Polish Jazz - Freedom at Last
According to an old wives' tale Jazz originated in Poland:
"(...) people from all over the world were coming to Biały Dunajec, a town in the Tatry mountains, to learn about the Polish Highlander's music...even the Blacks from Africa came one day to learn of the new music. A famous Polish Highlander philosopher Władek Trybunia-Tutka taught them how to use fiddles and play basses. They mastered it quickly, but a horrible accident happened - on their way back home from the Polish mountains to Africa, the Blacks encountered a storm, and all of their instruments were washed ashore. They arrived back home having only bows, with no fiddles or basses. This is how Jazz (or "Black / African music") was born. Jazz music is actually the music of the Polish Highlanders; just without the fiddles and basses. At the time, the Blacks just struck any kind of wood using a variety of objects, trying to keep a rhythm. However, they could not re-capture the notes, since all their instruments were washed ashore."(Józef Tischner - The History of Philosophy According to Polish Highlanders).
The Origins of Polish Jazz
In case if you did not get the Polish Joke above - Górale (Polish Highlanders) did not created Jazz - Black Americans did. And they did it with a good help from European, Jewish, Cubans, and other emigrants who made America their own country. Jazz is like America - coherent system made of many different and independent parts. Jazz is without a doubt one of the most important living art forms of today, and perhaps the greatest musical contribution to world's cultural legacy America has ever made. The art form that represents America at its best. The art form that embraced an American spirit of improvisation, independence, multi-culture and race acceptance, resourcefulness, ingenuousness and cosmopolitanism. But ideas respect no borders and Jazz has no boundaries either, so it has conquered the world and become a truly global art form.
So what is Polish Jazz? Perhaps we should first ask: what is Jazz? An improvisational art? A dialog between musician and instrument, music and listener? Or just music? It is difficult to point out what would distinguish Polish Jazz from any other "national school" of Jazz art. Slavic melodiousness and sensibility, late-romantic models of expression, dramatic lyricism? The white man blues? Or perhaps the creative incorporation of the Polish folk idiom with its scales, melodies and rhythms? However, is there anything such as a distinct "national" character in Jazz at all? After all, there is no American Jazz, neither German, nor Japanese, nor Scottish, nor even Polish Jazz anymore - what's left is just music with Jazz soul. The mere existence or indeed success of any particular "national school" of Jazz, such as Polish Jazz, is directly related to triumph of American Jazz and its inspiration for fans from all over the world. Today, many artists identify themselves with the Jazz essence. You will find that such spirit is very much alive and kicking among Jazz artists worldwide, especially among the ones with Polish heritage.
What makes Polish Jazz and its history so unique is its role in the quest for democracy and freedom by the Polish society. During the 20th century, Jazz was in avant-garde of democratic processes in Poland, in fact - a democratic process itself in the country with (most of the time) no democratic institutions and with no political freedom. The growth of Polish Jazz has been unparallel to development of Jazz in any other country, but very interestingly shows many striking resemblances to the struggle of the original Jazz founders - Black African Americans, and their fight for the civil rights, and the pursuit of the Freedom.
Polish Jazz in the 1918-1939
November 11, 1918 marks the rebirth of Poland as an independent country. Resurrected in the aftermath of World War I, Poland became a democratic republic. The beginnings were not easy, at that time Poland consisted of three separate politically, culturally and economically parts, due to more then hundred years of forceful division of the late 18th century Polish state into three different countries: Russia, Austria, and Germany (then Prussia). The existence of the new republic was soon threatened by its neighbor - Soviet Russia. For Soviet's leader Lenin, the invasion of Poland was a prelude to something bigger - a transplant of Bolsheviks revolution into Germany. That, according to Bolsheviks plans, would lead them to the conquest of the entire Europe. After conquer of Poland, simultaneous attacks through Romania, Czechoslovakia and Hungary were planed, to provoke revolution in Italy. Poland was the major obstacle in Lenin's master plan for Communist Europe and the only one country separating Soviet and German revolutions. To make the matters worse for Poland, the non-existing Polish Army had to be hastily assembled from Polish soldiers from all over the world; there was not enough time for proper training, and not enough supplies nor arms. One observer describing the Polish Army said that they were:
"like so many children born of the same mother, but conceived by different fathers".
The Polish-Soviet War was nasty, brutish and short. Starting with a pre-emptive attack by Poland against Soviet forces in Ukraine in April of 1920, it soon turned into the disaster for Poland. Not surprisingly, Polish Army was initially unable to match the strength of the several hundred thousand man strong Soviet Red Army, which ruthlessness was often compared to Genghis Khan's Mongol horde. Poles had to give up more then half of Polish territory and retreat to the Wisła river line. But what was later called by historians "the miracle at the Wisła river" (cud nad Wisłą), the Polish army regrouped and in the final battle defatted the Red Army. After the end of the war Soviet losses were over 200,000 and Lenin's dream for Communist Europe vanished. The victory brought Poland two decades of freedom. During that time the Republic of Poland went through difficult process of re-birth, full of political turmoil, President's assassination, changing governments, military coup d'etat, ethnic conflicts, and economic difficulties. But despite all of the obstacles, the new Poland was able to achieve stunning success - coherent statehood, and one of the fastest growing European economies.
During the period immediately after World War I the New American Music - Jazz began its European expansion, sweeping the continent from west to east, and from north to south. In 1923 the first Polish Jazz band was found; it was called The Karasiński & Kataszek Jazz - Tango Orchestra and was created by Zygmunt Karasiński, a saxophonist; Szymon Kataszek, Jazz pianist, violinist, clarinet player, composer, and arranger; Jerzy Petersburski, pianist and Sam Salvano, drummer. The band became an immediate sensation in Warsaw as the first Polish band playing the American Music, in style of Paul Whiteman and Red Nicholas. The Karasiński & Kataszek Jazz - Tango Orchestra became the most popular Warsaw dance orchestra, playing in popular night clubs and revue theatres, such as "Morskie Oko" or "Wesoły Wieczor". In 1934-1935, they even toured Europe and Middle East.
Another popular bands of that era included Lofka Ilgowski Orchestra heavily influenced by Benny Goodman's style, and The Petersburski & Gold Orchestra, with leaders Jerzy Petersburski (piano), and Arthur Gold (violin). During the rest of "the 1920's Jazz Decade" The Petersburski & Gold Orchestra established itself as the most popular dance orchestra in Warsaw, performing at its most fashionable restaurant "Adria". Other popular Jazz music acts of that era included cellist and banjo player Fred Melodysta, composer Henryk Wars, pianist-composer Zygmunt Białostocki, and bandleader Kazimierz Turewicz. All of them, beside regular concerts, often worked for the movie industry, contributing to countless films produced in Poland during the 1920's and 1930's. Poland's first record label - Syrena Records (created in 1904) started documenting the first recordings of Polish Jazz.
In early 1934 the Polish National Opera opened its stage to Jazz art form and staged a premiere of the opera Jazz band, Negro and Woman - four years before historical Benny Goodman's 1938 Carnegie Hall concert. But the boom of professional Jazz movement in Poland in early 30's was due, most of all, to the fact that when, after 1933, fascists came to power in neighbor Germany many musicians of Jewish provenance left. They came to Poland. Consequently, receptive and resource-hungry Polish Jazz society was strengthened by Ady Rosner's trumpet, Erwin Woheller's saxophone and Arkady Flato's swinging band.
Trumpeter Ady Rosner soon became the best and the most popular Jazz musician in Poland. He formed a swinging orchestra with Polish musicians gaining wide recognition among critics and enchantment with audiences. The orchestra's vocalist Ludwig Lampel was hailed by the critics as "a sensational singer of European Jazz". Rosner's bands not only achieved national recognition but also an international reputation, touring extensively throughout Latvia, Denmark, Hungary, Netherlands, and France where he recorded three albums for French division of Columbia Records. Later on, after escaping Nazi German / Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939, Rosner emigrated to Russia where he went through series of unbelievable "alternative lives": from being the highest paid musician in all Russia to gulag's prisoner to (after Stalin's death) driving force in Soviet Jazz. Rosner left Russia in 1973, and died in Berlin, Germany in 1976. Ady Rosner's input to the beginnings of Polish (and Russian) Jazz is unquestioned, and unparallel to any other musician. Most of the bands of that era played many different styles of dance music, and so did Rosner, but what distinguished his band was his mastery and focus on swing. During his time in Poland Ady Rosner gained the name of "the King of Jazz Virtuosos". One Polish critic wrote: "Ady Rosner - Jazz sensation!", and in the British publication Melody Maker, the president of "Sweet and Hot Club of Brussels", called him "The Polish Armstrong!".
With the 1930's coming to the end, an era of swinging big bands came to Poland. Late 1930's were also a period of a radical change of music journalism. More and more frequently, articles not longer merely reported events; they were now based on note editions, radio broadcasts, recordings and films. The first music magazines from Paris, London and the USA as "Melody Marker", "Jazz Hot", "Down Beat", "Metronome" arrived to Poland. At the same time first records of R. Steward, B. Bigard and C. Hawkins at the French label "Swing" hit the shelves in Warsaw, Cracow and Poznań. The records with music of Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson and Jimmie Lanceford were widely known and very popular. Nobody had anymore any doubts that Jazz music was finally being accepted and its influence upon music vulnerability was getting more and more widespread. Its all came to the abrupt end in September of 1939 with the invasion of Poland by allied armies of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia and the beginning of World War II.
Polish Jazz in the 1940's-1950's
Near the end of World War II, German forces, which have occupied Poland since 1939, were driven from Poland by the advancing Soviet Red Army. At the same time Yalta Conference secretly divided post-war Europe between Western (democratic) and Eastern (totalitarian) parts. Openly heralding the need for democracy, in facts the signatories of Yalta's agreements: American president Franklin D. Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston Churchill, in order to appease Soviet leader Josef Stalin, surrendered Poland along with half of Europe to Moscow. Despite the protests from the legit Polish government on exile; the 200,000 man strong Polish army on exile, which along with allied forces fought Hitler's armies since 1939, was disbanded; and pro-communist provisional government in Poland sanctioned. Despite few democratic slogans and later on hypocritical slogans of "Cold War", the West has never provided any significant support to democratic forces in de-facto Soviet occupied Poland. "The Betrayal of Poland" was then completed and the fundaments for the new European order established for next four and the half decades.
Consequently, like the rest of the Eastern and Central Europe, Poland fell under the dominance of Stalinist Russia - and the Soviets certainly did not dig the swing! Only certain musical forms were allowed to flourish, particularly those with folk rhythm, without syncopation. One tempo was prescribed for everybody and army marching bands rose in importance. The process of political and cultural oppression intensified when Communist government "creatively" altered the results of 1949 election; and period of "Cold War" began. Jazz music was outlawed as the music of the enemy (Western Europe and the USA). In Stalinist Poland, Jazz music was banned along with modern art, decent toilet paper and the right to travel abroad. Ruled with the "iron fist" cultural policy of government excluded all forms of modern art, demanding from the artists to follow "Socialist realism" mantra, defined and redefined as he pleased by the one and only authority - Soviet leader Josef Stalin himself.
Thankfully not everybody digged Stalin and toed the party line. Young people in Poland with no taste for Russian recipes, Soviet music and political doctrines, but longing for freedom, rediscovered Jazz. Being banned and sometimes even persecuted, Jazz went underground, or, as was said, into "the catacombs". Jazz could only be played at private homes and private parties. In Poland, since late 1940's Jazz, although not officially existing, in fact it embraced the spirit of independence, nonconformity and cosmopolitanism.
One band came to dominate the hidden landscape of the Polish Jazz scene. The name of this group was Melomani / the Music Aficionados. The ensemble was established in 1947 from among the hippest cats of the day, including "The Founding Fathers of Polish Jazz": Jerzy "Duduś" Matuszkiewicz (leader, saxophones, and clarinet), Andrzej Trzaskowski (piano), and Krzysztof Komeda (piano). The line-up of Melomani was complemented by Andrzej 'Idon' Wojciechowski (trumpet), Witold Kujawski (bass), and Witold 'Dentox' Sobociński (drums). The lineup often fluctuated, and included among others: Jeanne Johnstone, Carmen Moreno (vocal), Andrzej Kurylewicz (piano), Lesław Lic (clarinet), Włodzimierz Wasio (trombone), Jerzy Tatark (bars), Alojzy Thomys (alto sax, banjo), Roman Dylag (bass), and Antoni Studziński (drums). Many of them were students of the Łódź Film School, famous for establishing one of the leading European film movements and commonly referred to as the "Polish School". Musicians of the Melomani hung out at the Łódź YMCA, one of the few existing oases for nonconformists and independent thinkers in the Poland of late 1940's. Having been separated from the development of Western Jazz and without any Jazz recordings or publications, Melomani played the sort of music that they thought was Jazz, such as Jelly Roll Morton and W.C. Handy. There were actually two different line-ups of Melomani: traditional and modern but the quality of the music, technical abilities of musicians and obsolete repertoire would not have met the standards of any reputable Jazz club in Western Europe or the United States at the time. But that did not matter for Melomani's fans. They embraced it because it was illegitimate and because it was theirs. A critic Elliott Simon nailed it the best:
"Melomani played a series of standards with enthusiasm exceeded only by their fans' obvious adoration...it is however, the historical circumstance - when Jazz was a high energy outlet for the creativity of a culturally repressed society."
In the meantime the new communist government in Warsaw increased its political power and the Communist Polish United Workers Party (PZPR), under Moscow's appointee Bolesław Bierut gained complete control of Poland. Sealed by Soviet constitution of 1952, Poland become an integral part of the postwar Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. Of course, there was no Jazz music on the Polish radio, no Jazz records in the stores, no books and no sheet music for sale. However, there was the will, the enthusiasm and the Voice of America. Instead of listening to reports about the success of the Soviet Union and achieving heaven on earth, Jazz fans and aspiring Jazz musicians tuned their Soviet-made radios to DJ Willis Conover programs. For Polish Jazz devotees of the late 40's and early 50's Poland, Willis Conover was a musical messiah. Conover's programs allowed access to the desired alternative: the right stuff and the real thing. His contribution to Polish Jazz would never be forgotten.
