Zbigniew Wodecki is a multi-instrumentalist who plays the violin, trumpet, and the piano, as well as a composer, vocalist, actor, and TV presenter. He took his first steps in music in the band Anawa, in Kraków’s Piwnica pod Baranami, and in Ewa Demarczyk’s backing band. He was born on 6th May 1950 in Kraków, and died on 22nd May 2017 in Warsaw.
Multiinstrumentalista (skrzypce, trąbka, fortepian), kompozytor, wokalista, aktor i prezenter telewizyjny.
He graduated from the Public Music School in Kraków in Juliusz’s Weber violin class. One of the life-changing events in his life was an encounter with Kazimierz Kord, who noticed the young Wodecki during one of his concerts and enrolled him in the Kraków Chamber Orchestra. For the young musician, six years of playing under the baton of Kord in a renowned orchestra was a great challenge. It was similar with the other esteemed conductors, such as Jan Krenz, Stanisław Wisłocki, Krzysztof Missona, Jerzy Maksymiuk, Jacek Kaspszyk, and Wojciech Michniewski. Each of these encounters was meaningful and enriched Wodecki artistically.
Wodecki was raised in a musical family – he was brought up listening to Bach, Mozart and Paganini. Józef Wodecki, his father, was the first chair trumpeter in the Polish Radio & Television Symphony Orchestra in Kraków. Wodecki reminisced:
He joined it after the war, straight from the 8th ‘Ułanów’ Regiment. […] As a young boy, I went with him to the philharmonics for dinners and sat on his friends’ laps. It was my dream to work there. And I made it – for six years, I played the violin together with my father’s colleague who, in the past, took me on his lap.
He received his first violin at age five. He soon also began to pick up his father’s trumpet. However, he assured:
Music in 1950s Poland: When Socialism Met Rebellion
I’m really a violinist at heart and I play other instruments only when necessary. The trumpet and piano are useful when I’m composing and arranging. It really bothers me that long years of sacrifices – when my friends played football, I practised scales with my father – don’t mean a lot when it comes to singing. Singing is a lot less work than you have to put in to get some kind of melody from this box with four strings. Classical music is considered to be higher class – and rightly so. However, it’s unfair that it’s a lot easier to make a living from singing.
For every artist-musician, choosing their path has significant meaning. Zbigniew Wodecki once confessed that he thanks God for getting expelled from his music school, together with two of his friends, for, supposedly, throwing out maps and globes out of the window. When it turned out that their older colleagues – today, renowned jazz musicians – did it, Zbigniew’s parents, driven by pride, would not allow him to return. In his new school, he ended up in Professor Juliusz Weber’s violin class. He also met some older colleagues who were full of passion even though it was only the beginning of their artistic career. They introduced Wodecki into the life of student communities.
Marek Grechuta reminisced:
At the beginning of 1967, we formed a music as part of the Anawa cabaret. From the music school on Warszawska Street in Kraków, we recruited cellist Anna Wójtowicz. She introduced us to a talented violinist in glasses – Zbigniew Wodecki. He joined the band’s first line-up. As a violinist with a diploma, he had many musical remarks to our first songs because, with Janek, we were basically amateurs. Zbigniew not only skilfully played the violin but also inspired the music and revealed vocal capabilities.
Jan Kanty Pawluśkiewicz said:
By having Zbyszek Wodecki in the band, I was able to experiment and write the most experimental violin parts. He was introduced to the Anawa cabaret as a sixteen-year-old music school student. Our cooperation had to be kept in secret because the school prohibited students from performing out-of-school. And so, on Anawa’s small stage, this talented violinist revealed himself to an amazed audience. He recorded an album with us, beautifully sang a choir in my song 'Niepewność' (Uncertainty) and then, mysteriously disappeared, snatched away by a star, Ewa Demarczyk.
In an artist’s life, fortuity plays a big role. By chance, he once sang in Parkowa restaurant in Świnoujcie – that was when he was discovered by the TV presenter Andrzej Wasylewski.
