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Tomasz Stańko

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Tomasz Stańko, photo: Marek Dusza
Tomasz Stańko, photo: Marek Dusza

Jazz trumpeter and composer, one of Europe's most original jazz musicians. Born 7th of July 1942, in Rzeszów.

Table of Contents: | ECMCooperation with KomedaElectronic InspirationsReturn to the Acoustic Music | Wisława | Projects | Selected discography |

Stańko has recorded with Andrzej Trzaskowski, Bernt Rosengren and Zbigniew Namysłowski. His own quartet (and later quintet) developed into one of the most important bands in the history of Polish jazz, featuring bass players Bronisław Suchanek and Jan Gonciarczyk, saxophonists Janusz Muniak and Zbigniew Seifert, and drummer Janusz Stefański. He has also worked with Andrzej Kurylewicz, Adam Makowicz, Janusz Skowron, Witold Szczurek, Tomasz Szukalski, Edward Vesala and Peter Warren, and has taken part in a number of projects, including with Polish Radio's jazz studio, In Formation and the Sławomir Kulpowicz Band.

As a jazz trumpeter and composer, Stańko is one of Europe's most original jazz musicians. Stańko's strengths include his distinct tone, the mood of his music and a certain Slavic melancholy, which has developed into a characteristic sound. He has recorded around forty albums and composed music for several dozen films and the theatre.His music has its roots in the classic cool jazz of the 1950s and 1960s. He explains, 

I have always been interested in tradition. With Krzysztof Komeda we would mostly listen to scale music, like Miles Davies and John Coltrane. This was my inspiration. Ornette Coleman was important too, of course, but more as an example of a certain attitude toward art – that of searching and rebellion – than as a specific musical convention. 

Stańko has performed across Europe, the United States and Asia, performing with excellent musicians such as Cecil Taylor, John Surman, Gary Peacock, Arild Andersen, Daniel Humair, Dave Holland, Don Cherry, Dino Saluzzi, Albert Mangelsdorff, Eddie Gomez, Jan Garbarek, Jack De Johnette, Palle Daniellson, Krzysztof KomedaAdam Makowicz, Janusz Muniak, Zbigniew Seifert, Michał Urbaniak and Tomasz Szukalski. He has won numerous Polish and international music awards, and was the first winner of the European Jazz Award in 2003.



He has recorded with the famous ECM Records label, making such albums as Balladyna, LitaniaSoul of Things and Lontano, among others. He also composed the soundtracks of Dziury w ziemi, Trąd and Pożegnanie z Marią, as well as for the theatre performances Wyzwolenie and Balladyna. Critic Paweł Baranowski called Stańko's1998 album From the Green Hill

a record of wonderful charm. The exceptional beauty of his album is a result of the smoothly played trumpet, baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, violin, bandoneon, double bass and percussion in the rhythm section. You can just imagine the sound of this band. It is unbelievably smooth and delicate.

The album reinforced his growing international reputation, receiving the prestigious German Critics Prize (Deutscher Schallplattenpreis) for album of the year in 2000. In 2002 he won the first European Jazz Prize. His 2002 Soul of Things album also enjoyed enormous commercial success, which led to prestigious tours of Europe and the United States. Stuart Nicholson illustrates Stańko's important role in Poland's jazz music scene in the July/August 2002 issue of Jazztimes magazine and his foray onto the world stage:

Indeed, Stankoʼs standing in Polish jazz is impossible to overestimate. He has picked up so many awards honoring him as his countryʼs top jazz musician he has given up counting. He has spent his entire career as a professional jazz trumpeter, and most of that was at a time when Poland was behind the Iron Curtain, making it difficult for outsiders to follow his career. In recent years, however, Stanko has renewed his link with Manfred Eicherʼs ECM label in Munich - he first recorded on the label in 1975 with Balladyna - bringing him long overdue international recognition as one of the great individual voices in jazz.

Cooperation with Komeda

Tomasz Stańko graduated from the State Higher Music School in Kraków, where he studied violin, piano and trumpet. Inspite of his classical education, he was always interested in jazz, and when he was in secondary school he and Wacław Kisielewski founded a quartet. He often appeared as a guest at jam sessions at the Pod Jaszczurami club. In 1962 Stańko formed the group Jazz Darings ( with Adam Matyszkowicz on piano, Jacek Ostaszewski on double bass and Wiktor Perelemutter on drums), and with them he won first prize both for the band and as an individual musician at the Amateur Jazz Band Competition of Southern Poland. In 1963 he was invited to work with the famous composer and pianist Krzysztof Komeda



Stańko played in Komeda's legendary quintet for four years, taking part in the recording of the album Astigmatic(1965). Komeda's music, although far from free jazz, was extremely modern and had a significant impact on young Stańko, especially in terms of melodic pattern. 1967 saw the formation of the famous Tomasz Stańko Quartet, with Janusz Muniak on saxophone and flute, Jan Gonciarczyk and Bronisław Suchanek on bass, and Janusz Stefański on drums. The following year the group was joined by Zbigniew Seifert on saxophone and violin, and the quartet was transformed into the Tomasz Stanko Quintet. The band recorded three albums: Music for K. (1970), Jazz Message from Poland (1972) and Purple Sun (1973). Depending on the period, the group played everything from full improvisation to pieces in which a strictly defined theme set the stage for instrumental solo performances.

