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Interviews

Komeda Project: Bringing New Life to a Legend

By Published: February 23, 2010
Winnicki began learning how to play an instrument at around the same time. "I started on accordion and switched to piano quite late, when I was 13 or 14," he said. After studying piano formally, he began to play in various jazz groups. With one group, he played at Jazz On the Odra River, Poland's biggest jazz competition, where Medyna had already been a prize winner some years prior. When Medyna returned from Sweden, Winnicki was already aware of the saxophonist. "I asked him if he wanted to do something new, and that's how Breakwater was formed," Winnicki said.

Breakwater soon became established on the Polish scene, and Winnicki and Medyna entered the band in the Jazz On the Odra River competition. "We won in 1979 as the best group in the country, and Krys won as best instrumentalist, so we won two top prizes in that year," Winnicki said. Breakwater was a professional outfit, enabling the musicians to make a living out of playing jazz—at least to some extent. "Well, yes and no. It wasn't much of a living," continued Winnicki, laughing, "but at least we got to play and to travel abroad—not outside the Soviet Bloc, but to East Germany, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union."

The chance to make a better living arose through contact with a pop singer. "On the side, we hooked up with a very popular singer, and we used to back him," Winnicki said. Who was this? "Ehm ... I forget," he said. Medyna explained a little more, but also declined to name the artist: "I'm making a bit of a joke here—he was the Polish Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra
1915 - 1998
vocalist
. He was the Number One in Poland when Frank was Number One in the states."

In the early '80s, Medyna also played in In/Formation, a band led by pianist Slawomir Kulpowicz and composed of past winners of the Jazz On the Odra River competition. "Yes, that was around 1981," Medyna said. "It was a pretty interesting lineup. The rhythm section was standard for modern jazz—drums, upright bass and piano—but the front line was two tenor saxophones and a tuba. We played constantly for over a year, and then at one point we were part of a setup where Tomasz Stanko
Tomasz Stanko
Tomasz Stanko
b.1942
trumpet
would play a solo first set, then In/Formation would play the second set." The band's drummer was Czeslaw Bartkowski, who, like Stanko, had played with Komeda.

In 1981 Medyna and Winnicki decided to move to the United States, but the move did not go according to plan. "We went as part of the pop singer's band," Winnicki said. "We should have traveled on 16th December 1981, but on December 13th, our generals decided to declare martial law, and we had to stay at home. ... We finally made it to the States in January 1982. Medyna added, jokingly, "It was January 21st [two days and 28 years before this interview took place]. It's our anniversary, Andrzej. Happy Anniversary."

Since their arrival in the United States, the two friends have worked as professional musicians, although at times other jobs have been necessary, as Medyna explained: "I have done other things, as well, to support my family, but I have always played music, without a break—dance music, concerts, whatever I can play." Winnicki also began his time in America by mixing music and other work. "Although I had taken English in college, my speaking ability wasn't that great, and it took me a while to 'find my feet,' as they say. But I began to play full time in the late '80s," he said. "At that time, there was a huge scene in the Atlantic City casinos, which isn't there anymore—when they used to have bands playing almost 24-7 with some really great players. It was really an amazing scene. I did that for a while, then later when my first son was born, I moved back to New York and hooked up with an agency. I do a lot of work playing places like the Plaza and Waldorf and other hotels."


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Download jazz mp3 “Kattorna” by Komeda Project