After Stalin's death in 1953, the perception of Jazz in Poland began to change. Following the death of Stalinist's president Bolesław Bierut in 1956 a brief period of de-Stalinization began, raising hopes for political and economical reforms. It became acceptable to listen to Jazz, to talk about Jazz, to write about Jazz and, most importantly, to play Jazz. Polish Radio resumed its national broadcasts of the swing concerts. Official Jazz festivals began to appear in the second part of the 1950's. The first legal Jazz gathering took place in Kraków on November 1st 1954 (Zaduszki Jazzowe). Other events soon followed. The first official Jazz festival took place in Sopot in 1956 and initiated a tradition of regular Jazz festivals in Poland.
"The first Sopot Jazz Festival, which took place in August 1956 is regarded as the key event in the history of Polish Jazz. It represented the culmination of the first, chaotic period in the development of Polish Jazz. It marked the full emergence of Jazz from the underground and the music's first official recognition on a major scale. It ended the 'catacomb era' and launched the 'time of frenzy'. Jazz came out of the catacombs and immediately became recognized as a symbol of freedom and liberation from boredom and obscurantism, as well as a chance for contact, solidarity and unity with the rest of the world. This was an authentic explosion of energy and joy, often frenetic, that we remember nostalgically even now, at a time when we miss even more the burst of the youthful energy of that generation." (Janusz Szprot).
Polish Jazz veteran Jan "Ptaszyn" Wróblewski, and performer (with Komeda Sextet) at Sopot 1956, remembers:
"At that time we didn't dream about anything like Jazz FESTIVAL. What was happening was absolutely shocking. We are talking about a national event, with international guests - man, until that time I haven't played at anything better then dance halls in Poznań, and for the public consisting of my colleagues only. Tens of thousands people from all over the Poland came to Sopot for the festival. When the legendary rally (inspired by New Orleans funeral parades) went thorough the town you couldn't stick a finger anywhere - it was packed. The party was going on 24 hours a day, extraordinary, fantastic party. People, free people, were everywhere, on the streets, on the Sopot pier, on the beaches...".
The lineup of the festival included Melomani, Andrzej Kurylewicz Band, Zygmunt Wichary Band, Drążek i Pięciu, Jerzy Grzewiński Band, Kamil Hala Band (Czechoslovakia), Pawel Gruenspan Band, Pinokio, The Dave Burman Jazz Group (England) and first Polish modern Jazz band - Komeda Sextet with Krzysztof Komeda on piano, Jerzy Milian - vibes, Stanisław Pludra - alto sax, Jan "Ptaszyn" Wroblewski - baritone sax, Józef Stolarz - bass, and Jan Zylber on drums.
The 2nd Jazz Festival in Sopot took place in the following year - 1957, and once again created an oasis for Jazz fans to show up, to freely express their love for Western music, and to unify. Sopot'57 festival was also a place of the first since 1933 (the year Hitler came to power) significant cultural interaction between Poland and Germany. German bands: Joki Freud Quintet and Emil Mangelsdorff Swingtet, as well as bands from Poland, Italy, Czechoslovakia, and (for the first time) Americans: clarinet master Albert Nicholas, and singer Big Bill Ramsey, won hearts of Polish Jazz fans and initiated one of the first reciprocal transfers of ideas between artists from two opposite sides of the Iron Curtain. In the following year the tradition of the annual jazz festival was transplanted to Warsaw where the new festival simply called Jazz'58, was held in September at the Stodoła club. Leopold Tyrmand came up with the name for the annual gathering - Jazz Jamboree and this tradition has been passed from decade to decade and continues until today.
But despite Jazz scene gaining cultural and social freedoms; the political misfortunes of Poland were not over. In June 1956, an insurrection began in city Poznań. The workers rioted to protest shortages of food and consumer goods, bad housing, decline in real income, shipments of commodities to the Soviet Union and poor management of the economy. The Polish government initially responded by branding the rioters "provocateurs, counterrevolutionaries and imperialist agents". Security forces killed and wounded scores of protesters. However, the party hierarchy soon recognized that the riots had awakened nationalist movement and reversed its opinion. A liberalizing "thaw" in Eastern Europe caused a more liberal faction of the Polish communists to gain power. Political prisoner, of both democratic (pre-war) Poland and (post-war) Communists' gulags, Władysław Gomułka became the new secretary of communist party.
In February 1956, after having overcome many difficulties, the first issue of the monthly music magazine called "Jazz" was published in Poland. Created by its chief editor Jan Balcerak, "Jazz" magazine came to be the only Jazz magazine published behind the Iron Curtain. Polish journalists finally got a forum where they could not only write strictly informational texts, but could also venture into the previously unreachable territory of daring polemics. Another development in the Polish Jazz scene of the 1950's was the creation of the first official Jazz clubs. Amongst the most prominent were the "Stodoła" and the "Hybrydy" in Warsaw. For the next few decades, these Jazz clubs were thriving venues. Young Jazz enthusiasts, such as Jan Borkowski of "Hybrydy" fame, got their own format where they were able to cultivate their love of Jazz and hunger for western culture. By the end of the 1950's, the Jazz clubs in Poland had created their own first semi-official association: the Polish Jazz Federation, with bassist Jan Byrczek at the helm. In 1963 Byrczek founded the Polish Jazz Society and served as its president until 1973. During his leadership the Society grew into the largest Jazz organization of Europe with branch offices in various parts of Poland.
In the late 1950's, for the first time, Jazz fans in Poland had a chance to listen to musicians from outside of the country. This changed everything, especially the perception and interpretation of what Jazz was and what it wasn't. The foreign musicians that came to Poland in those early years - and what they played - had an extremely important influence on the development of Jazz in Poland. Dave Brubeck was one of the first, visiting in 1958. Consequently, his brand of "cool" Jazz influenced a whole generation of Polish Jazz musicians and fans.
One man was especially important for Jazz to develop and become an important fixture on the Polish cultural landscape, and his name was Leopold Tyrmand. A writer and enfant terrible of Warsaw's cultural elite, Tyrmand was as well dressed as articulate. Independent, brave and extremely intelligent, he came from assimilated Polish Jewish family. He was also very knowledgeable on the subject of Jazz music. Tyrmand wrote and published the first books and articles about Jazz in Poland, helped to organize the initial Jazz gatherings and is credited with the creation of the most famous festival, the Jazz Jamboree and picking the Jazz standard Swanee River as the festival's anthem. Tyrmand was the first Polish Jazz Guru, and possible the most influential one ever. Fiercely anticommunist and antiestablishment (which later on forced him to emigration) he was well aware of Jazz inherited freedom in context of Orwellian system of 1950's Poland. For Tyrmand Jazz was something more then just a music, more then art. As he once wrote:
"Jazz has cemented and become symbolic of the milieus (social setting) that sprang up spontaneously through natural selection and of their own choice".
Tyrmand emigrated to the United States in 1966. Once in the States, he regularly published essays in American periodicals such as "The New Yorker" and "The New York Times Magazine". Even in the States, he remained a contrarian for the rest of his life, refusing to accept socially accepted consensus, and becoming the co-founder and vice-president of the Rockford Institute, a conservative foundation. He served as editor of "Chronicles of Culture", an anti-Communist journal he hoped would serve as a conservative alternative to "The New York Review of Books". Tyrmand died of a heart attack in Fort Myers, Florida. He was 65 years old. His legacy will live on forever.
Polish Jazz in the 1960's
The decade of 1960's started with great hopes of political freedom and economical reforms. Unfortunately, by the mid 1960's, Poland was experiencing increasing economic, as well as political, difficulties. The initial hopes for democratization with Gomułka in power, were never realized. The communist regime was really not interested in system change; and Gomułka himself, despite being a man of great convictions, proved to be a man of lesser intellectual abilities and vision. Initially very popular for his reforms and seeking a "Polish way to socialism", he gradually softened his opposition to Soviet pressures and surrendered to nationalistic and anti-Semitic fraction in the communist party. The hopes for democracy were demolished, and the rest of the decade became known as a Gomułka's "little stabilization", basically meaning no progress, no more democratic nor economic changes, and no hope for freedom.
Despite political obstacles of 1960's, the cultural and intellectual life in Poland continued to thrive throughout this and following decades. Cultural revival of post-Stalinist era brought many important works to history of Polish literature and poetry, including creations from writers like Witold Gombrowicz, Jerzy Andrzejewski, Tadeusz Konwicki, and many more. In theatre play writers like Sławomir Mrożek, and directors like Jerzy Grotowski and Tadeusz Kantor expended the language of European theatre. Two Polish poets were awarded Nobel Prizes in Literature: Czesław Miłosz (1980) and Wisława Szymborska (1996), making it less likely for other geniuses of Polish poetry like Tadeusz Różewicz or Zbigniew Herbert to get the same recognition which they both deserve. In science, thinkers like philosophers Leszek Kołakowski or economists like Edward Lipiński were finally able to express they thoughts freely, at least for some time before another era of political freeze. In visual art, possibly the most important development in post World War II era, was "Polish School of Posters", which have had an important impact on other forms of artistic expression, Polish Jazz included. In music, the composers like Witold Lutosławski, Krzysztof Penderecki, Tadeusz Baird or Henryk Mikołaj Górecki wrote some of the most important compositions of 20th century "Classical music song book".
Polish Film School (Polska Szkoła Filmowa) produced its greatest masterpieces underlining the role of individual as opposed to collectivity of the official guidelines of Socialist Realism. There were two trends within the School: one with directors such as Andrzej Wajda studding the idea of heroism, while another group (the most notable being Andrzej Munk) analyzed the Polish character via irony, humor and a dissection of national myths. Directors of Polish School often used Jazz as a soundtrack for their movies, with Wajda's Innocent Sorcerers / Niewinni Czarodzieje with music and staring role by Krzysztof Komeda himself, being probably the most famous example. Another example of perfect film-Jazz synergy of that era was Roman Polański's stunning Knife in the Water / Nóż w wodzie. In this movie, making the most of the music of Krzysztof Komeda, Polański was able to masterfully blend languages of improvisation, cinematography, and Jazz; camera and movie narration tempos; creating completely new, innovative and consistent film language. For many Knife in the Water remains one of Polański's greatest masterpieces and one of the most successful exploitation of Jazz in motion pictures history. When commenting on Knife in the Water Manfred Eicher (ECM) observed that in his masterpiece, Polański used Komeda's score to "emphasize music and sounds as an equal counterpart to images". Unfortunately for Jazz its employment in Polish cinema throughout next decades was very sporadic. The next Polish film school - The cinema of moral anxiety / Kino moralnego niepokoju of 1970's with directors like Krzysztof Zanussi, Janusz Kijowski, Agnieszka Holland and Krzysztof Kieślowski rarely used Jazz in their pictures. Only Feliks Falk's 1981 motion picture And all that Jazz / Był Jazz which re-created the story of Melomani group, was a notable example.
A decade of 1960's in Poland was of course, like in any other place in the world, a time of Rock & Roll revolution. Polish rock & roll, or as it was called in Poland "Big Beat", initially followed the recipes of its older sibling - Polish Jazz, coping the music from the West.
From the beginning, one of the most important fixtures on emerging Polish rock scene was Czesław Niemen. Niemen's multiple artistic personalities: from early Motown-influenced "Polish James Brown funk", to straight-ahead pop, to his unique Polish poetry-progressive rock fusion, to Jazz-rock experiments, to Niemen's own electronica of 1970's, to finally his late "mature Niemen" period; he was like anybody (and anything) else in Poland and Eastern Europe. Niemen's music, his style, fashion, clothes, lyrics, and his personality, made him ever lasting icon of Polish music, but also influenced countless musicians and music fans in other Eastern European countries as well as in Soviet Union. The mastership of Niemen's attracted many Polish Jazz musician, including Michał Urbaniak, Czesław "Mały" Bartkowski and especially Zbigniew Namysłowski, who often contributed to various Niemen's projects during 1960's and 1970's.
Other important Polish rock music acts in 1960's-1970's included rock groups Niebiesko-Czarni, Czerwono-Czarni, Czerwone Gitary, Nurt, and Dżem; folk-rock groups No To Co and Skaldowie; and legendary prog-blues-rock band Breakout.
In Polish pop music one super star - Ewa Demarczyk, obscured the music horizon, and after four decades still need somebody else to be able to make stronger impression on pop music fans. Not bad for Demarczyk - considering the fact that during her career she recorded only one album and practically retired from the music in late 1960's. Her own fusion of expressive pop, lyrical moods, Polish poetry, theatrical pathos, tenderness, religious-like pray, French chanson, world music and Jewish music reminiscences, makes music of Demarczyk unforgettable, and immediately recognizable to anybody who ever listen to her.
Not surprisingly, in 1960's Polish Jazz has became one of the most important element of cultural revival. Growing from its infancy into the mature age, it become more diverse, more sophisticated and more stylish. During the 1960's, Polish Jazz evolved into three basic styles: Dixieland (traditional), straight-ahead (mainstream), and avant-garde (free).
