So what is it with jazz in Poland? Since the end of the Second World War, jazz has been a leading cultural identity in Poland in a way that can’t be said of most other European countries. What’s the origin of this adoption of American’s greatest art form in old world Europe? For a concise history of jazz in Poland, check out this All About Jazz primer, Polish Jazz for Dummies.
It’s impossible not to mention the single most important influence on the direction of Polish jazz – Krzysztof Komeda. One of the founders of the legendary band Melomani, Komeda began his jazz career in 1956 and continued to dominate the burgeoning Polish jazz scene until his early death at the age of 38 in 1968. Komeda’s role in Polish jazz cannot be explained in just a few sentences. He was a composer, visionary, collaborator and leader – but this doesn’t fully explain how he came to wield such influence. There’s more than a touch of Miles Davis in what fellow musicians who played with him have said about the overwhelming impact his music and personality made on them. Komeda’s long time collaborator, trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, is typical: Komeda was a very quiet man. At rehearsals he told us nothing, nothing. He would give us a score and we would play and the silence was very strong and intense. He wouldn’t say if we were right or wrong in our approach. He’d just smile…. He showed me how simplicity is vital, how to play the essential. Look at Komeda in action with his group here in 1967. Stanko is on trumpet and this performance is a tribute to John Coltrane.
If you’re looking to start listening to Polish jazz, any Tomasz Stanko release on ECM would be a good place to begin, whether an early album like Balladyna or one of his later releases – perhaps Wislawa with his superb New York Quartet. Our show this week began with possibly our favourite Polish jazzer at the moment, Piotr Wojtasik, who for us here at CJ, is is right up there with the best European saxophonists. Indeed, we think he’s the equal of better known artists like Louis Sclavis (France), Jan Garbarek (Norway), Shabaka Hutchings (UK) and Jonas Kullhammar (Sweden). Derek played three stunning tracks from his recent album Old Land and then linked Poland and the new world with a track from a new release by saxophonist Boris Janczarski with veteran American drummer Stephen McCraven, father of hot new Chicago-based drummer Makaya McCraven.
Coltrane ended the show. We’ve been on something of a ‘trane tip over the last couple of weeks but Derek was moved to play this particular track after enjoying it on a late night car drive. Not all ‘lost’ live jazz recordings are worth investigating – but this one undoubtedly is. The broadcast recording is incomplete – the opening title track One Up, One Down had already been playing for 35 minutes and goes on to feature Coltrane’s longest ever recorded solo of 27 minutes. This sounds indulgent even by comparison with – for example – the extended performances on Coltrane’s Live in Japan release, but it’s not. The performances here are sensational with all four members of the classic quartet delivering dramatic solos. One Up, One Down is an essential record in the Coltrane canon with an unusually good live recording sound. On a good system, you are there in this tiny New York club listening to the finest quartet jazz has so far produced. We cannot recommend it highly enough.
Derek chose My Favorite Things with Coltrane uniquely uses the tenor sax to introduce the tune before switching to the soprano. Again, after around 23 minutes the broadcast fades but not before radio presenter Alan Grant has captured Coltrane on peak form. That’s Cosmic Jazz this week: a saxophone journey from eastern Europe to the western new world. Clock on the block arrow left to enjoy the music.
- Piotr Wojtasik – Old Land from Old Land
- Piotr Wojtasik – Blackout from Old Land
- Piotr Wojtasik – Dr. Gachet from Old Land
- Janczarski and McCraven Quintet – Travelling West from Travelling East West
- John Coltrane – My Favorite Things from One Down, One Up – Live at the Half Note
Neil is listening to…