Singer, songwriter and producer. Born Agnieszka Skrzypek in Warsaw on January 17th, 1976.
One of the most internationally recognised jazz vocalists of her generation in Poland. She is known for her distinctive style, elegance and intimate approach to singing, characterised by a lightness of phrasing and warm, slightly matt-toned voice.
She was born in the capital of Poland into a musical family. Her father was a classical pianist, and her mother an English language educator and author. She travelled widely throughout Europe with her parents early on, spending part of her childhood and attending primary school in Manchester, UK. In addition to classical works, both of Aga's parents shared a passion for the music of Stevie Wonder, Weather Report, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, The Beatles, and various other popular artists. This provided Aga with exposure to wide range of contemporary music, starting at an early age. After returning to Poland from the UK she became involved in playing tennis competitively, and went on to win the Warsaw Tennis Championship at the age of 14.
While still in her teens, she also developed a passion for music and theatre. After hearing the music of Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis, Aga decided to become a jazz vocalist. She completed her vocal studies at the Fryderyk Chopin Public Secondary School of Music and She studied under renowned vocalist Ewa Bem. Later she attended the Post-Secondary Jazz Studies Programme there, graduating with honours. Soon after, she was granted scholarships to attend two major international Jazz workshops in the United States: the Stanford Jazz Workshop and Jazz Camp West, which provided her with the opportunity to further shape her vocal skills.
In 1997 she performed with the orchestra at the Warsaw Autumn Festival. She is a laureate of the International Jazz Vocalist Competition in Zamość in 1998. In 2002, Aga's debut album My Lullaby, recorded with a group that included Tomasz Szukalski, Darek Oles, Michał Tokaj and Łukasz Żyta, was released. This collection of jazz standards, sung with the backing of a jazz quartet in original and personal interpretations, brought her critical acclaim as one of Poland's premier vocal talents. The album was nominated for Jazz Record of the Year. Aga Zaryan's originality, the lightness of her phrasing and the melodic nature of her improvisations are considered her strongest points. She's not a singer who relies on only the tried and true canon of jazz standards - she also ventures into the realm of soul and r 'n' b along with Leonard Cohen ballads.
In 2006, Aga performed at the JVC Jazz Festival in Warsaw, opening for Branford Marsalis, an occasion which enabled her to introduce herself to a wider audience as a great performer and sophisticated jazz vocalist. Since that time, Aga has appeared in clubs and at festivals in Poland, England, the USA, Germany, Israel, the Czech Republic, Sweden, France, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Turkey, Portugal, Russia and Iceland.
In 2006 her next album was released, entitled Picking Up the Pieces, an album recorded in Los Angeles with a first-rate international line-up of musicians: Larry Koonse (guitar), Munyungo Jackson (percussion), Nolan Shaheed (cornet) and Darek "Oles" Oleszkiewicz (double-bass). Thanks to its exceptionally intimate feel, the album was very well-recieved critically and enjoyed great commercial success, becoming a Bestseller which achieved double platinum status. With the release of Picking Up The Pieces, Aga Zaryan established herself not only as one of Poland's premiere jazz vocalists, but as an artist of international standing. In early 2007, Aga travelled to the United States for a series of concerts with an American line-up, appearing in prestigious jazz venues such as Joe's Pub in New York City and Blues Alley in Washington D.C. The concerts were enthusiastically received by the public, with critics across the ocean taking notice of Aga's talent as well. That same year, she recorded an album of film music Tragedia dziewczyny ulicznej / Tragedy of a Girl of the Streets, presented at the Silent Film Festival in Warsaw.
Beauty is Dying, recorded in the summer of 2007, is Aga Zaryan's first album on which she sings in Polish. On it she is backed by a jazz piano trio, enhanced by a 17-piece string section with harp and oboe. The album contains nine works by Polish poets, depicting scenes of Warsaw at the time of the '44 Uprising in commemoration of the 63rd Anniversary of the Uprising. All songs on the album were selected and sung by Aga herself to original music composed and arranged by pianist Michał Tokaj. Her personal connection to the project stemmed from her family history - her grandmother was a liaison officer and her grandfather had fought in the Kryśka group. The album has been described as lyrical and pulsing with emotion, the delicate string section and laid-back jazz trio melding perfectly with Zaryan's singing. The album received rave reviews, including the following critique from Newsweek's Mariusz Cieślik in August 2007:
The most pleasant musical surprise of recent months. An album recorded to commemorate the anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising could have been expected to be a somewhat bland, rather a musical gesture of patriotism. But this recording by arguably Poland's most interesting jazz vocalist of the younger generation is truly moving. The songs, with texts by participants and witnesses to the Uprising (Krystyna Krahelska, priest Jan Twardowski and Anna Świrszczyńska, among others), make quite an impression. In the finest of them, "Miłość" / "Love", Zaryan approaches the level of master vocalists in the vein of Ewa Demarczyk. These excellently sung pieces, arranged for strings with a jazz rhythm section, contain not one trace of mediocrity of any kind.