Many traditional bands played their own version of the Original New Orleans style, basically mimicking the Dixieland revival that had taken place earlier in Western Europe. They toured frequently, recorded many popular albums and helped Polish Jazz gain acceptance amongst the wider public. As time passed, Dixieland Jazz became more professional and produced many excellent bands and players, such as Baranowski Alfred (Ragtime Jazz Band, Royal Jazz Band), Bażynski Marian (HighSociety), Boba Jan, Brudko Grzegorz (Hagaw), Dobrowolski Władysław, Eyssmont Wiesław, Fedorowski Tadeusz (Old Timers), Galiński Jerzy (Ragtime Jazz Band, Old Timers), Ignatowski Bogdan (New Orleans Stompers), Kamiński Wojciech (Old Timers), Kozłowski Janusz, Krupa Antoni (Jazz Band Ball Orchestra), Kudyk Jan (Jazz Band Ball), Kurzawa Julian (Sami Swoi), Marszałek Krzysztof (Vistula River Brass Band), Mazur Mieczysław, Oferta Tadeusz (Old Metropolitan Band), Piecha Jan (High Society), Podkanowicz Marek (Jazz Band Ball Orchestra), Rosner Jerzy (Beale Street Band), Rosner Marek (Old Metropolitan Band, Beale Street Band), Sorski Jerzy (Sami Swoi), Stefański Henryk (Old Timers, Prowizorka Jazz Band), Styczyński "Styka" Bohdan (Pinokio, Modern Dixilanders, Vistula River Brass Band), Tartanus Paweł (Old Timers, Gold Waasboard), Umiński Andrzej (Vistula River Brass Band), Wichary Zygmunt, and Zabiegliński Zbigniew, Zydroń Wiktor (Gold Washboard). Dixieland style reached the peak of its popularity in Poland in the 1960's and 1970's. Since 1965 especially important for its development and popularity of traditional Jazz in Poland was festival Old Jazz Meeting "Złota Tarka" / Gold Washboard. Between 1965 and 1990, the festival was organized at Warsaw club "Stodola", and since 1994 to this day in Louisa Armstrong Amphitheatre in Ilawa.
Henryk "Papa" Majewski (born 1936) is considered by many to be the most distinguished artist and leaders of Polish Jazz in its traditional, Dixieland style. He studied accordion and clarinet at school, and taught himself to play trumpet. As a trumpeter and the composer; he co-operated with the New Orleans Stompers (1958-1965). In 1965 along with the pianist Wojciech Kamiński and trombone player Jerzy Kowalski he created Old Timers, the longest existing and probably the most eminent Polish band performing traditional Jazz. During they still continuing carrier, Old Timers traveled widely around Europe. Among their other activities, they accompanied world famous soloists such as Albert Nicholas, Sandy Brown, Buck Clayton or Wild Bill Davison. For many years Henryk Majewski has been managing a number of projects at the same time. Without giving up leadership of Old Timers, he also was the co-founder of the Stodoła Big Band (1968-73); and the originator of the idea and the founder of the Swing Session "Super band" (as it was called). He was also the founder of countless small formations (duets, trios) created for individual recording sessions or concerts. Majewski was an indefatigable Jazz activist and teacher at annual Jazz Workshops in Chodzież and Puławy. In 1985, along with Jan "Ptaszyn" Wróblewski, he established concert band SOS (Sitwy Ogromnie Swingującej) and was frequently performing at major Polish Jazz festivals (Old Jazz Meeting, Jazz Jamboree, Jazz nad Odrą and touring abroad. The lineup of his last band Henryk Majewski Sextet, included his son Robert Majewski (trumpet); the band moved beyond borders of Dixieland and was exploring the essence of modern bebop. Henryk Majewski passed away on June 17, 2005 in Puławy.
The increased interest in Jazz also blossomed into a growing acceptance of more demanding styles. It is difficult to clearly mark the distinction between mainstream and avant-garde Jazz in the Polish Jazz of the 1960's and 1970's; too many musicians walked the fine line between the two. Perhaps the best approach to analyze the modern Jazz in Poland is to focus on its leading figures.
Melomani's leader, Jerzy "Duduś" Matuszkiewicz (born in 1928), and one of the creators of Polish Jazz after World War II, since 1960's followed a much more lucrative livelihood as a composer of popular music for television and cinema. He wrote scores to more then 200 films including the music to the most popular Polish TV show of 1960's Stawka Większa niż Życie. He sporadically played Jazz in 1960's but during the next decades devoted himself almost solely to composing. Thankfully to his fans, in 1990's he came back to his first love - Jazz, and has been appearing occasionally on the Polish musical scene since then.
Another Melomani's alumni Andrzej Trzaskowski (born in 1963), remained active in Jazz and in the 1960's, and he is considered to be the most important representative of Polish Third Stream - the hybrid of Jazz and philharmonic music. This fascination with more "serious" music and an attraction to contemporary techniques of composition overlapped with increasingly interest in works of contemporary Polish music composers such as Tadeusz Baird, Bogusław Schaeffer and Krzysztof Penderecki. Although controversial and not always satisfying, Third Stream experiments expanded the vocabulary of Jazz and enhanced both artistic sensitivity and its overall image. Trzaskowski was a classically trained pianist,
and co-founder of Melomani; he also took private lessons in composition and contemporary music theory and later on (1970's) was active at the experimental studio of Polish Radio. During 1958 he played and recorded with the Jazz Believers, a quintet that included Wojciech Karolak and Jan Ptaszyn Wróblewski, and worked with another quintet, led by Jerzy Matuszkiewicz. The following year he formed his own hard bop group, the Wreckers, with which he toured the USA in 1962 as the first Polish Jazz band ever. As the leader of small groups Trzaskowski performed and recorded with many American musicians visiting Poland, including Stan Getz (1960) and Ted Curson (1965-6). Many leading Polish musicians, including Zbigniew Namysłowski, Tomasz Stańko, and Michał Urbaniak, played with his groups early in their careers. Trzaskowski began to incorporate avant-garde techniques in his work from 1964. In the late 1960's he worked regularly for Norddeutscher Rundfunk in Hamburg, West Germany, writing more than 20 compositions and participating in workshops. Although an excellent pianist, from the early 1970's he has concentrated more on composition. Trzaskowski also has written music for films and theater, two Jazz ballets, and Nihil Novi, a Third Stream work performed by Don Ellis at the Jazz Jamboree International Festival in Warsaw (1962). Alumni of Trzaskowski's bands Tomasz Stańko remembers Trzaskowski:
"Trzaskowski was an excellent musician, talented composer and a great human being. My tenure in his bands awarded me with a chance to work with many extraordinary musicians and I remember the time atmosphere we all had there. Andrzej was an artist and a very sensitive man. Many times he could not handle the stress very well; he just had a difficulty to relax to let it go. To be a Jazz musician one need to be made from he feathers and have a skin of the elephant. Unfortunately for Trzaskowski, he just couldn't take it."
From 1975 onward, Trzaskowski led an orchestra for Polish radio and television, and contributed many criticul reviews to "Jazz Forum" magazine. Andrzej Trzaskowski died in Warsaw at the age of 65 and was buried in the city's Powązki cemetery.
In contrary to Trzaskowski, Andrzej Kurylewicz (born in 1932), was initially more a man of swing then an avant-garde. He was also a a man of many talents: composer, pianist, trumpet-player, and trombonist. Born in Lwów, 1932, he began his musical education in the Music School (Szkoła Muzyczna) in Lwów, and in the Institute of Music (Instytut Muzyczny) in Gliwice. He went on to study in college at the Academy of Music / Wyższa Szkola Muzyczna in Kraków - piano under Henryk Sztompka, and composition under Stanisław Wiechowicz. In 1954 he was kicked out from the Music Academy for... playing Jazz. With political liberalization few years later, he made his debut as the founder of the Polish Radio Jazz Band / Zespół Jazzowy Polskiego Radia in Kraków and later on worked as a leader of Polish Radio Organ Sextet / Sekstet Organowy Polskiego Radia. Every year, since 1958 until 1971, he presented own programs at the annual Jazz Jamboree festivals with his bands: Jazz Believers, Moderniści, trios, quartets, quintets and with Jazz Orchestra of the Polish Radio (later on known as Studio Jazzowe). He collaborated with variety of artists, including Czesław Niemen and Tomasz Stańko. In 1969 he founded the Formation of Contemporary Music / Formacja Muzyki Współczesnej (strings, brass and percussion), which he led till 1979. In 1967, in Warsaw's Old Town, with his wife Wanda Warska - a singer and painter - he opened "Piwnica Artystyczna Kurylewiczow" - a studio for the performance of musical and literary forms, distinct and combined. He was a passionate artist, who has changed several times the field of his interests and activities, since late 1960's he began drifting from Jazz field more toward contemporary classical music. As a composer, he belonged - as he himself has put it: "to the post-avant-garde of the late 20th century". He composed numerous pieces for symphonic orchestra, for chamber orchestra, as well as many song-cycles, psalms for Latin texts, and a wide range of solo works, for piano, harpsichord, organ, flute, tuba, double-bass, and others. As a pianist, Andrzej Kurylewicz valued highly the music of Polish composer Karol Szymanowski, offering particularly outstanding interpretations of all twenty-two of that composer's Mazurkas. In his improvisations on the piano, he has been particularly innovative in combining classical and contemporary music with Jazz. In 1959 he collaborated with Teatr Rapsodyczny in Kraków, and wrote his first score for the movie (Powrót), starting life long successful collaboration with film and theatre. His biggest hit was a score to made for TV show Polskie Drogi, the songs from this movie were recorded and re-interpreted by many artists worldwide, including Pat Metheny. Kurylewicz, who once admitted that he "never escaped from Jazz" came back to regular playing with his own Jazz trio in 1994. Andrzej Kurylewicz departed on April 12, 2007.
The most important artist of 1960's and in the whole history of Polish Jazz was Krzysztof Komeda (Krzysztof Trzciński). He was born on April 27, 1931 in Poznań, started playing piano at the age of seven, but the war ruined any chances for him of becoming a concert pianist.
He grew up in Częstochowa, and Ostrów Wielkopolski where he graduated from the Male Gymnasium, and participated in the Music and Poetry Club. He studied medicine at Poznań and chose to be a laryngologist. He picked his childhood alias "Komeda" for his artistic alter-ago - in 1950's Poland it was not possible for reputable M.D. to play "the decadent music of the West" - Jazz. He was one of the founders of legendary band Melomani; his professional Jazz pianist career started at the 1st Sopot Jazz Festival in 1956 with Janusz Grzewiński's Dixieland band and his own Sextet. He continued his Jazz career in Poland and Scandinavia for the next 12 years with his own bands (Combo, Trio, Quartet, Quintet, Sextet), which dominated modern Polish Jazz scene. He also collaborated with variety of musicians including Witold Kujawski, Janusz Matuszkiewicz, Jerzy Milian, Jan "Ptaszyn" Wróblewski, Tomasz Stańko, Zbigniew Namysłowski, Michał Urbaniak, Wojciech Karolak, Roman Dylag, Andrzej Trzaskowski and others. He worked for the theatre (Ballet Etudes, Breakfast at Tiffany's), regularly performed at Jazz Jamboree festivals, and composed music for noted German musicologist Joachim Berendt's project "Jazz and Poetry - Maine Susse Europaische Haimat" with poems by most important Polish poets of the 20the century including Nobel price winners Czesław Miłosz, and Wisława Szymborska.
Komeda's role in Polish Jazz cannot be explained in merely a few sentences. Words like: genius, composer, visionary, collaborator and leader cannot fully describe him. How could this talented but not by any means virtuoso pianist with a medical degree make such a great impact on Polish Jazz? How could all of the musicians who played with him emphasize what an overwhelming impact his music and his personality made on them? Komeda's long time collaborator Tomasz Stańko commented:
"Komeda was a very quit man. At rehearsals he told us nothing, nothing. He would give us a score and we would play and the silence was very strong and intense. He wouldn't say if we were right or wrong in our approach. He'd just smile. He was such a strong force, the music was so original and he always gave me plenty of space for self-expression and interpretation...He showed me how simplicity is vital, how to play the essential. He showed different approaches, using different harmonies, asymmetry, many details. I was very lucky that I started out with him(...)"
The music of Komeda escapes simple classification and description. He never formally studied composition, harmony, arrangement nor orchestration. His unique sound has to a lesser extent to do with conventional Jazz style timing, but rather with Slavic lyricism, 19th century Polish romantic music tradition, and a variable treatment of time during the course of his compositions. He is widely credited as being one of the founding fathers of uniquely European style in Jazz composition. Critic Adam Sławiński wrote:
"By sheer force of his personality Komeda justified his need to control the emotional territory hitherto reserved for symphonies. He expanded the range of expression in Jazz by adding a dramatized lyricism - it's force reaching the intensity of ecstatic and mysterious experience. The new Jazz aesthetic demanded the new form. Komeda introduced a directional form of arch, developed from an exposition through culmination to a final resolution".
During his life, Komeda released only one album Astigmatic (Polskie Nagrania - Muza), which Penguin Guide to Jazz called "Simply - Essential!". The new release with more influence on Polish Jazz has yet to be recorded. Another field where Komeda excelled and achieved world class status was his work for motion pictures; he wrote music to over 40 films, including such Polish cinematic classics as Andrzej Wajda's Innocent Sorcerers. He also collaborated with other Polish directors: Jerzy Passendorfer, Jerzy Skolimowski, Janusz Morgenstern, Jerzy Hoffman, Leonard Buczkowski, Janusz Nasfeter, and renowned Danish film director Henning Carlsen. Especially important was his very fruitful collaboration with director Roman Polański, that included soundtracks to: Two Men and a Wardrobe, Cul-de-Sac, Knife in the Water, Fearless Vampire Killers and Rosemary's Baby.
In December 1968, in Los Angeles when working on Rosemary's Baby, Komeda had a tragic accident which led to his death due to an internal brain damage. There are various accounts of what happened: car accident in the autumn of 1968, being pushed off an escarpment by writer Marek Hłasko during a drinking party, felling down during the hike and suffering head injuries. After having been transported to Poland he died on April 23, 1969 in Warsaw without regaining consciousness. His funeral at the Powązki cemetery in Warsaw was attended by many of his friends, associates, artists and hordes of the fans.
Decades have passed after Komeda's tragically early death at the age of 38, but despite passing of time his music is still alive, inspiring new artists and conquering new hordes of listeners. Countless Polish Jazz musicians have been exploring the legacy of Komeda and his songbook, with Tomasz Stańko being the most famous "torch carrier". There is even a pop-fusion band in Sweden called Komeda that taken his name from Polish Jazz pianist and composer. Komeda's compositions are present in contemporary repertoire of numerous Jazz bands worldwide. One of them, USA-based Komeda Project Jazz quintet, was principally brought to life from a desire to perform and be able to hear Krzysztof Komeda's live music again.