An Ultimate Guide to Summer Music Festivals in Poland
My first radio ‘nativity play’ did not fit the image of a chamber and symphonic musician. It was a song titled 'Znajdziesz Mnie Znowu' (You’ll Find Me Again) with Wojciech Mann’s and Piotr Figiel’s music. And so, entirely by chance, my singing started. Before, I was a violinist in Marek Grechuta’s Anawa cabaret and Ewa Demarczyk’s band. I also played in school bands, in a symphonic orchestra and in Kazimierz Kord’s Kraków Chamber Orchestra. I rushed from one rehearsal to another. It was a very busy time in my life.
In the 1960s, when going to the West was a so-called pipe dream, Wodecki the violinist travelled around the world playing classical music in pop bands – or, maybe, as he wonders himself, it was the other way around. Suddenly he found himself singing songs which, according to critics, were on a much lower level but gained much greater popularity. He received many awards for them. When, for the first time, he had to submit his artistic resume, he discovered with amazement that he had already taken part in six festivals in which he had received ten awards.
These achievements are not necessarily relevant. I remember artists who did not get an award and who were on the same level as myself. Festivals give awards to a small group and a lot of harm to the ones left out.
Piotr Skrzynecki always spoke of Zbigniew Wodecki with esteem. He considered him to be a great, true talent which, for a large part, was untapped. He regretted that he was in Piwnica pod Baranami for only a short while. In the first row, he saw a girl and started playing his violin so vigorously that all of his strings broke. This girl later became his wife. He said:
Zbigniew Wodecki observed the music world with aloofness and amusement. He could tell interesting stories, which is a rarity among musicians. He is also a warm and kind person.
Zbigniew Wodecki admitted that he discovered Piwnica’s unique vibe early on in his career but he did not understand what was so amusing about it. Finally, he understood that it was nothing in particular. It was simply a cool spot. However, this did not excuse him from artistic alertness. During his performances with Ewa Demarczyk, he had to watch out for her every breath. When playing Cyganka, he lay in wait in order not too join too soon and his hair curled. He learned a lot at that time. Later, when he recorded the Embarras waltz with Irena Santor, the singer was amazed that they managed to do it on the first take.
The Rise & Fall of Polish Song
While performing for the Polish diaspora in America, Ryszard Poznakowski tried to coax Zbigniew Wodecki into singing 'Chałupy' and he tried to resist. There is a conflict in us, entertainers – we want a hit but, at the same time, we’re afraid of it, of the fact that it’s a cheap victory. Wodecki is a remarkable entertainer. Like all professionals, he works not for himself but for the work itself and its final effect. If his partner has a bad day, he’ll wrap the person up with his tentacles of professionalism so that the final product, the one that reaches the audience, turns out to be excellent.
In his compositions, Wodecki tried to sneak in a lot of melodics played with symphonic instruments: oboe, horn, chores, big bands. This, of course, was not as popular as songs which stuck in the listener’s head momentarily. He sang: Zacznij od Bacha, Lubię Wracać, Z Tobą Chcę Oglądać Świat, Izolda. After a while, one could hear that Wodecki does the same thing over and over – the violin, similar instrumentation. After he recorded Chałupy Welcome to, he read: ‘Wodecki lowered the bar’. And there was also Maya the Honey Bee. The musician said:
Fortunately, it gave me lasting popularity and, I guess, a vote of confidence. Thanks to this song, I can write something more serious from time to time – something which would not become as popular but would be closer to my heart.
Alicja Majewska counts out all of Wodecki’s virtues:
Talented, charming, communicative, warm, direct and loved by everyone, both by directors of cultural centres and by acousticians’ helpers. He has the most bizarre toilet bag, that of a vagabond artist: he uses the compartment in the violin or trumpet cases for storing his shaving kit, toothbrush and toothpaste. His favourite saying is: ‘A day without giving an autograph is a day wasted.’