Electronic inspirations

In 1973 Stańko recorded Fish Face with drummers Stu Martin and Tomasz Szukalski, making him one of the first jazz musicians to experiment with electronics. Until the mid-1980s Stańko was not a member of any group, although he played with various musicians and recorded with saxophonist Tomasz Szukalski and drummer Edward Vesala, producing albums like Twet (with Peter Warren on bass) and Balladyna (with Dave Holland on bass). While it was often hard for him to travel outside of Poland, he made several trips to the United States, Stańko recorded with Cecil Taylor and Gary Peacock, and in India he made a solo recording inside the Taj Mahal. In 1985 he set up the group Freelectronic, experimenting with synthetic sounds.


Return to the acoustic music

He returned to acoustic music in the 1990s, working with Jon Christensen and Arild Andersen (on Bluish), Bobo Stenson, and Anders Jormin and Tony Oxley (on Bosonossa and Other Ballads). For almost ten years, Stańko has been giving concerts and recording for ECM Records along with several young musicians from the Simple Acoustic Trio (Marcin Wasilewski on piano, Sławomir Kurkiewicz on bass and Michał Miśkiewicz on drums).

Stańko is eccentric and provocative. He plays long and open free structures that depend on spontaneous, electrifying improvisations built into a well-designed, consistent whole. In an interview with Stephen Graham for Jazzwise magazine in 2004, he averred:

I'm very glad indeed that I started from free jazz. It helped to shape my personality and develop my musical language. Free jazz for me is not only a musical genre, it is a certain philosophy, a synonym of an idea and desire for something non-existent, still something I've always and ceaselessly pursued. The longer I live, the more important is free jazz to me in philosophical, not practical, terms. This is the soul of jazz. 

The second major element in Stańko's work is a highly developed melodic pattern, usually suffused with lyricism and romantic reverie. But the third element – every bit as important as improvisation and melody – is the sound of his trumpet. This is how Robert Buczek describes this sound in his book Krakowski przewodnik jazzowy (Kraków Jazz Guide):

His sound is 'dirty' but also paradoxically transparent, penetrating deep inside the soul, sometimes sounding like a cry and sometimes like a whimper. It is a rich sound, and, like all of his art, very personal and easy to distinguish. Combined with his favourite melodic turns, this sound produces a highly suggestive, emotional, at times even painful message. Stańko's music is, in a sense, the aural equivalent of existential philosophy – the pain of existence is, in a way, built into the sound, the phrasing and the mode of expression he chooses. 

In February 2012 Tomasz Stańko received the main Polish industry award Fryderyk in two categories: best jazz artist and best jazz album for Dark Eyes.  

In the same year, Desperado, the autobiography of Stańko was released. It is composed of several interviews with the musician made by famed music journalist Rafał Księżyk. They talk, amongst other things, about Stańko’s long period of being addicted to drugs and difficult process of overcoming this addiction.

I used to live like a devil. I was driven mad. I used to throw lumps of hashish, amphetamines, pills, and cigarettes into my pocket, as well as small bottles of alcohol. I had it all in my pocket. I used to put a headscarf on my head, tie it under my neck like countrywomen do. I put a hat on top of it like Peruvian villagers do (…) and I used to say: I’m a Peruvian villager! (…) I had no brakes! I felt clearly that I was entering a mad zone – said Stańko in his autobiography.


Recently, his album Wisława was released. The poetry of Wisława Szymborska, memories of their joint performances and New York provided inspiration. The city itself plays an important role in Stańko’s output. He describes it as a place of inexhaustible fascinations, encounters and experiments and therefore decided to record Wisława in one of its renowned studios. 

Authors: Jerzy Brukwicki, June 2004, Updated W.O., February 2014


Tomasz Stańko Quintet
Jazzowe Studio Polish Radio (directed by Jan "Ptaszyn" Wróblewski)
In Formation with Sławomir Kulpowicz
Tomasz Stańko Freelectronic
Tomasz Stańko Quartet
Tomasz Stańko Band
Tomasz Stańko Nordic Quartet
Tomasz Stańko New Balladyna Quartet
Tomasz Stańko Project

Selected discography

Music For K. (Polskie Nagrania, 1970)
Tomasz Stańko Quintet, Jazzmessage from Poland (JG Records, 1972)
Tomasz Stańko/Andrzej Kurylewicz, Korozje (Poljazz, 1983)
Tomasz Stańko, Witkacy Peyotl/Freelectronic (Poljazz PSJ, 1987)
Tomasz Stańko Freelectronic, Switzerland (Polskie Nagrania, 1988)
Litania (ECM, 1997)
From the Green Hill (ECM, 1999)
Tomasz Stańko Quartet, Soul of Things (ECM, 2002)
Tomasz Stańko Quartet, Suspended Night (ECM, 2004)
Tomasz Stańko Quartet, Lontano (ECM, 2006)
Tomasz Stańko Quintet, Dark Eyes (ECM 2009) 
Tomasz Stańko New York Quartet, Wisława (ECM 2013) 

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Tomasz Stańko


Tomasz Stańko


Tomasz Stańko
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