The artists like Komeda, Trzaskowski, Matuszkiewicz, Kurylewicz or Wróblewski had unprecedented input on development of Jazz in Poland and its maturing in 1960's, but all of these would not be possible without other elements. Jazz critique was flourishing in Jan Balcerak's "Jazz", and since 1964 at "Jazz Forum" magazines. Jazz was played in "official" radio and founding its way into TV programs. Jazz Festivals were prospering, with the principal one in Warsaw - Jazz Jamboree, which was caring a legacy of Sopot Festivals from 1950's.
In 1964 first Jazz nad Odrą festival / Jazz at the Oder River took place in southern city of Poland, Wrocław. Created and run by Jazz fans and local college's activists: Włodek Sandecki, Maryla Wasyluk, Karol Maskos, Mietek Sidor, Andrzej Żurek, Aleksander Fleisher, Wojciech Siwek, Maciej Partykiand, and others, soon grow from a local into the national event. The focus of Jazz nad Odrą has always been on Polish Jazz; and for the new bands and musicians, for whom the festival established a special competition, it was the place to be. Countless bands and musicians got their first national exposure at the festival, and the ability to test their ideas and musical concepts in front of the live and receptive audience. And to have a lot of fun along the way. For the public Jazz nad Odrą was simple an enclave of freedom, the freedom of expression, the freedom for participation, and the freedom of choice. In 1963 Jan Byrczek and other Jazz activists founded the Polish Jazz Society which soon grew into the largest Jazz organization of Europe with branch offices in various parts of Poland. And it's all was happening in the country with totalitarian, single-party political system, with no free press, and no democratic processes. Paradoxically, in 1960's Poland the sole areas where democratic ideas could flourish, free market concepts develop, and freedoms be realized, was a cultural field, with Jazz sphere principally.
Year 1964 is an important milestone in recorded history of Polish Jazz. On that year of "The Polish Jazz Series" was initiated by the only one officially sanctioned those days record label in Poland: Polskie Nagrania - Muza. The series was a creation of Ryszard Sielicki (label's artistic director) and Andrzej Karpiński (managing editor). The series itself became a phenomena - world's longest continuous running series of vinyl records with recordings of the Jazz artists from one country. The cycle has continued for more then three decades well into the late 80's; 76 volumes were released, documenting the heritage and the living history of Polish Jazz. Without the series the history of Polish Jazz would not be the same. Four decades after its debut, the new and dynamic management of (resurrected in the new political reality) Polskie Nagrania label, decided to re-release all volumes of the series in CD format under the new series: "Polish Jazz Deluxe". The content of the new series is supplemented by another important Polish Jazz recordings released by Polskie Nagrania, which were originally issued outside of "Polish Jazz Series". Thank you Polskie Nagrania for keeping the legacy of Polish Jazz alive and available for future generations.
The best Polish vocal group ever - Novi Singers come in to view in the middle of 1960's. The members of the group included Bernard Kawka, Ewa Wanat, Janusz Much, and Waldemar Parzyński. Later on after Bernard Kafka left the band, Ryszard Szeremeta joined the group. With their absolute technically perfect commend of the singing, NOVI were often compared to Lambert-Ross-Hendricks. What distinguished the band from their contemporaries was their unique background, indulged in authentic Polish folk music, and music of Polish composer Fryderyk Chopin. Jan Borkowski wrote about NOVI:
"The Novi use their voices like instruments. They can give the monosyllables of their vocalizes any sound and articulation they wish. In late 1964 a young graduate of the Warsaw Conservatory, Bernard Kawka, fascinated by the music of Bill Evans, whom he had met in Scandinavia, decided to devote himself to azz. In the Conservatory he found others who shared his enthusiasm for this music. This led to the formation of the band. They considered that the best way of expressing their jazz ideas would be to use their own voices."
Describing their unique style, Bernard Kawka of NOVI observed:
"There is this epidemic of labeling, everybody labels everybody - seems some people can't sleep at night without having everything neatly classified. I don't give a damn if somebody says I sing church music, and somebody says it's military marches and somebody says it's nursery rhymes, and somebody else wonders if it's Jazz. (...) I don't care what it's going to get called, I just want it to be good."
Another member of NOVI - Ewa Wanat - continued:
"Above all we found the human voice to be a perfect Jazz instrument and that the possibilities in sound, expression and interpretation were unlimited. We knew that there was still much to be done in the field we had chosen and so we decided to become real improvisers: to create music while singing. We resigned from lyrics, and began to scat. Texts are self-determining and make improvisation difficult, while we want our music to be spontaneous, fresh and full of improvising expression and rhythmic dynamism that belongs to Afro-rooted music".
An extraordinary talented pianist Mieczysław Kosz, was another young Polish Jazz artist, who defined the essence of the Polish Jazz art form. Kosz defined his credo:
"I am particularly concerned about expression and colour. I want to paint the mood, which sweeps over me".
Mieczysław Kosz was born on January 10, 1994 in small village Antoniówka in eastern Poland. He was blinded at a very early age due to inherited illness and has lived his entire life sightless. He discovered a love for music at a very early age - during his kindergarten years. He was mostly self taught, the only formal music education he has ever obtained was a diploma the high school music academy in Krakow. He worked as a professional pianist in bars and restaurants of Tatry mountains resort town Zakopane in southern Poland. In 1967 he debuted as a Jazz pianist at Warsaw's Jazz Jamboree Festival in 1967. He immediately achieved recognition on Polish Jazz scene and critical acclaim. During the next several years he collaborated with some of the most important Polish Jazz musicians, including drummers: Czesław Bartkowski and Janusz Stefański; bass players: Jacek Ostaszewski and Bronisław Suchanek, and saxophone player Jan "Ptaszyn" Wróblewski. He appeared at the most important Polish Jazz festivals, including Jazz Jamboree, Jazz nad Odrą, and he traveled and performed in Europe (Paris). He died tragically, probably due to suicide, on May 31, 1973 in Warsaw. Kosz's piano stylistics are very similar to Bill Evans. As Evans, Kosz's music always displayed a mastery of harmony, rhythm, and interpretive Jazz conception. He was well known for sensitivity of his sound, sophisticated technique, artistic invention, lyricism, elegant composition, and in the same time simplicity of expression and direct appeal to his listeners. His work fused elements from Jazz, European romantic music (Debussy, Chopin, Schumann), and Polish ethnic folklore music. As Bill Evans and Lennie Tristano, Mieczysław Kosz developed a unique conception of ensemble performance and a classical sense of form and conceptual scale in unprecedented, in Polish Jazz, ways. Kosz, similarly to other masters of Polish Jazz like Krzysztof Komeda and Zbigniew Seifert, has never had a time to fully realized his talent, potential and transplant them to international Jazz scene. His suicidal death at a ridiculously young age was a true tragedy. He still remains one the greatest (and underappreciated) geniuses of Polish and European Jazz.
Similarly to Kosz, pianist, saxophonist, flautist, arranger and film composer Włodzimierz Nahorny started his career in 1960's. Thankfully, he had more time and opportunity then Kosz, to grow and to develop, and to become a Polish Jazz legend. Nahorny was born in 1941 in Radzyń Podlaski and made his debut on stage in 1959 with his own quartet Little Four. The ubiquitous Nahorny is to be found on many of the most important Polish Jazz recordings and similarly graced many a star-studded festival line-up throughout Europe, U.S. and Asia during the sixties and seventies; especially at Warsaw's Jazz Jamboree Festival. In 1965 his trio debuted at Jazz nad Odrą festival and immediately gained national recognition and critical acclaim. The trio recorded an important, free Jazz album for Polish Jazz Series tiled Heart (Polish Jazz vol.15). In 1966 Nahorny received (from the hands of Duke Ellington himself) a prestigious modern Jazz laureate award at the Jazz competition in Vienna, Austria. Later on he successfully collaborated with many major Polish Jazz leaders, including Andrzej Kurylewicz, Krzysztof Sadowski, Andrzej Trzaskowski and Jan "Ptaszyn" Wróblewski. During the late 1960's he also teamed up and recorded with legendary Polish prog-rock group Breakout, and later on with progressive Jazz vocalist Marianna Wróblewska, singer Łucja Prus and group Novi Singers. In his musical interest Nahorny often reached beyond the Jazz field; he is a very successful pop music composer and author of one of the greatest Polish pop song ever - Jej Portret. Despite his successes in pop music field, especially important in his songbook is a series of works inspired by the music of Polish composer Karol Szymanowski. Another filed of Nahorny's artistic expressions are his soundtracks for motion and TV pictures.
Gradually, as the 1960's came to the end, new talents emerged and fresh musicians and the bands began to play more important roles. During the late 1960's, following clues from booming Polish Jazz scene, many avant-garde musicians in Poland were discovering the free Jazz concepts of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. Interestingly, due to the isolation of the country, the Polish style developed independently. Some of the new names soon became very significant, such as trumpeter Andrzej Przybielski, bass players Helmut Nadolski, Jacek Bednarek and Czesław Gładkowski. All of them played in the important role in the new decade of Polish Jazz history - 1970's.
Polish Jazz in the 1970's
The decade of 1970's in Poland's history could be referred as "Edward the First Regime". Edward (Gierek) was initially a secretary of the Katowice communist party organization, where he created a personal power base and became the recognized leader of the young technocrat faction of the party. In December 1970, a price hike led to a wave of strikes. When rioting over economic conditions broke out in late 1970, Gierek replaced Gomułka, who was forced to "retire", as party first secretary. Gierek promised economic reform and instituted a program to modernize industry and increase the availability of consumer goods, doing so mostly through foreign loans. His good relations with Western politicians, especially France's Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and Germany's Helmut Schmidt, were a catalyst for his receiving western aid and loans which translated into more pro-consumer friendly policies of government, an immediate rise in standards of living and entertainment (meaning second TV channel with frequent reruns of older American shows), and Coca Cola or Pepsi on the shelves of every supermarket. Gierek famous plea to "the working class" of Poland (Could You Help?) became his recipe for "New Poland": Western technology and investments + Communist regime in power = Success.
Although it has never wished for, Gierek's regime achieved something more then an initial economical prosperity - the resurrection of Polish civil society. Encouraged by pro-Western policies of 1970's government, US president Jimmy Carter's rhetoric of human rights and ratification by Poland of 1975 Helsinki Declaration, which "promoted and encouraged the effective exercise of civil, political, economic, social, cultural and other rights and freedoms"; political dissidents in Poland resurfaced. Initially consisting only of very few brave ones, the independent political movement in Poland, decided to officially claim the rights they were denied to Poles for last 30+ years.
The Jazz community in Poland was in avant-guard of of the democratic changes. Created in late 50's the Polish Jazz Federation evolved into European Jazz Association and in 1966 created its own magazine - "Jazz Forum". Under leadership of Jan Byrczek, and later on Paweł Brodowski, "Jazz Forum" became the leading Jazz magazine in Poland, surpassing Jan Balcerak's "Jazz" and expended its reach beyond Poland. At the high of its success the magazine was printed in three independent versions, in three different languages (Polish, English and German), attracted critics from all over the world, and had distribution in 103 countries with offices in Warsaw, Vienna and New York City. Polish Jazz leaders were also able to open its own concert agency, and organize concerts and Jazz festivals with many international Jazz stars. The magazine international statue attracted some of the most important Polish critics, including Roman Kowal, Kaziemierz Czyż, Tomasz Szachowski, Janusz Szprot, Jan Borkowski, and Andrzej Trzaskowski. In 1973 The Club of the White Raven - a record club was created by Marek Cabanowski from the Polish Jazz Society, basically an independent record label with exclusive focus on the Jazz music - all of this in the country with one record company owned and by the government!
During the 1960's and 1970's Jazz field in Poland evolved into something else, something very unusual by Iron Curtain's standards, and something beyond Jazz - a free and independent community with vibrant institutions of a civil society in (still) totalitarian country. Many years before famous Ronald Regan's plea to Mikhail Gorbatchev "Tear down this wall Mr. Gorbatchev!"; the Wall has been demolished brick by brick by Jazz forces. Of course Jazz itself could not take all the credit for democratic changes that started happening in Poland - organized by independent intellectual and political elites of 1970's Poland, the Workers' Defense Committee (Komitet Obrony Robotnikow, KOR) was a first political group that emerged to give aid to prisoners detained after Radom's labor strikes in 1976 and their families. KOR was a precursor and inspiration to efforts of Solidarity a few years later. 1978 election of Karol Wojtyła as Pope John Paul II, and his triumphal tour of Poland in the following year, had also a critical impact in strengthening the opposition to Communism in Poland.
Pro-Western government policies of early 70's benefited Polish Jazz. Musicians were allowed to travel more freely, fans of Jazz had finally a chance to hear the Jazz message from the horse mouth. The line up from 1972 "Jazz Jamboree" International Jazz Festival shows it the best: Elvin Jones, Charlie Mingus, "Cannonball" Adderley, Cat Anderson, Ray Brooks and Jimmy Smith. Ironically, the local critics, still faithful to different drum beat, and in homage to Polish-Russian "friendship", devoted most of their attention to third-rate bands from the Soviet Union, making them appear as first-class stars, and praising the Russian Oleg Lundstrem Big Band for "introducing Russian folk elements to classic swing." Same idiotic comments were also not spared to Polish musicians who tried to reach beyond. Jacek Żurek, a well-known critic, was very harsh toward Tomasz Stańko band, observing that:
"the deformed remnants of Komeda's music became a pretext for chaotic and noisy improvisations which were fed to weary listeners for five hours".