After many years, Jan Kanty Pawluśkiewicz started to miss Wodecki and invited him to Nieszpory Ludźmierskie. And so, among excellent soloists singing with a big symphonic orchestra and choirs, Wodecki revealed himself to an amazed audience as an exceptional oratorio singer.
Why Can't Poland Win Eurovision?
Pawluśkiewicz the composer promised to Leszek Aleksander Moczulski, author of the lyrics, that his words will reach the audience well. To make this happen, Elżbieta Towarnicka’s crystal-clear soprano was accompanied by singing actors (Beata Robotycka and Jacek Wójcicki) and entertainers (Hanna Banaszek, Grzegorz Turnau and Zbigniew Wodecki). They all had perfect diction.
Grzegorz Turnau disclosed:
You can recognise Zbyszek by his hair – he has a lot of it and inspects its structure all the time. This big head of hair is written into his vagabond-monarchic character. The vagabond doesn’t have cash for a hairdresser while the monarch maintains his lion’s mane. Even though I’m from the younger generation, thanks to Nieszpory Ludźmierskie I can consider Zbyszek as my friend and a fantastic companion – one with the imagination of a vagrant and the charisma of a good king. And, besides – that voice!
Indeed, Wodecki was gifted with a powerful, noble and clean voice. Jacek Wójcicki, another one of his partners from Nieszpory Ludźmierskie, considered him to be an untypical Cracovian because he was quite generous. ‘He was a little embroiled, there was Maya the Honey Bee and Chałupy Welcome to, but’ – he adds – ‘lord, give everyone so many hits’. He admired the way Wodecki did not take himself too seriously and his great sense of humour.
Wodecki said once:
Guide to Polish Music Festivals
My life played out in such a way that I spend it mainly in the car. Without being a humblebrag, I have to say that I probably hold Poland’s record for driven kilometres – although I’m not sure if it’s something to be proud of. Sometimes I make 160 thousand kilometres in a year. That’s approximately four times the length of the equator. I switched to a diesel engine because it’s a technology which definitely beats petrol in terms of elasticity and driving comfort. I always drive a solid car which has to endure even the gruesome level crossings. There are thirteen of them on the road from Kraków to Warsaw – I counted them all. And, as in the 19th century, one has to look left and right: is there a train coming or not? Nobody mentions that we should build collision-free overpasses in place of these dangerous crossings – we’re in Europe after all. To get money for this, we could, I guess, cut the salaries of our representatives and senators.
There is an anecdote about Wodecki’s professional life circulating in Kraków and Poland which was first shared by the artist himself. After a long concert tour, his six-year-old son Paweł opened the door and yelled across the apartment: ‘Mom, the mister who sings Maya the Honey Bee in TV came!’
He said about singing:
When it comes to singing, you have to fit your audience’s taste. However, I feel old-fashioned because I was raised on big band music which you almost don’t hear anymore. What counts now is a catchy chorus – one that, as Marek Grechuta said, all kids in Poland will sing on the next day, tapping their foot. Now, that’s a hit! In radio, for many years now, a ‘buzzing’ song is what’s hip. The guitar has to be fuzzy, we need snare, kick and four-beat rhythm. And also one chant in two measures, that would be best. As someone from another era, I write a lot of music for theatre and film. When you create bigger, symphonic forms, they don’t take you for granted. That being said, in my opinion, it is easier to write music for orchestra than a solid 4-minute song built on a good idea and original harmonics. When writing music for Look Back in Anger, The Soldier of the Queen of Madagascar and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, I felt like a duck to water whereas I feel uncomfortable writing songs, even though it’s a pleasure to sing them.
Wodecki tried playing in various styles, including jazz. He recorded a few instrumental pieces with Andrzej Trzaskowski’s orchestra in Studio S1, arranged Béla Bartók’s Romanian Dances for jazz instruments. As it turned out, his audience did not take notice. For them, he was a different kind of musician. They expected simple, melodic, somewhat romantic songs from him. The artist confessed that, when going on stage, he always felt that someone would finally yell ‘Chałupy!’ or ‘Maya the Honey Bee!’… Because of this, he started to accept more spectacular invitations like being a juror in TVN’s Dancing with the Stars. He also hosted other TV shows.
