, I realised that I can recognize individual musicians without knowing who's playing. I am able to recognize Wynton Kelly, Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson, Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock... I realised that what helps me recognize a given artist is their wording and phrasing. It was a very important message for me – I realized that if I want to have my own face, my own name, if I want to be myself, I have to play jazz.
That is why I started to play jazz – I wanted to be myself, to realize what is simply mine, something that is inside me. I knew that jazz makes it possible for me.
Sources: PAP, edited by Anna Cymer, 04/05/2015