Thankfully, the public did not care about nasty critics and pathetically exploitation of Jazz Jamboree as a pro-Soviet tool, and made this festival their own, annual celebration of social freedom, love for anything that American, and cosmopolitism. 1970's were a golden era of Jazz Jamboree, the festival attracted many Jazz fans from Eastern Europe, especially Eastern Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Scandinavia. Every October, during the time of annual jamborees, Warsaw was transformed into a multinational, sophisticated city, and it was Jazz music that provided the cohesive element that integrated young people coming to Poland from all countries of Eastern and Northern Europe.
Many musicians defined the Polish Jazz of the 1970's, they all played distinctive and different types of music, but they all had something in common: world-class Jazz.
In 1962, 20 years old trumpet player called Tomasz Stańko and pianist Adam Makowicz, created the Jazz Darings, later described by Jazz critic J. E. Berndt as the "first European free Jazz combo". Stańko was a graduate of Cracow Academy of Music when in 1963 he received and invitation from Krzysztof Komeda to join his band. Their collaboration lasted until Komeda's tragic death. Komeda's music, while remote from free Jazz, was highly modern and had a significant impact on young Stańko, who admitted:
"The lyricism, the feeling of playing only what's essential, the approach to structure, to asymmetry, many harmonic details. I was so lucky that I started out with him".
In 1968, Zbigniew Seifert joined the newly formed Stańko Quintet, soon switched from alto sax to electric violin, and the next chapter of European Jazz history began. Beside Stańko and Seifert, the line-up of the Quintet included Janusz Muniak on the saxophones and flute, Jan Gonciarczyk / Bronisław Suchanek on the bass and Janusz Stefański on the drums. The Quintet made three records: Music for K (1970), Jazz Message from Poland (1972) and Purple Sun (1973) but the albums could not compare to the magic of Quintet's life performances. The music of Quintet escaped easy definitions. Sophisticated, collective improvisations and breath taking instrumental solos were bands' trademarks; hypnotic cosmic-like interactions between members of the band, and between the band and the life public, complemented the whole experience. Stańko Quintet disbanded in 1973 on the pick of its creative potential and after achieving cult-like following in Europe. Always interested in musical progression, Stańko went through period of fascinating collaborations with artists including Alex Schlippenbach Globe Unity Orchestra, Krzysztof Penderecki, Don Cherry, Stu Martin, Dave Holland, Garry Peacock, and Jan Garbarek. He also experimented with electronics and electro-acoustic sounds, as well with concept of concerts for trumpet solo, at places as unusual as temple Taj Mahal in India. His most important work of the 1970's may have been with Finnish drummer Edward Vesala. Their series of albums, which included Balladyna and TWET, defined new directions for improvised music in the next decades.
Beginning of 1980's documents short lived but very important in Stańko's carrier partnership with inFormation - a trio lead by McCoy Tyner - influenced pianist Sławomir Kulpowicz, one of the most innovative bass players in Europe - Vitold Rek, and the legendary drummer Czesław "Mały" Bartkowski. The quartet recorded two albums in Poland in early 1980's: A i J and Music 81, capturing the period of political turmoil and social oppression (marshal law). Stańko's cooperation with inFormation is a fascinating document of artistic freedom, independence and creativity; musically leaping forward to another Stańko's Polish Quartet from the beginning of the 21st Century (Marcin Wasilewski, Michał Miśkiewicz, Sławomir Kurkiewicz). In 1980's Stańko also collaborated with Chico Freeman in Freeman's group Heavy Life, and worked with James Spaulding, Jack DeJohnette, and Rufus Reid. He was also briefly part of Cecil Taylor's big band in 1984. Shortly afterward, he formed another ensemble, Freelectronic, and experimented with post-Miles musical concepts on albums Lady Gone, Chameleon and C.O.C.X.. Always inspired by writers famous for their "improvised narration" like William Faulkner, William S. Burroughs, and James Joyce; Stańko spent part of the 80's exploring legacy of Polish writer Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy) with whom he shared interest in influence of narcotics in the process of artistic creation. His "Witkacy's period" awarded his fans with album Peyotl - Witkacy. Commenting later on use of the drugs, Stańko concluded:
"As Jimi Hendrix once said: 'Drugs are for adolescents'. Perhaps it took me a while but I am not a kid anymore".
The beginning of 1990's brought a final articulation of mature Stańko's style. The first album of the new decade was Bluish released by Krzysztof Popek's label Power Bros. Following this breakthrough album Stańko re-established an alliance with ECM Records, which issued some of Stańko's most acclaimed work, including Matka Joanna, Leosia that featured pianist Bobo Stenson; Litania - a tribute to Komeda; a cross continental ensemble featured at From the Green Hill, and series of albums with Marcin Wasilewski (piano), Sławomir Kurkiewicz (bass), and Michał Miśkiewicz (drums), that received uniform acclaim among the critics and Jazz fans worldwide. In 2002, after votes from 21 distinguished European Jazz critics, he received the very first European Jazz Award, which is intended to honor the most outstanding European Jazz musicians.
Starting his brilliant career in late 1960's, Stańko Quartet's alumni Zbigniew Seifert, quickly became leading European Jazz voice and the first violist capable to "transcend" the spirit of Coltrane music. Born June 6th, 1946, he began studying the violin at the age of six and ten years later also took up the saxophone. He studied violin at the University of Kraków, while also playing alto in his Jazz group. The music of John Coltrane proved to be a strong influence throughout Seifert's career. As Scott Yanow observed:
"Zbigniew Seifert was the violin what John Coltrane was to the saxophone".
From an early age and later on as a member of Stańko's Quintet (1969-1973), he had made a name for himself in Europe. As a leader Seifert (who was affectionately known as Zbiggy) performed music that ranged from free Jazz to fusion. During his short life he thankfully was able to collaborate with some of the brightest stars of both American and European Jazz, including Hans Koller, Joachim Kuhn, Billy Hart, Michael Brecker, John Scofield, Eddie Gomez, Charlie Mariano, Jack DeJohnette, and band Oregon with whom he recorded masterpiece album Violin. In the mid to late seventies, Seifert recorded a series of albums as a leader, that established him as one of the most unique voices in Jazz, and one of the most sophisticated improvisers on the violin. Tragically, his promising American and world career abruptly ended with his death to leukemia in 1979.
During the 1970's, the third decade of Jan "Ptaszyn" Wróblewski career, he truly became an indispensable ingredient in the many flavors being created. Born in 1936 in Kalisz, Poland, he came from the generation that, in the Stalinist era, discovered Jazz on clandestine radios when it was considered degenerate, immoral, and subversive. Wróblewski debuted at the first Sopot Jazz Festival in 1956 with Krzysztof Komeda's Sextet. Wróblewski was quickly spotted by George Wein, founder of the Newport Jazz Festival, to represent Poland in the International Youth Band conducted by Marshall Brown at the 1958 Festival. He was the first musician from behind the Iron Curtain to perform in the group. The Band's performance with a guest appearance by Louis Armstrong was memorialized in the American cult classic documentary Jazz on a Summer's Day and partially recorded for Columbia (CL-1246). As a result, Ptaszyn toured the US (Boston, New York, Los Angeles), Holland, and Belgium, where he gave several concerts at the American Theatre at Expo'58 in Brussels, along with Sarah Vaughan, Teddy Wilson, and Sidney Bechet, among others. After coming back to Poland, he became the leader of the Jazz Believers band (1958-59; other members included Komeda and Kurylewicz), and incorporated Jazz motifs heard in America into their compositions. During the same year, Wróblewski recorded his first album for the Polish Recording Company and debuted at Warsaw's famous Jazz Jamboree Festival. In 1960, he formed the Jazz Outsiders quintet. In the late 1950's and early 60's, Ptaszyn toured extensively with his groups in Europe, Africa and Asia. In 1962 Wróblewski joined the top Polish band at that time; the Andrzej Kurylewicz Quintet which recorded first Polish Jazz LP ever - Go Right.
In 1963, the Kurylewicz Quintet was invited to the Juan les Pins Festival in France but its leader was not given a passport. The rest of the group, which since then existed as the Polish Jazz Quartet, left for France: Wróblewski; tenor sax, Wojciech Karolak; piano, Andrzej Dąbrowski ; drums, and Roman "Gucio" Dyląg; double-bass. Following the Juan les Pins Festival, the group gave concerts at the Blue Note in Paris and toured West Germany for several months. The formation came back to Poland in 1964 at their best, and in the same year released the noteworthy album in the Polish Jazz Series (Polish Jazz Quartet), and had another success at the Bled Festival in Yugoslavia.
In the 1970's Wróblewski returned to playing saxophone in smaller bands. From 1973 to 1977, together with Wojciech Karolak (on Hammond organs), he led Mainstream, a leading Polish straight-ahead Jazz band. The group recorded two LP albums, performed in Germany, Hungary, and the USSR, toured Holland, and recorded for Polish Radio. In 1977, on the basis of Mainstream, Jan "Ptaszyn" Wróblewski Quartet was formed (Marek Bliziński; guitar, Vitold Rek, later replaced by Zbyszek Wegehaupt; double-bass, and Andrzej Dąbrowski; drums). The quartet often collaborated with vocalist Ewa Bem. The formation was very active, recording two LPs, performing in Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and India (Calcutta Jazz Fest and in Bombay), and touring Holland twice. A high point for the original Jan "Ptaszyn" Wróblewski Quartet was its 1981 US tour with spectacular appearances at New York s Village Vanguard and the NAJE Convention in St. Louis.
But the accomplishments of his small bands, have become obscured by his much closer association with free Jazz and Studio Jazzowe Polskiego Radia. In 1967 Wróblewski became director of the M-2 Studio Group. Their performance under the name Jazz Studio during the 1968 Warsaw Jazz Jamboree was such a great success that Polish Public Radio gave up the M-2 Studio name, transforming it into the Polish Radio Jazz Studio. The Studio was a unique blend: part venue for free expression by virtuosos and soloists and part workshop for musicians and composers. It would be virtually impossible to find any important Polish Jazz composer or soloist who at one time or another in their career had not been involved with the Studio. Musicians, composers and soloists had a chance to test their own ideas and have them confronted and discussed in a peer-group setting. The Studio recorded for Polish Radio, produced almost 20 TV programs, released two records, performed at festivals in Kongsberg (Norway), Ahus (Sweden), Pori (Finland), Nuremberg (Germany), Szekesfehervar (Hungary), and at all Warsaw's Jazz Jamboree Festivals. Without the Studio and without its leader, Wróblewski, Polish Jazz would not be the same.
What might have been initially a joke, or the result of the willful consumption of too much liquid distillate from Polish potatoes, another forum for Wróblewski's expression in the 1970's was S.P.T.T. - Stowarzyszenie Popierania Prawdziwej Twórczości (the Association for Advancement of Real Art) or Chałturnik. "Chałturnik" in Polish means somebody who does not perform its work well, but in contrary - very bad and without to much caring about it. One could describe the music of Chałturnik as a mix of bar mitzvah / weeding band sounds, 1920's happy Jazz, and Art Ensemble of Chicago mambo-jumbo philosophy, all filled with clichéd Peruvian street group repertoire and as weird as Burt Bacharach's psychedelic soundtrack to 1967 James Bond flick Casino Royal. Chałturnik was natural extension for Wróblewski's Jazz Studio experiments. However, the band had a more intimate and relaxed atmosphere and used musical persiflage or banter. Nevertheless, the premise remained the same: to experiment, to confront taboos, to challenge judgments and to take new unorthodox approaches to attitudes never before questioned - but with much more distance and humor. The lineup of Chałturnik included some of the brightest stars from Polish Jazz constellation of 1970's like Zbigniew Namysłowski, Janusz Muniak, and Tomasz Szukalski as well as other musicians not normally associated with Polish Jazz, among them tuba player Zdzisław Piernik, famous for his interpretation of Krzysztof Penderecki's music.
In 1981, after his quartet broke up, Jan "Ptaszyn" Wróblewski focused on collaborating with the new generation of musicians. After leading workshop classes with a group of debutants at Chodzież Music Workshop in July 1982, Wróblewski decided to introduce these young musicians to the Polish Jazz scene by forming his new band New Presentation, with Jerzy Głód on drums, Jacek Niedziela on double-bass, Wojciech Niedziela on piano, and Robert Majewski on trumpet. The group did not tour abroad because of martial law in Poland, but it took part in two editions of the Jazz Jamboree Festival and recorded an LP for Poljazz before it broke up after two years. Wróblewski considers New Presentation one of the most important groups in his career. In the 1990's Wróblewski returned to re-developing and fine-tuning his perfect quartet: he worked with young and accomplished jazzmen, including the Simple Acoustic Trio with Marcin Wasilewski, Sławek Kurkiewicz, and Michał Miśkiewicz, and with pianist Andrzej Jagodziński. In 1996, the new Ptaszyn Wróblewski Quartet was finally formed with the brilliant musicians Marcin Jahr on drums, Jacek Niedziela on double-bass, and Wojciech Niedziela on piano. The quartet, sometimes playing as a sextet (with Henryk Miśkiewicz, Henryk and Robert Majewski) has been giving concerts in the same line-up ever since. Today, well into the 21st century, Wróblewski remains active on Polish Jazz scene, leading the bands and taking parts in varieties of musical projects, including his long time work at Polish Radio as Poland's longest running and the most influential Jazz DJ. His close collaboration since 1959 with Willis Conover, resulted in his creation of Forty-Five Minutes of Jazz, "Ptaszyn" Wróblewski's weekly broadcast at the Polish Radio that has been on the air since 1970 and served as a first "Jazz University" for many Jazz fans in Poland, including the author of this essay.
Wojciech (Wojtek) Karolak (born on 28 May 1939 in Warsaw, Poland, where he still lives today) is a notable Hammond B-3 organ player who refers to himself as "an American Jazz and rhythm and blues musician, born by mistake in Middle Europe". He has also played saxophone and piano professionally.