Even though Wodecki was among the small group that simply attracted the lens of TV cameras, he also took part in more modest, maybe even niche, endeavours. One of such events was his performance with Beata Rybotycka in a small musical, Neil Simon’s They’re Playing Our Song, with music by Marvin Hamlisch, staged by Bogdan Augustyniak in Warsaw’s Na Woli Theatre in 2005. For both artists, it was a masterful performance – both in terms of acting and singing. Rybotycka sang with the easiness of a professional vocalist and Wodecki played with the grace of a seasoned actor.
Friggin’ Awesome! Tracing Notes from Paderewski to The Doors
mitch & mitch
polish pop music
polish pop singers
It would’ve been difficult to make a living playing jazz – unless I did Ave Maria at weddings and Silentium at funerals. Working in the culture sector never paid much. Culture is needed by people who are sated, well-rested and bored. We don’t have many of them in Poland, which is why they’re difficult to encounter at the theatre or philharmonics.
His profession left a solid mark on him. He admits to his scoliosis and a mark on the neck left from holding the violin, bad eyesight from reading sheet music all the time and to the so-called ‘fat lip syndrome’ from playing the trumpet, which undoubtedly interferes with kissing. Wodecki, surprised, disagreed: ‘No, why?… If a man has resolve, even a wall won’t hold him back.’
In the civilised world, artist-musicians make a living from selling records and only perform concerts from time to time. It is slowly starting to be the case in Poland but not everyone can sustain themselves without playing live. For an entertainer-artist who did not get any invitations for some time, it might seem that he is finished. Wodecki revealed:
It’s like a horrible drug. However, I see that young people try to find their own methods to promote themselves nowadays. Artistic value plays second fiddle here, what’s more important is a shaved head, a pierced ear and a catchy tune played loud enough. The songs themselves have no content. Without the image, they don’t hold water. That’s a pity. Even if classical guitar starts being hip again, you have to be able to play something more than just four notes. As it turned out, now you only need two. Still, to play those two notes well, you have to know how to play thousands more.
Zbigniew Wodecki is not only a versatile virtuoso musician but also an excellent vocalist with exceptional vocal capabilities. Paradoxically, he thought that a man should do better things than singing.
If I could be born again, I’d become a doctor because I like to help people, or a policeman because I hate boorishness – and I would treat singing and performing simply as a hobby. If I could manage to earn a penny from recording, that would be nice, but, as I said, it should be a secondary option.
What turned out to be very intriguing was Wodecki’s return to his own roots. It all started thanks to the band Mitch & Mitch (formed in 2002 by Bartek ‘Magneto’ Tyciński and Macio Moretti). The two musicians from a younger generation managed to convince Wodecki to record material from his previous records once again. Songs from the self-titled Zbigniew Wodecki album were performed in a refreshed arrangement for the first time on OFF Festival 2013 in Katowice. The concert turned out to be one of the hottest and most commented on shows of the season. In 2015, Wodecki and Mitch & Mitch, backed by an orchestra of 43 musicians, performed in Polish Radio’s Witold Lutosławski’s Concert Studio. The recording was released on an album titled 1976: A Space Odyssey (on CD and DVD). Wodecki assured:
It’s a normal record, nothing special. It consists of reliable, sincerely recorded arrangements of the songs from that era.
He admitted that in the 1970s, his debut album had no chance to become popular:
It was a time of promoting electric guitars. Back then, we stopped listening to big band music with live orchestras, like Glenn Miller’s.
As for Mitch & Mitch, he jokingly commented:
This band is known for the fact that it’s unknown. Everyone knows about the Mitches but they remain hidden. It seems that they gather energy for their live shows, which later transfers from the scene to the audience.
In 2011, a book titled Pszczoła, Bach i Skrzypce (The Bee, Bach and Violin) was released in which the artist confessed to Wacław Krupiński what he thinks about show-business, looked behind the scenes of Dancing With the Stars and reminisced about his work with Ewa Demarczyk.