On August 4th of that year, Aga performed a concert of pieces from Beauty is Dying at the Warsaw Rising museum. The concert was broadcast live on Polish Public TV and Radio, and attendance was so high that traffic in the immediate vicinity of the venue was gridlocked for hours, as a vast and steady river of people converged on the park. The culmination of the event saw over seven thousand people listening to Zaryan's performance in concentrated silence. The concert went down in history as somewhat of a sociological phenomenon as the audience spanned four generations, with first-hand witnesses to World War II, who were being honoured at the event, along with their children and great-grandchildren. She went on to give concerts of Beauty is Dying in prestigious concert halls and venues throughout Europe.
Later in 2008, Zaryan was accorded the Polish recording industry's highest honours - The Fryderyk Chopin Award for Beauty is Dying as the year's the Best Poetic Album. Later that year her live concert album Live at Palladium was released as a double CD-DVD album. Guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz and percussionist Darryl Jackson flew in from Los Angeles to join her onstage at the Warsaw venue for the concert, which was described as subtler than her previous concerts. The main body of the repertoire was comprised of songs from the albums Picking Up the Pieces and My Lullaby, some of them with completely new arrangements that took shape over the course of the tour. The album was a commercial, earning triple platinum status.
Aga Zaryan's latest album Looking, Walking, Being was published by Blue Note Records in spring 2010. It is her first fully independent album and exemplifies her vocal talents to their optimum range. The Polityka weekly had the following to say about the album:
Aga sings her own texts as well as the verses of Denise Lvertov, the music flows across many genres, from bossa nova to afrojazz, while the guitar sections performed by the Czech virtuoso David Dorůžka enthrall even the most discerning listeners. It's apparent that Aga Zaryan has her time of aspirations behind her, now (not only thanks to the interest on the part of Blue Note) she can consider herself a true star.
Aga Zaryan was nominated for the title of Woman of The Year 2008 by Gazeta Wyborcza's weekend magazine Wysokie Obcasy, one of Poland's most influential and widely circulated publications. She was also named Jazz Vocalist of The Year in the European Jazz Forum Magazine's yearly Jazz Top readers' poll in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
In 2011 – the Year of Miłosz – the album A Book of Luminous Things was released. It contains twelve songs in English set to poems by Czesław Miłosz and poets he valued: Anna Świrczyńska, Jane Hirshfield, and Denise Levertov. In the autumn of the same year the Polish version of A Book of Luminous Things was released.
Aga Zaryan’s next album, Remembering Nina & Abbey (2013), is a tribute to two outstanding jazz singers, Nina Simone and Abbey Lincoln. Recorded at Conway Recording Studios in Hollywood, the album has attained a status of platinum record in Poland.
In 2018, Warner Music Poland released Zaryan’s Christmas album What Xmas Means to Me. The artist is accompanied by the European Jazz Sextet and Prague Filmharmonic Orchestra, as well as a special guest - Freddy Cole, brother of the jazz icon Nat King Cole. Shortly afterwards, the album High & Low was released. It consisted of twelve pieces: one by Stevie Wonder (Evil) and one by Paul Simon (Spirit Voices), as well as ten compositions by renowned jazzmen Michał Tokaj, David Dorużka, Dariusz Oleszkiewicz, and Marcin Wasilewski with lyrics by Aga Zaryan herself.
- My Lullaby (2002, EMI Music Poland)
- Picking Up The Pieces (Polish Radio, 2006)
- My Lullaby (Re-edition) (Cosmopolis, 2007)
- Umiera piękno / Beauty is Dying (Warsaw Rising Museum, 2007)
- Live at Palladium (Warner Music Poland, 2008)
- Looking, Walking, Being (Blue Note, 2010)
- A Book of Luminous Things/Księga olśnień (Blue Note, 2011)
- Remembering Nina and Abbey (Blue Note, 2013)
- What Xmas Means to Me (2018, Warner Music Poland)
- High & Low (2018, Warner Music Poland)
Updated by MG, November 2019.