In 1958, he started working with the band Jazz Believers playing alto saxophone. The Jazz Believers consisted of the future top Polish Jazz players, among them Andrzej Trzaskowski, Krzysztof Komeda, and Jan "Ptaszyn" Wróblewski. Next, Wojciech Karolak played tenor saxophone in Andrzej Trzaskowski's The Wreckers. In 1961, Karolak switched from saxophone back to piano. In 1962, formed his own trio and started recording his own music. This trio become the premier Jazz band in Poland and backed most Western/American artist visiting Poland, among them Annie Ross, Ray Charles, and Don Ellis. In 1966, Karolak left Poland for Sweden where he played rock and blues in music clubs in order to, in his own words, "make enough money to buy an apartment and a Hammond B-3" which he eventually bought in 1973. From then on, Karolak spent more time composing and arranging though he did continue to collaborate and perform with others. He cooperated with violinist Michał Urbaniak in Europe and in the U.S., and recorded few albums with Urbaniak's groups, including important landmark - Constellation in Concert (1973) which presented the mature possibilities of the Polish brand of fusion. After his return to Poland, he collaborated with Zbigniew Namysłowski (including legendary album Kujaviak Goes Funky), and then co-led the group Mainstream and worked as a composer-arranger for the Polish Radio Studio Jazz Orchestra. In 1974 he recorded album Easy, possibly the best Polish funk album ever, which he described:
"I intended to cut a record with pop music played by Jazz musicians. It was done easy, and it should be listened to easy as well; it may come through one ear and flow away through another. And if, incidentally, it brings the listener some pleasure - we may say that is mission is filled."
In the 1980's Karolak established, a "super formation" - The Killers with Tomasz Szukalski (saxes) and Czesław Bartkowski (drums). The group recorded only one self-titled album but it marked the history of Polish Jazz forever, being the best example of exciting adaptation of Weather Report's language into Polish Jazz idiom. Jazz Forum's critics survey in 1990's found Time Killers album to be the Best Polish Jazz Record of 1980's. Since the 1990's Karolak has played with the guitarist Jarosław Śmietana, and collaborated with variety of rock bands. With Piotr Baron and Zbigniew Lewandowski, Karolak has started The High Bred Jazz Trio. He continues to write, arrange, and perform in Poland and abroad. The band shared common interest in Polish musical folk tradition.
Krzysztof Sadowski was born in Warsaw, Poland on December 15, 1936. He studied piano for eleven years while at school and after graduating from the Warsaw Institute of Technology took up a career in Jazz (1957). In the early 1960's he played and recorded with Zbigniew Namysłowski's Jazz Rockers and Jan Wróblewski's Jazz Outsiders (both 1961-62), and worked with Andrzej Kurylewicz and the Swingtet led by the alto saxophonist Jerzy Matuszkiewicz. He achieved considerable success with his own group Bossa Nova Combo (from 1963), with which he toured the Soviet Union (1965) and Scandinavia (1967). In 1967, influenced by Jimmy Smith, he took up the Hammond organ and formed a hard-bop ensemble, the Krzysztof Sadowski Organ Group. With the Organ Group he recorded two important albums for Polish Jazz Series: Krzysztof Sadowski and his Hammond Organ, and Three Thousands Points. He also toured and recorded with his wife, the pop singer and flutist Liliana Urbańska. Sadowski has composed many popular hits in Poland, as well as music for films, theater, radio, and television, and two suites, On the Cosmodrome and Our Common World. Krzysztof Sadowski is a long time activist and executive of Polish Jazz Society.
Born in October 1935 in Poznań, vibes player Jerzy Milian was very active on Polish Jazz filed since mid 1950's. He was one of the most important collaborators of Krzysztof Komeda, defining "modern" sound of Komeda's bands in 1950's. Milian's composition Memory of Bach written and performed in style of Modern Jazz Quartet, became the most popular modern Jazz tune of that era in Poland. In liner notes for Milian's single album in Polish Jazz Series titled Bazar (Polish Jazz vol. 17), Jerzy Redliński wrote about Milian:
"Contemporaneousness is a special quality of Milian's whole road of artistic quest and achievements. While making use of the tradition formed by Hampton and Milt Jackson, he tried to exceed the boundaries mapped out by it. He looked at the instrument in a somewhat different way than his predecessors, as a soloist. His quest above all led him to take greater advantage of the colorist possibilities of the vibraphone; the tone seems to be the element which fascinates him most. In this respect his higher education in the plastic arts is an internal inspiration and a great help but also the sonorous ideas ever present in contemporary music as well as his cooperation with one of the leading representatives of the non-Jazz musical avant-garde in Poland, Professor Bogusław Schaeffer, whose compositions he performs, have an influence on this predilection of his. As a vibraphone virtuoso he uses a wide range of tones and moods, as an improviser he demonstrates great invention and originality. He has performed at all the 'Jazz Jamboree' international festivals in Warsaw since 1958, at the festivals in Prague (1965) and Ljubljana (1967), at the 'Jazz Panorama' in Ghent (1965), in the Jazz clubs of Brno and Brussels as well as in Grenoble, Cologne and Copenhagen, everywhere he was enthusiastically applauded. John Hammond described him as 'one of the best vibraphonist who have appeared since the times of Red Norvo'. The fact that he is fascinated by contemporaneousness is also expressed in his work as composer - beginning from the cool work based on Bach's invention and ending in the concerto for three freemen and a symphonic orchestra 'In Memoriam Martin Luther King' (1969) which was written for the Poznań Philharmonics. These works, both the strictly Jazz compositions as well as those that exceed the Jazz convention, form an original and impressive world of sounds in which tradition is mixed with contemporary methods and the musical language of Jazz with composing techniques and means of expression that are characteristic of the avant-garde of serious music. They have brought Milian great success both at home and abroad. This success began with 'Instrumental Dialogues' which were performed by the Big Band of the Polish Radio at 'Jazz Jamboree 64' and were then recorded in Belgium. Since 1965 Milian has cooperated with Gustav Brom's orchestra, and with the Brussels radio and television. The following concertos written for various Jazz and symphonic instruments are a result of this latter cooperation: 'Circulations', 'Four Engravings for Big Band and Soloists' recorded with the participation of the composer, 'Realities', 'Nihil obstat' as well as 'Pieces for a Friend' and 'Polish Folk Suite'. These excellent compositions found distinguished performers in Belgium. In 1967 his 'Points, Lines and Figures' were awarded a prize in the composers' competition at the Jazz festival in Prague. Milian's ballet 'Tempus Jazz 67' staged by the Poznań Opera and with Conrad Drzewiecki as the choreographer was an artistic event in this country, it was also performed in Genoa, Trieste and Strassbourg where it was favorably received by the international audiences' and critics."
But interestingly, and in contrary to very "modern" and "progressive" music of Komeda, Milian has always had a soft for dance and pop music. Countless singers recorded his songs, and his master pop music grooves, mixed with Jazz-Pops touches, enhanced by his tight arrangements, distinct dynamics and very modern articulation - best represented on his album Orkiestra Rozrywkowa PR i TV w Katowicach - gained him an opinion of an "easily one of the hippest vibes players in Europe in the 60s"(Dusty Groove).
Adam Makowicz is another of the real geniuses of Polish Jazz. His brilliant carrier spans through decades and until today he always amazes Jazz fans with his virtuosity and swing. Alumni of variety of styles, including both electric, as well as acoustic configurations; since 1974 Makowicz has been performing mainly as a soloist. He is a virtuoso pianist, with his own personal style, both in his own compositions and in piano interpretations of works of other composers. His style is a combination of American tradition originated by Tatum and George Gershwin, with elements of European music referring to the romantic tradition. Today, Makowicz is devoting more and more time to his own interpretations of classical standards written by composers such as Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and George Gershwin. His recitals are addressed to a large extent to audiences of philharmonics. The musician himself currently describes his music as "closer to classical music than to Jazz". This trend incorporates his compositions written for piano and for small bands. As Jim Fuselli once wrote about Makowicz in The Wall Street Journal:
"Adam Makowicz has been praised by Benny Goodman, compared with Art Tatum, Erroll Garner and Teddy Wilson, honored by Jazz publications and toasted all over Europe as a genius. Mr. Makowicz's fiery style, firm chording, and rapid, Tatumesque right hand phrasing make him more than deserving of the accolades he has received."
Similar rave reviews were often written about another giant of Polish Jazz Zbigniew Namysłowski. The quote from Willis Conover himself says enough:
"When I first visited Poland, I was quite unprepared to hear Polish musicians at so high level. Namysłowski was clearly the best. International voting has proved that audiences in Europe recognize the best Polish musician as among the best anywhere in the world. He honors 3 traditions, of Jazz, of Polish, of himself. Anyone who misses Namysłowski is missing a unique source of creativity in 20th century. Namysłowski is a giant!"
Namysłowski is a master of many instruments, from the age of four he played piano, he mastered cello at twelve, then studied music theory in Warsaw. He initially (1950s) played trombone in Polish Dixieland, and in 1960's took up alto saxophone and ventured into modern Jazz joining Andrzej Trzaskowski's hard bop group the Jazz Wreckers. In 1963 he formed his first quartet, with whom her recorded groundbreaking album Lola for England's Decca label. Namysłowski cites John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, and Joe Henderson as his favorite musicians but also draws inspiration from other sources, including blues, rock, and traditional Polish, Balkan, and Indian music. Namysłowski is also a very successful composer, including genres outside of Jazz and encompassing anything from Polish version of funk to sophisticated pop music. In the field of composition, Namysłowski has created his own unique and easily recognizable language: the harmonic language, the swing that goes beyond the scale of musical transcription, the Jazz tradition, and his always present appreciation of Polish music folklore. Besides being a ground breaking visionary of Polish Jazz, his role in Polish Jazz could be compared to Art Blakely's Jazz Messengers impact on Jazz history - he become a distinguished mentor of young musicians. The number of musicians who passed through various Namyslowski's bands is long, and includes abundance of Polish Jazz diamonds, some of them include: pianists: Wojciech Gogolewski, Adam Makowicz, Wojciech Karolak, Adzik Sendecki, Leszek Możdżer, and Sławek Jaskułke; bass players: Janusz Kozłowski, Paweł Jarząbski, Darek Oleszkiewicz, Krzysztof Ścierański; drummers: Czesław "Mały" Bartkowski, Kazimierz Jonkisz, Jerzy Głód, and Grzegorz Grzyb. Until today Namysłowski remains himself and always refining for his own musical language. To quote Maestro Namysłowski himself:
"to be successful, it is no longer enough to play Horace Silver themes. One shouldn't play material borrowed from records (...) I founded my own quartet and created my music to play what I want to and how I want to".
In 1970's and 1980's Michał Urbaniak was probably the best internationally known Polish Jazz musician. Prodigy of various Komeda's bands and leader on his own from the late 1960's, his worldwide career began in 1973, when Columbia published his groundbreaking album Fusion. Since that, his passion has been continuing with varying fortune. But thought out the years of his artistic calling, all elements of his ingenious personality were always there: straight-ahead expression, paired with Slavic ingenuousness, musical eclectics, contemporary articulation and the influence of Polish folk music - all flawlessly incorporated into the vocabulary of American Jazz. The beginning of the 1990's was the culminating point in his career: his name was then mentioned numerous times in various categories of important Jazz surveys, including of the prestigious "Down Beat". In his compositions, Urbaniak has always attempted to integrate the latest trends of world Jazz with elements of his personal style. He brings together the original, easily recognizable sound of his instrument with current musical conventions. Consequently, musicians representing the styles of fusion, soul-Jazz, funk or rap appear in his recordings in the next decades. But Urbaniak's explorations have never - to quote critic Kazimierz Czyż - "roamed outside of borders of art form". Urbaniak has continued his hunt after cutting edge styles, sounds, genres and technologies from the Jazz-rock of 1970's to the fusion and funk of the 1980's to the hip-hop of the 1990's, and electronic sounds of 21st century - always founding inspiration in his own folk tradition, when at the same time, creating homogenous form of musical expression in a truly unique Jazz art form. In his continues pursuit for new inspirations and new sounds, Michał Urbaniak is probably as close to Miles Davis' spirit as any Polish Jazz artist could be.
Michał Urbaniak's artistic achievements would not be possible without the input from his long time partner and collaborator - Urszula Dudziak. Although Dudziak studied piano formally for some years, she began to sing in the late 50's after hearing records by Ella Fitzgerald. She started her singing career with Edward Czarny's Orchestra and within a few years she was one of the most popular Jazz artists in Poland. In 1958 she was invited by Krzysztof Komeda to join and to record with his band. She met and later married Michał Urbaniak, started recoding and touring with him since 1964, and in 1970's choosing New York City as their new hometown. Language barriers hold no problems for Dudziak, as she (as recommended to her by Urbaniak) customarily avoids words in favor of a wordless vocalizing that is far more adventurous than scat. Already gifted with a remarkable five-octave range, Dudziak employs electronic devices to extend still further the possibilities of her voice. She has frequently worked with leading contemporary musicians, including Archie Shepp and Lester Bowie, and was a member of the Vocal Summit group (1981), with Jay Clayton, Jeanne Lee, Bobby McFerrin, Norma Winstone, Michelle Hendricks, and Lauren Newton. She is an author of her own programs: Future Talk (prepared with her friend writer Jerzy Kosiński) and The Nature is leaving us. Since mid 80's she has been active again in Poland, performing and recording solo and with local artists, including vocalist Grażyna Auguścik and band Walk Away. Although her remarkable talents are worthy of greater exposure, Dudziak's chosen style has meant that she has remained relatively unknown except her 1976 mega-hit Papaya which is a mixture of jazzy vocal techniques and more mainstream funky rhythms.
