I've Always Been A Mix Of Two Extremes: An Interview With Tomasz Stańko
default, Tomasz Stańko, Stockholm, Sweden, 1991, photo: Woody Ochnio / Forum, full_stanko_tomasz_forum_770.jpg
In a conversation with Cezary Lerski, the legendary jazz trumpeter Tomasz Stańko talks about his career, hip-hop, and what excites him.
Cezary Lerski: For the last few years, the average reader of any major jazz publication anywhere in the world would learn about you as a natural link between post-Miles Davis-Chet Baker jazz and the vocabulary of European chamber music. At the same time, the youngest fans of improvised music, who have never heard your music before the Soul of Things album, see you as just another jazz master on the dusty shelves of their local library. How do you feel being today's hottest darling of jazz critics and just one more 'Charles Dickens novel' for the youngest fans?
Tomasz Stańko: I find all attempts to confront and be against inherited reality are the natural ones and the desirable ones. It's life. To explore and to learn you can start from any point, it could be here and now as well. If you like jazz, you don't necessarily need to know what was in the past, and that includes my music. It all depends on one thing – the sensibility of the listener.
Myself, I've always been a mix of two extremes: an obsession for innovation and a love for the classically-understand concept of tradition and 'beauty'. By 'beauty', I mean the same approach and aesthetics we find in Balthus's paintings.
I've never distinguished between my desire for the advance which has guided my life and my love of the mainstream and modal jazz of Coltrane and Miles or Chet Baker's moods. I've always listened to diverse music: from Nancy Wilson to Brazilian samba to Keith Jarrett. My sound was inspired by a very traditional trumpeter, Buck Clayton, who has never played anything close to modern jazz, but I was able to incorporate his colours, ambience and his unique 'dirty sound' into my own vocabulary. Free jazz has always been a philosophy of life for me, my way of life. It's something which determines my personality and who I am, not necessarily what music I play. I love Cecil Taylor stuff but Taylor's inspirations have never precluded me from listening to, say, pop music. After all, jazz is primary about tolerance.
CL: Many pages were written about your musical gurus: Coltrane, Davis, Ornette Coleman and (of course!) Krzysztof Komeda. At the beginning of your career, you had also worked with another jazz leader and composer, Andrzej Trzaskowski, with whom you played during the 1960s and with whom you recorded an album. What have you gained from your association with Trzaskowski?
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Jazz Camping Kalatówki, 1959. Pictured: Krzysztof Komeda, Andrzej Trzaskowski, Stanisław 'Drążek' Kalwiński, photo: Wojciech Plewiński / Forum
fot. Wojciech Plewinski / Forum
TS: Trzaskowski was an excellent musician, talented composer and great human being. My tenure in his bands awarded me with a chance to work with many extraordinary musicians and I remember the time and atmosphere we all had there. Andrzej was an artist and a very sensitive man. Many times he couldn't handle the stress very well. He just had difficulty relaxing, to let it go. To be a jazz musician, one needs to be made from feathers and have the skin of an elephant. Unfortunately for Trzaskowski, he just couldn't take it.
CL: What is the brand of instrument you're playing?
TS: For a long time, I've been using a Schilke trumpet, the B5 model. This is the third Schilke I own. I use the Bach 1.25 C mouthpiece.
CL: During your career you've worked with many excellent musicians. Who's missing from the list? Do you sometimes dream about certain musicians with whom you'd like to play but haven't?
TS: I don't live in a dream that has nothing to do with reality. During the course of my career, I have had the chance to work with so many musicians whose arts I love and cherish. I think the choices I made in the past were the right ones. For example, I'm very proud and happy to invite Dave Holland to play with me and Edvard Vesala on my first ECM record Balladyna. Would I mind playing with Wayne Shorter one day? Of course not! Shorter is a genius and everything about him is what I love about jazz. His current band (Danilo Perez, John Patitucci, Brian Blade) is just great and really fascinating. The question is really: if we haven't hooked up before, would it make any sense for us to play together now? Would our music remain unique for both of us and be cohesive at the same time?
CL: What's your opinion about your current band – Simple Acoustic Trio?
simple acoustic trio
contemporary polish jazz
TS: Those guys [Marcin Wasilewski on piano, Sławomir Kurkiewicz on double bass, Michał Miśkiewicz on drums] are extraordinary. In the entire history of Polish Jazz, we've never had anything like that before. Yes, there was Gucio Dyląg in the 1960s but he was an exception to the rule... I believe the boys are getting better every day. I have to admit that I'm surprised by them every day. They're just great artists, super proficient musicians. Real pros.
CL: What are your inspirations?
TS: I love improvised art. In literature, definitely William Faulkner with his melodic and improvisation-filled narration. Similarly, in the spirit of jazz improvisation, I read James Joyce. William S. Burroughs – I just need to have his book around, sometimes I just need this one page... I've always liked to live on the edge, desperado... Among painters, mainly impressionists: Chaim Soutine, Modigliani... Recently, before I go to sleep, I need to browse through this album with works by Van Gogh. I've always been fascinated with the art of motion pictures. I enjoy hiking in the mountains, jogging, yoga...
CL: What about drugs?
TS: As Jimi Hendrix once said, 'Drugs are for adolescents'. Perhaps it took me a while, but I'm not a kid anymore.
CL: What do you think about today's music, not necessarily jazz-oriented?
TS: I find the music of hip-hop to be a very interesting one. I'm especially enjoying its particular relationship with time, specifically its continuity. And of course its physical aspect, the physicality of the body on the move, precision in inequalities... Unfortunately, I am missing its entire sociopolitical aspect but I've always been digging instrumental music much better. The way hip-hop uses rhythms is especially appealing to me. I also like what I hear from Scandinavia, all the so-called 'nu-jazz', particularly what's coming from Bugge Wesseltoft.
CL: And what do you think about remixes of old jazz tunes by contemporary DJs?
TS: No doubt about it – I like it. Who knows, perhaps one day all music will just be one super mix done by visionary DJs? Not 'artsy' enough? Well, look at simplicity of ragtime music and see how it progressed straight to Coltrane. Today, if I walk on the sidewalk and have Mahler's symphony going through my mind then one can sit and write everything down then add a little bit of Africa, a little bit of Europe and mix it together. Why don't I do it? Because we do not have good producers! Actually I use a similar 'technique' when I compose music for motion pictures. We start by recording all the tracks one-by-one and then I sit, 'cut' the tape and mix all the ingredients. At the end, something of a kind unseen before is born: new music.
CL: So, you do not subscribe to the thesis that jazz as an art form is dead?
TS: BS! In art, everything flows, everything continues. New and great improvisers will always be here, and there will be always improvised music because life is stronger than death. Did Baroque die with Bach? Did Romanticism end when Mahler passed away? In music, as in life, everything evaluates and changes from one day to another but the tradition lasts forever. The tradition never dies, it's always being handed down, and it's with you all the time.
Interview originally published by Polish Jazz Network in 2004. The text was provided by Marek Romański, December 2008