- 1973 – Tak to ty, Polskie Nagrania Muza (EP)
- 1976 – Zbigniew Wodecki, Polskie Nagrania Muza (LP)
- 1987 – Dusze Kobiet, Polskie Nagrania Muza (LP)
- 1995 – Zbigniew Wodecki '95, Koch International (CD)
- 4th March 2002 – Obok Siebie, Sony Music Poland (CD)
- 12th July 2010 – PlatyNOWA, Fonografika (CD)
- 15th May 2015 – 1976: A Space Odyssey (with Mitch & Mitch), Lado ABC/Agora SA – golden record
- 1992 – Największe Przeboje, Intersonus
- 1997 – Z Tobą Chcę Oglądać Świat, (CD)
- 1999 – Złota Kolekcja: Zacznij od Bacha, Pomaton EMI (CD)
- 2004 – The Best – Zacznij od Bacha, Agencja Artystyczna MTJ (CD)
- 2013 – Kompozycje, Polskie Nagrania Muza (CD)
- 2015 – The Very Best Of Zbigniew Wodecki, Bursztynowa kolekcja empik (CD)
- 1972 – Do Szczęścia Blisko, Zakład Fonograficzny Ruch
- 1975 – Tak Chciałbym Mieć, Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza
- 1980 – Byłaś Dla Mnie Dobra
- 1984 – Z Tobą Chcę Oglądać Świat (with Zdzisława Sośnicka)
- 1985 – Chałupy Welcome to
- 1986 – Po co en Żal
- 2002 – Ufam ci (from Obok siebie)
- 2015 – Rzuć to Wszystko co Złe (with Mitch & Mitch, from 1976: A Space Odyssey)
- 2015 – Opowiadaj mi tak (with Mitch & Mitch, from 1976: A Space Odyssey)
- 2015 – Posłuchaj Mnie Spokojnie (with Mitch & Mitch, from 1976: A Space Odyssey)
- 2016 – Panny Mego Dziadka (with Mitch & Mitch, from 1976: A Space Odyssey)
- 1972 – Debut award – for the song Znajdziesz Mnie Znowu – 10th National Festival of Polish Song in Opole
- 1974 – 1st award at Festival in Rostock
- 1978 – Journalist Award – 18th International Song Festival in Sopot
- 1979 – 1st award at the premiere competition – for the song Wspomnienie Tych Dni – 17th National Festival of Polish Song in Opole
- 1984 – 1st award for the song Lubię Wracać tam, Gdzie Byłem in OIRT competition in Prague
- 1984 – 1st award at Festival in Słoneczny Brzeg
- 1991 – President of Opole Award – 28th National Festival of Polish Song in Opole
- 1991 – Polskie Nagrania Special Award – 28th National Festival of Polish Song in Opole
- 1991 – Premiere Competition Award – for Sobą być – 28th National Festival of Polish Song in Opole
- 1994 – Polish Stage Artistic Award Prometeusz
- 2007 – Polish Stage Artistic Award Prometeusz
- 2011 – Golden Laurel – for mastering the art of composing and singing Polish song, for talent and love for Kraków and prominence in Polish culture
- 2015 – Polish Radio Mateusz Music Award – in entertainment music-event category – together with Mitch & Mitch
- 2016 – Fryderyki 2016 – in Pop Album of the Year category – for 1976: A Space Odyssey
- 2016 – Fryderyki 2016 – in Song of the Year category – for Rzuć to Wszystko co Złe
- 2011 – Silver Medal for Merit to Culture – Gloria Artis
- 2011 – Honoris Gratia – for contributions to Kraków and its citizens
- 2017 – Labor Omnia Vincit – for contributions to the development of Polish entertainment music
Originally written in Polish by Janusz R. Kowalczyk, May 2017, translated to English by Patryk Grabowski, May 2019
How Rock 'n' Roll Conquered Communist Censorship