Jazz-rock fusion of 1970's Polish Jazz was not limited to Michał Urbaniak's bands. Beside Urbaniak, the leading groups of that category also included Laboratorium, Extra Ball, Crash, Spisek Sześciu, No Smoking, and Sun Ship. Their inspirations were obvious, however they went far beyond recreating and mimicking western music - they enhanced it by adding a little bid of Slavic flavor. Interestingly, today after more then three decades, this 1970's music genre, re-branded as "Polish Funk" getting more and more recognition and following in some of the most unlikely places, like... London's dance clubs (!). Contemporary American critics agree describing Polish Funk as:
"mad mix of Jazz, funk, fusion, electric, and vocal elements that somehow managed to flourish wonderfully during the 70's years of Soviet control - a real musical marvel..." (Dusty Groove).
Laboratorium was probably most popular band of Polish Jazz Rock Funk. The band's beginnings are rooted in progressive rock but they approach to harmony and improvisation was always strictly Mahavishnu Orchestra / Weather Report - like. An important and significant element of Labolatorium's style, was Marek Stryszowski's vocalizations, often revealing the use of electronic voice-modulation effects. Rich and innovative use of electronic keyboards by band leader Janusz Grzywacz is another Laboratorium's trademark, coped with pulsating drums, and later on magical sound of Krzysztof Ścierański's bass guitar.
"What is important, the band with all those various references kept their artistic identity, confirmed with musical sensitivity and the musicians' skills" (Michał Wilczyński).
Another leading band of that era, Extra Ball was formed in l974, and founded by guitarist, Jarosław Śmietana. Many excellent musicians passed through the band in next few years, but it was always Śmietana's artistic conceptions and energy that animated the group. During its tenure of Polish Jazz scene, the music of Extra Ball matured, from youthful fascination with Chick Corea's Return to Forever universe, to post-Coltrane reflections.
"Their resignation from effectual Jazz-rock rhythms went together with a relish for instrumental sound, with on increased freedom of improvisation, briefly with the characteristics which form the backbone of contemporary Jazz. Extra Ball's repertory demonstrated both the authors' inventiveness and the fine feeling for collective music making." (Jan Poprawa).
Extra Ball stopped rolling in 1981; later on Jarek Śmietana has remained very active on the Polish Jazz scene leading many groups, including Sounds, Symphonic Sound Orchestra, and Polish Jazz Stars Band. He also had a series of very successful cooperation with other leaders such as Zbigniew Namysłowski, Zbigniew Seifert, Sławomir Kulpowicz, Jan "Ptaszyn" Wróblewski, Henryk Majewski, Piotr Wojtasik, and Wojciech Karolak. Leszek Kotarski wrote about Śmietana at the "Jazz Forum":
"All the notes fall naturally into place. Never garrulous or merely exhibitionistic, it is a Jazz concert of the highest caliber. Each phrase is swinging and is full of drive and feeling. In brief, that is how you can describe the music of Jarek Śmietana, one of the most outstanding Polish Jazz musicians. He has created his own music style and individual sound, always personal yet constantly communicative. His first priority is the highest possible artistic level".
Sun Ship was one of the most interesting bands on the Polish Jazz scene of the late 70's and early 80's. The band combined young rhythm section of pianist Adzik Sendecki, bass player Vitold Rek, and drummer Marek Stach; with more matured saxophone players: Henryk Miśkiewicz and Zbigniew Jaremko. Miśkiewicz and Jaremko were coming from a very popular during the 70's straight-ahead modern Jazz band Jazz Carriers known for their "polyrhythmic and polymetric structures and an experimental usage of meters" (Daniel Best). Sendecki, Stach and Rek were "graduates" of Extra Ball with their youthful fascination with Jazz rock rhythms. Despite different inspirations, the music of Sun Ship was very cohesive, attractive, very "colorful", and very well received by the fans and concert goers. The original repertoire which was created by the members of the band complemented group's uniqueness and adventuress. The role of the musical creation was emphasized by Adzik Sendecki in the interview with Jazz Forum in March 1980:
"Our music is mostly defined by composition. The final shape of the tune is determined who wrote it and what his interests are".
Interestingly all members of the band shared common interest in Polish musical folk tradition.
But the best Jazz-rock group of 1970's did not originated from Polish Jazz but from the rock scene. The name of the band was SBB and included three master improvised rockers: piano/keybord player Józef Skrzek, Apostolis Anthimos on guitars, and drummer Jerzy Piotrowski. SBB revolutionized Polish rock combining Jimmy Hendrix and King Crimson languages, with lyrical Slavic expression, and its own trademarked Jazz-like free improvisation. SBB is acclaimed as the best Polish rock band of the past five decades. The critics raved: "The three musicians that revolutionized Polish rock", "Beyond doubt the most prominent representatives of progressive rock in Poland" - it is only a mere sample of the way the band has been referred to. A complete list of references and opinions would be far too long to quote. Yet apart from the groups formidable and praiseworthy history one must not forget that SBB is still in the first place an active band, far from being dormant, regularly giving live performances and shunning to choose a soft option as far as music is concerned. Invariably Seeking, Breaking and Building...(SBB).
The another important fixture of 1970's Polish Jazz and beyond, was group Osjan (also known as Ossian), which operated outside of Jazz and rock worlds, but was inspired by both. The origins of the name Osjan were derived from a fictional character from a poem by Polish poet Bolesław Leśmian. The band was created in early 70's by Polish prog-rock veteran - guitar player Marek Jackowski (Vox Gentis, Anawa, and later on Maanam), accomplished Jazz bass player Jacek Ostaszewski (flutes) who lost interest in Jazz, painter and poet Tomasz Hołuj (percussion), and percussionist Milo Kurtis. Osjan's music combined elements of different musical cultures such as Indian, African, Arabic, and Native American; with Jazz improvisation and classical music influences. The band's line up changed frequently which allowed it to redefine itself, which was further enhanced by regular collaborations with many guest musicians including Tomasz Stańko, Apostolis Anthimos from SBB, legendary trumpeter Don Cherry, a shaman from the Cheronee tribe and others.
"But the factor that occupies the central place in Osjan's music is rhythm - the most primordial and present in every musical culture element. Ossian is regarded the pioneer of so called world music in Poland but in reality the music of Osjan doesn't explore nor utilize any ethnicality. It simply stands beyond any ethnic, stylistics or genre affinity because the goal of all Osjan's searches were always the most basic and universal elements of music" (Prog Archives).
As the 1970's were coming to the end, the end of Gierek's political regime was also near. After initial economic successes, fueled by large-scale borrowing from the West, the Gierek's vision for prosperous and economically independent Poland faltered due to inherited economic contradictories, Potiomkin style economic policies, and 1973 oil crisis. As the political pressure from the opposition increased, and labor strikes came back to the picture, Gierek's government responded with series of anti-democratic and totalitarian policies. In the late 1970's the government of Edward Gierek was finally forced to raise prices, and this led to another wave of public protests and his political outcast. Fortunately, (for Gierek, but not necessary for anybody else) his "visionary" farsightedness is well and alive in contemporary People's Republic of China.
Polish Jazz in the 1980's
In early August 1980, the wave of strikes led to the founding of the independent trade union "Solidarity" (Polish Solidarność) by electrician Lech Wałęsa. The growing strength of the opposition led the government of Wojciech Jaruzelski to declare martial law in December 1981. After crushing the opposition and throughout next two years of martial law, Jaruzelski's government was somehow ambivalent and undefined in its vision for Poland. Initially very confrontational to Ronald Regan's administration and its allies; during the later years of the decade it was more open to ideas of democratic changes. With the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, increasing pressure from combined forces of the Pope (Wojtyla) and the President (Regan), and continuing unrest (Solidarność), the Communists were forced to negotiate with their opponents. The 1988 Round Table Talks led to Solidarity's participation in the first after World War II free elections of 1989, which transformed into its candidates' striking victory (Solidarność won 99% of seats in Senate), what sparked off a succession of peaceful transitions from Communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe.
In fall of 1983 one of the important concerts in history of Polish Jazz took place at the Congress Hall in Warsaw; the arena better known for welcoming delegates for Congress of Polish Communist Party then... Miles Davis band: Miles Davis (tp, Oberheim OBX-2, Yamaha GS-2), Robert Irving (Korg Polysix), Bill Evans (ts, ss, fl), Darryl Jones (el-b), Al Foster (dr), John Scofield (el-g) and Mino Cinelu (perc). It was a magical evening with one of the best performance in Miles Davis career and perhaps the greatest single Jazz event to take place in Poland. The concert which started with Miles ignoring the fans and playing facing the courtain and back to the public, concluded with maestro Davis loosing his "coolness" and rewarding the fans with unprecedented three encores. To quote Miles himself:
"I took the band to Europe for a fee dates in the fall of 1983. This tour was something special because the people were so happy to see me, and they really got into the music. I remember one date in particular in Warsaw, Poland. When I got through playing my concert, people stood and cheered, and chanted that they hoped that I live a hundred years. Man, that was something!"
With the beginning of the new decade, the focus of Polish Jazz began to shift. A new generations of musicians were ready to claim their place on the Jazz map. In the early 80s, "the Young Power" movement - with composer and flutist Krzysztof Popek at the helmet - began questioning existing dogma. Born on January 27, 1957 in Rybnik, Popek' official debut was at Jazz Juniors Festival in 1982 and during Jazz on Odrą in 1985 (on both occasions he won individual prizes). Since then he has been a major figure on Polish Jazz scene starting with his leadership of the Young Power movement that revolutionized Polish Jazz in 1980's. Popek is a master of soprano and alto flutes; he is also an acomplished composer, an arranger and an inspiring leader of his many cross-national formations. He's fluent in diverse Jazz styles and languages: from free, harmolodic concepts of Ornette Coleman to contemporary hard bop. He remains a driving force of Polish Jazz today, being at the same time actively recording and performing artist as well as a head of independent Jazz record label Power Bros.
During the 1980's along with musicians organized around Young Power, electric groups like pianist Janusz Grzywacz's Laboratorium, violinist Krzesimir Dębski's String Connection, and various Jarek Śmietana's formations, have been slowly taking over with concertgoers and record buyers. The popular "newcomers" presented themselves as an alternative to existing status-quo on the Polish Jazz field. But despite being verbally critical and musically adventurous, the Young Power movement soon ran out of gas and blended into the existing Jazz spectrum. The same happened to members of Laboratorium, String Connection and Śmietana's bands who merged into Jazz establishment.
Some of the most talented names that established themselves on the Jazz map in Poland of this era also included: pianists Sławomir Kulpowicz, Andrzej Jagodziński, and Leszek Kułakowski; extraordinary talented bass player Vitold Rek, and horn players: Henryk Miśkiewicz, Tomasz Szukalski, Janusz Muniak, Zbigniew Jaremko.
Sławomir Kulpowicz was a member of probably the most important band of Polish Jazz of 1980's - the Quartet. Created by four equally talented musicians, it was the typical "band without a leader". The ensemble consisted of Kulpowicz on piano, Tomasz Szukalski (saxophones), Paweł Jarzębski (bass) and Janusz Stefański (drums). Although the promise of the Quartet, which formally existed for only two years (1978-1980), has never fully materialized, the band won a permanent place in the history of Polish Jazz. It was probably the most ambitious and original attempt by any Polish Jazz musicians, except Zbigniew Seifert, to re-interpreted the music of late John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner. Kulpowicz was a graduated of the Academy of Music in Katowice (1974), the home of some of Poland's most recognized contemporary composers, including Górecki. However, it was not pianists like himself, but John Coltrane who was his greatest inspiration, and to to whom he devoted his master's thesis entitled the "Art of John Coltrane". In 1976, Kulpowicz joined the Zbigniew Namysłowski quartet with whom he toured extensively. Later on Kulpowicz worked as a leader of his own group inFormation which fluctuated from duo, to trio, to quartet (with Tomasz Stańko), to sextet, and finally devoting himself to solo work. But it was a 1978 appearance at the "Jazz Yatra Festival" in India which had a profound and life altering effect on Kulpowicz. Since then, he has visited India several times on a musical and spiritual quest. He has paired with Indian sitar master Shujaat Khan and with Turkish master musician Burhan Ocal. This turn Eastward and Inward created an urge to express his spiritual yearnings through his work. His desire lead him to meet musical master Alice Coltrane and culminated in a spiritual Jazz album Samarpan Songs and in his St. John Passion. From the mid 80's computer technology captured Kulpowicz's imagination. He successfully used the new medium in his works for film scores, stage productions, commercials, and television programs. Sławomir Kulpowicz passed away on February 2008.
Active since 1980's on Polish Jazz scene, pianist Andrzej Jagodziński, is credited to be the first to launch a "Chopin stream" in Polish Jazz in the next decade - 1990's. In his take on Chopin masterpieces, Jagodziński went
"beyond all experimentation done in Jazz or pseudo-Jazz with Chopin's music. It is a high-level, splendid piece of work and, I would even say, a masterpiece of Jazz improvisation in the classic-modern style" (Jazz Forum).
Leszek Kułakowski is another pianist fascinated with Chopin in 1990's, but his musical inspirations have been even more diverse. Graduate of the Academy of Music in Gdańsk, to this day he is fascinated by Jazz, theatre, classical music and compositions. Polish folklore, especially from Koszuby region in northern Poland is another important stimulation for Kułakowski, as well as music of Krzysztof Komeda.
Vitold Rek is a graduate of the Academy of Music in Cracow and the winner of the individual prize at the Jazz Nad Odrą festival in 1975. After apprenticeship in Jan "Ptaszyn" Wróblewski quartet of early 1970's, he became a co-leader (with Adzik Sendecki) of Jazz-rock group Sun Ship. Since mid 70's he developed into an important player on initially Polish, and later on after moving to Germany, European Jazz scene. His playing unites Jazz influences with classical and East European folk elements, especially music of his native region Rzeszów, in south-eastern Poland, with a focus on live performance and composition. A master of double bass, Rek is one of the most cultivated players of this instrument in Europe with "sound clean, big and voluminous as no other" (G. Hottmann). During his career Rek has collaborated with many important European artists, including Tomasz Stańko, Jan "Ptaszyn" Wróblewski, Charlie Mariano, Albert Mangelsdorff, and Karl Berger among many other musical partners. John Tchicai calls Rek his "preferred double bassist" with "a telepathic connection when we play".
