Michał Urbaniak is a jazz violin and saxophone player, composer and arranger. During his long career, he has cooperated with Krzysztof Komeda, Andrzej Trzaskowski and Miles Davis, amongst others. Born in Warsaw on 22th of January, 1943.
He began his professional career in Zbigniew Namysłowski’s Jazz Rockers, with whom he debuted at the Jazz Jamboree International Jazz Festival in 1961. In 1962 he went on a tour of the United States with Andrzej Trzaskowski’s The Wreckers. They performed mostly at jazz clubs but also at highly prestigious festivals at Newport and Washington. Between 1962 and 1964 he played in the Krzysztof Komeda Quintet. In 1965 he appeared in the film entitled Jazz aus Polen, produced by Joachim Berendt for West German Television. He went to Scandinavia in 1965 and stayed for three years, recording and playing with local musicians.
After his return to Poland in 1969-72, he was a leader of his own ensemble, Urbaniak’s Orchestra, the members of which were (during different periods): Adam Makowicz (pianist), Paweł Jarzębski, Michał Komar and Janusz Kozłowski (bassists), Czesław Bartkowski and Andrzej Dąbrowski (drums) and Urszula Dudziak (vocalist and Urbaniak’s wife at that time). With this band he recorded his first international album Parathyphus B. It was critically acclaimed and received a high rating in a vote by the Jazz Podium. They performed at Jazz Jamboree in 1969-72 as well as a long list of celebrated European festivals in Nurnberg, Kongsberg, Molde, Heidelberg, and Montreux (where they won the Grand Prix in 1971). In 1973 he decided to organise a farewell concert and emigrate to the United States. Despite receiving a scholarship at the Berklee College of Music, he decided to focus on his professional career and signed a contract with Columbia Records. His Super Constellation, published earlier in West Germany, was renamed Fusion and released as his first American recording. Czesław Bartkowski, Paweł Jarzębski and Wojciach Karolak accompanied him on the promotional tour. Subsequent albums recorded for Columbia, Atma and Fusion III, started Urbaniak’s and his wife’s Urszula Dudziak’s American ‘winning streak’.
During 1975-89 Urbaniak was a leader of Michal Urbaniak Fusion, a renowned band which played at the best concert halls and clubs all over the US (Village Vanguard, Village Gate, Carnegie Hall, New York Jazz Festival, Newport, Washington). At that time he had a chance to play with biggest jazz legends of all-time, such as George Benson, Lenny White, Wayne Shorter, Marcus Miller, Billy Cobham, Joe Zawinul, Ron Carter, Stéphane Grappelli and Miles Davis. Playing with Miles at that time meant more than winning any prestigious award. Davis is reported to have said on this occasion:
"Get me this fucking Polish fiddler, he's got the sound!"
Urbaniak describes his experience of cooperating with Miles:
Recently I read his beautiful sentence: ‘Do not call me a legend. My name is Miles Davis’ – said Michał Urbaniak in the interview with Domonika Kawczyńska – I never planned to record for him but at the same time I wasn’t surprised when his agent called me – his band had played with me two months earlier (…) Within one hour, I recorded three solos. On the next day I came to the studio. Miles sat behind the piano with a trumpet in his hands. He put it aside and asked me who I was. ‘How did you play?’ – he said. ‘I think the way you wanted’ – I replied. ‘Yeah’ – he nodded and then he massaged my neck a little. I cried a bit… [laugh].
After a thirteen-year-long absence in his country Urbaniak returned to Poland to perform at the Jazz Jamboree, presenting his newest American band – Michal Urbaniak Constellation. Since then, even though he lives in America, he has stayed in touch with Poland.
Michał Urbaniak composes music for theatre plays, films and TV shows in Poland and abroad. In 1999 he was awarded for his Dług / The Debt film score, directed by Krzysztof Krauze, and again in 2002 for the Eden film score, directed by Andrzej Czeczot, at Gdynia Film Festival. He has won or was placed highly several times in reader surveys by the major jazz magazines American Down Beat and Polish Jazz Forum. He remains one of the most recognisable ambassadors of Polish Jazz.
In 2012 Urbaniak debuted as a feature film actor by acting in the film Mój Rower / My Bike by Piotr Trzaskalski. For his role he was awarded with ‘Best Actor of the Year award at the Black Nights Film Festival in Tallin.
Author: Małgorzata Kosińska, Polish Music Information Centre, Polish Composers’ Union, October 2006, updated: 2010, 2014. Translated by W.O. March 2014.