1980's were already a second (or sometimes third) decade of horn players Henryk Miśkiewicz, Tomasz Szukalski, Janusz Muniak and Zbigniew Jaremko careers. All accomplished, and fluently diverse in Jazz music languages, those players represented new quality in Polish Jazz. Talented artists, and improvisers all off them shared one thread - musical mastership and professionalism. They were able to communicate with their band mates in different music languages and conventions, lead their own bands, provide valuable support for leaders of different bands and keep Jazz fans from Rura Jazz club in Wrocław to New York's Village Vanguard on their toes all the time.
Tomasz Szukalski is one of the most important but probably most under appreciated Jazz musician in the history of Polish Jazz. He is multi-talented artist who has contributed to the numbers of most important milestones of Polish and European Jazz, including albums by leaders like Zbigniew Namysłowski, Jan "Ptaszyn" Wróblewski and Tomasz Stańko. His charisma on those recordings is always very distinct and always present, in many cases he almost "steals" the record from the leader (just listen to Szukalski on Edward Vesala's Satu)
Szukalski is a graduate of Warsaw Music College PWSM, where clarinet was his main instrument. Performing musician since his high school days, he self-taught himself to play tenor and soprano saxophones. After early collaborations with pop group Partita, Big Band Stodoła and bands of the leaders like Janusz Muniak, and Tomasz Ochalski; in 1972 he joined Zbigniew Namysłowski group with whom he extensively toured and recorded legendary albums Winobranie and Kujaviak Goes Funky. He quickly established himself on Jazz scene in Poland and collaborated with Włodzimierz Nahorny, Tomasz Stańko (Balladyna, TWET, Almost Green, Live at Remont), and Jan "Ptaszyn" Wróblewski (Sprzedawcy Glonów).
In 1977, Szukalski joined probably the most important band in Polish Jazz of 1980's - the Quartet. In 1984 along with Czesław Bartkowski (drums) and Wojtek Karolak (keyboards), Szukalski co-leader another "band without a leader" - Time Killers. The group recorded only one self-titled album but it marked the history of Polish Jazz. Jazz Forum's critics survey in 1990's found Time Killers to be the Best Polish Jazz Record of 1980's, and in many critics opinion probably the best example of exciting adaptation of Weather Report's language into Polish Jazz idiom.
During the rest of the 80's, 1990's and to the present time Szukalski has remained active and productive on Polish Jazz scene. He is continuing many fruitful collaborations with old musical friends (Stańko, Namysłowski) as well as with many new ones: Janusz Szprot, Krzysztof Sadowski, Józef Skrzek, Staszek Sojka, Artur Dutkiewicz, Andrzej Cudzich, Piotr Wojtasik, Jarek Śmietana, Wojciech Majewski, and Grzegorz Karnas.
Artists of free Jazz played an important role in the process of development of Jazz in Poland of 1980's. The avant-garde stream of Polish Jazz was represented by heavenly talented Andrzej Przybielski (trumpet), Helmut Nadolski (contrabass), Michał Zduniak (percussion), Władysław Jagiełło (percussion), Wojciech Konikiewicz (composer, keyboard player), Andrzej Biezan (piano), Jan Fryderyk Dobrowolski (piano), Marianna Wróblewska (vocals), Czesław Gładkowski (bass), Krzysztof Zgraja (flute), Włodzimierz Kiniorski (saxophones), and Aleksander Korecki (saxophones). The significant bands included Free Cooperation, Sesja 80 and Tie Break.
Since 1980's, Wojciech (Voytek) Konikiewicz (born 1956 in Wrocław) is one of the most fascinating personalities on Polish Jazz scene. He is also a rare example of a person whose educational background includes studies in classical music, piano, composition, technology, electro-acoustics, and philosophy. In 80's he took part in a free-punk-funk jazz rebel, founding legendary groups like Sesja 80 Acoustic Action, Free Cooperation, and Green Revolution. All those bands, and especially Green Revolution, broke the limits of Jazz idiom, and preceded world wave of acid & hip hop Jazz and Bill Laswell's experiments in 90's; mixing freely ethno, free Jazz, funk, hip hop, dub and even...punk rock. An extensive drum machine programming, interactive use of a huge MIDI controlled synthesizer & module system, ecstatic solos of keyboards, electronically transformed trumpet and saxophone, profound vocals, trance of ethnic drums, onomatopoeic rap of an avant-garde poetry (Miron Białoszewski), as well as deep and creative mixing by Wojtek Przybylski and Wojciech Konikiewicz, made the sound of Green Revolution unique and fresh. Unfortunately, finding no support or even a tolerance, and facing numerous problems, the group was suspended in early 90's. After the dismissal of Green Revolution, Konikiewicz became involved in Poland's independent rock movement, that flourished during Solidarity time, touring and recording with numerous legendary reggae, punk & indie rock groups (Izrael, Tilt, Deuter, T.Love, Klaus Mitffoch, Obywatel GC); performing at famous rock (Jarocin), reggae (Solidarity Against Apartheid, Robrege Festival) and Jazz festivals.
Since 1985, Konikiewicz has been a successful composer, scoring for feature, documentary, experimental and TV films, as well as for theatre, ballet and mime theatre. He is also a performing artist who acts upon both as a soloist (piano, electronic instruments, laptop, pipe organ, harpsichord), and as a member of many groups, playing contemporary, experimental, electro, Jazz, reggae & dub, indie rock or improvised music. He takes part in some multicultural projects, cooperating with musicians of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. As a composer Konikiewicz scored music from works for symphony & chamber orchestra, choir, string quartet, reed trio, saxophone and piano, saxophone and organ, harp and organ etc. to progressive, free & nu Jazz, experimental, electronic / dark ambient, EBM, noise, industrial, trance, dub & reggae, ethno and sacral pieces.
Today, Konikiewicz is one of the most creative and multidimensional artistic personalities of Polish electro, Jazz, experimental, indie rock, reggae & dub music, as well an accomplished and very distinctive independent Jazz critic.
Polish Jazz in the 1990's
In November 1990, Poland held its second post-war free presidential elections and Solidarność leader and 1983 Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Wałęsa became the president of Poland. The new chapter - the democratic one - was open in history of Poland and continues.
At about same time, the whole new chapter in story of Polish Jazz began. It was jump started by band Miłość / Love, a band created in Trójmiasto (an aggregate of the three neighboring towns of Gdańsk, Gdynia and Sopot) in April 1988, and soon became a leading theme of Polish Jazz of 1990's. Ryszard Tymon Tymański (guitar) was the leader of Miłość. The band dropped the name "Jazz" when referring to its music, preferring to call it "yass" instead, referring in this way to the original roots of Jazz music. Yass was intended to be fusion of post punk, free Jazz, modern rock, surrealistic instrumental theatre and poetry. The lineup of Miłość included Tymański, remarkably talented pianist Leszek Możdżer, a more "conservative" saxophonists Maciej Sikała and more "freer" horn player Mikołaj Trzaska, and very talented drummer Jacek Olter. Although not always fully satisfying musically, Miłość was instrumental in the creation of a new stream in Polish Jazz.
The club Mózg (the Brain) in the city of Bydgoszcz, envisioned and created by two musicians and entrepreneurs Sławek Janicki and Jacek Majewski, established itself as a center of this new universe. Beside members of Miłość, Mózg soon attracted many most talented new musicians: Tomasz Gwinciński (guitar and drums), Mazzoll (clarinet), Janusz Zdunek (trumpet), Tomek Pawlicki (kb), Rafał Gorzycki (drums), Tomasz Hasse (bass guitar), and Polish alternative-punk superstar Kazik (vocal). Mózg's leading bands included Kury, Łoskot, Arhythmic Perfection, Trytony.
Despite its rhetoric, the message of Yass, which had more to do with personalities of its leading figures them with artistic principles, remained an improvised music communication, based on the same doctrine and conventions essential to Jazz. Yass followed the steps of 1980's Young Power movement and incorporated itself into he main stream of Polish Jazz.
Contemporary Polish Jazz Now
Poland joined NATO in 1999 and the EU in 2004 and is thriving democracy with one of the strongest and fastest growing economies in Europe.
If one had to choose one word to describe a contemporary Jazz scene in Poland, then it would be "diversity."
Today, in the second century of its development, Polish Jazz remains mature but still vibrant and evolving Jazz form. The form with a deep respect and understanding of tradition but at the same time an art form that explores places, concepts and emotions previously unknown. The Jazz landscape is very different, intense and richly populated by several generations of creative artists. From "Old Masters" to young talents, from 1980's Young Power generation to the 1990's era dissidents of yass music, from traditional Dixieland styles to veterans of the avant-garde - Jazz knows no borders and Polish Jazz of the 21st century is an art form that long ago crossed stylistic and geographical boundaries.
Today, well into the 5th decade of his career, Tomasz Stańko remains the most popular and accomplished Jazz artist in Poland. At the beginning of 21st century, Stańko is is one of the most important, successful and creative Jazz musicians in the world, just next to another living giants such as Wayne Shorter and Sonny Rollins. After the end of his legendary quintet in early 1970's, Tomasz Stańko has continued his solo career, primarily focusing his interest on free Jazz, although there have always been traces of Polish classical, and folk music. The continuing motif of Stańko's language is his life-long interpretations of compositions by Krzysztof Komeda. Beside Jazz, another area of artistic interest for Tomasz Stańko are film and theatrical music.
"In the creations of Tomasz Stańko, the following elements are important: an open form of composition which allows for changing dramaturgy, depending on band members and on circumstances. This leaves a substantial margin of freedom in the reception of his performances (this artist is never "literal" or "obvious" in his creation). The sound of his instrument is immediately recognizable, hoarse, highly emotional and sometimes it is an echo of a human voice (a cry, a whisper). Vital to his music are spontaneous, electrifying improvisations built into a well-designed, consistent whole. The second major element of the works composed and performed by Tomasz Stańko is a strongly developed melodic pattern, usually suffused with lyricism and romantic reverie. The third constituent part of Stańko's music language - and one as important as improvisation and melody - is the sound of his trumpet." (Jerzy Brukwicki).
Contemporary Jazz in Poland is an evolving art form. The musical level represented by newest comers to Polish Jazz field is as good (or sometimes better) then Jazz music played in any other place in the world today.
Contemporary Jazz scene in Poland is large and bulging field with many new artists that already made, are making and will for sure write their own page in the history of Polish Jazz. The list is to long to name them all but some of the current acts include (in no particular order); bands: Simple Acoustic Trio, Pink Freud, Sing Sing Penelope, Łoskot, Ecstasy Project, 100nka, Robotobibok, Contemporary Noise Quintet, and (running strong since 1962!) Jazz Band Ball Orchestra. Vocalists: Grzegorz Karnas, Grażyna Auguścik, Ania Serafińska, Kasia Stańko, Marek Bałata, Kasia Stankowska, Aga Zaryan; saxophone players: Adam Pierończyk, Wojtek Staroniewicz, Maciej Sikała, Piotr Baron; trumpeters: Piotr Wojtasik, Janusz Zdunek; guitar players: Andrzej Izdebski, Tomasz Gwinciński, Krzysztof Misiak; pianists: Paweł Kaczmarczyk, Sławomir Jaskułke, Leszek Możdżer, Marcin Masecki, Krzysztof Herdzin, Marcin Wasilewski, Joachim Mencel, Michał Tokaj, Piotr Wyleżoł; bass players: Marcin Oleś, Darek Oleszkiewicz, Olo Walicki; and drummers: Jacek Kochan, Krzysztof Zawadzki, Tomek Sowiński, Łukasz Zyta, Cezary Konrad, Jacek Pelc, Artur Dominik, and Adam Czerwiński.
Characteristically, the contemporary musicians often prefer their own compositions, their own language, arrangements, and their own approach to Jazz tradition. Even more, the new principles are also emphasized by the choice of the instruments - the majority of the new leaders on Polish Jazz scene are either drummers or bass players - in opposition to abundance of pianists and horn players in prior periods of Jazz art development in Poland. This is not a coincidence - Polish Jazz of the 21st century is more tuned up with sensibilities of its rock and hip-hop oriented fans then with conventional Jazz tradition. On the other hand, is also strongly influenced by 20th century classical music canon from Witold Lutosławski to Karol Szymanowski, from Schoenberg and Ives to Steve Reich and Arvo Pärt, and from Frank Zappa to King Crimson.
But despite its new new language, and its eclecticism Polish Jazz continues to enhance the development of Jazz art worldwide. And it still swings hard, surprise, inspires and gain new fans.
American critic Michael Keefe, wrote in its introduction to 2005 2-CD's compilation The Best of Polish Jazz:
"While America waits for the next big thing in Jazz, they should turn to the east, to Poland, a country that has been making consistently great music for 40 plus years. It is criminal that American Jazz fans are so completely unaware of this music. If you are expecting some sort of abrasive free blowing or watered down post bop, you are in for a big surprise. This music encompasses every genre of Jazz, even genres that don't exist. Regardless of the style, this music is never, never pretentious and has more soul, whether it's Slavic soul or whatever, than what is passing for Jazz in the States. The Polish version of Jazz is as pure as music can be. It is not blending different types of music, i.e., Jazz, ethnic folk, classical to create some kind of hybrid; it is a totally seamless combination of sounds based on the love of creative music and the joy that the music bestows on the listeners. In a nation with such a turbulent recent past, it is hard to imagine that these extraordinary musicians devoted themselves to this music for any reason other than love of Jazz. I doubt they could make even a meager living from this music, which is even more amazing since they put so much heart and soul into this art form...humor, beauty, power, introspection...but I guess, mostly beauty...this is the most beautiful music in the world...this is pure Jazz...and America doesn't know what it is missing...Polish Jazz could make "Jazz" popular music again in America, if only Americans had the chance to hear it."
Welcome to continuing story of Polish Jazz.