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Enrico Rava and Tomasz Stanko: Elective Affinities

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In memory of Tomasz Stanko. This article was first published at All About Jazz on October 18, 2017.

Enrico Rava and Tomasz Stanko have recently launched an ECM super-group with which in July they toured all over Europe, performing in Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Romania, as well as in their native countries, Italy and Poland. All About Jazz seized the opportunity to ask the two European trumpet masters to set aside some time during their hectic tour and interview each-other, in the spirit of the "Musician 2 Musician" column. What follows is the transcription of their cross-interview, conducted before their concert in Rome, which clearly reveals the sources of their elective affinities.

Enrico Rava: At what age did you start playing the trumpet?

Tomasz Stanko: My father was a judge, but also a musician, like many other members of my family, so I was surrounded by music from the very beginning. I first studied violin and piano in music school. I started with classical music, which I did not like. So I took a break and I went through a phase when I was very much into philosophy, literature and art in general. In particular, I liked to paint and I would go to many exhibitions. After some time I got back to music because I fell in love with Jazz and that persuaded me to go back to music school. I owe everything that happened from that moment onwards to my love for Jazz. I heard something in it. At that time in Poland there was a very famous Jazz radio programme. I would listen to it every day... So, to answer your question, I started playing the trumpet quite late, when I was seventeen.

ER: You grew up in Poland, which at the time was still under the communist regime. It must have been difficult to get hold of Jazz records at the time...

TS: That was almost impossible. Everything I heard was through radio programmes. However, we also had tape recordings. I still remember when, after my first gig in Copenhagen at the Montmartre Jazz Club with Krzysztof Komeda, I bought a very good tape recorder, made by the Norwegian company Tandberg.

ER: Who were you inspired by when you started playing the trumpet?

TS: The very first inspiration was definitely Chet Baker. Miles Davis followed shortly after. Very typical I would say. And I guess that these influences are also why you and I like eachother's music. We certainly share an "aesthetic connection." But enough about me. Let me ask how did you start?

ER: I was born in 1939. So I was six years old when the Second World War ended. American troops were in Italy. With them came freedom, chocolate, lifesavers candies, Coca Cola, Boogie Woogie... and, of course, Jazz. So, from the beginning, Jazz had a special meaning for me. My brother had some Jazz 78 RPM records and I fell in love with the music of both Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong. I literally absorbed all the trumpet, clarinet and and trombone solos on those records. I used to sing them by heart and I still remember them note by note. I could play them to you now. At that time I was just a kid who was starting to play the piano. Then, after some time, I joined a Dixieland band and started playing the trombone. Around the age of 14 I got into more modern Jazz. I started with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet featuring Chet Baker, which is still one of my favorite bands. From there I got into Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, whose music I really loved. In 1956, when I was 17 years old, Miles Davis came to Turin, my hometown, together with Lester Young, the Modern Jazz Quartet and Bud Powell. It was fantastic and I just freaked out. Two weeks later I bought a trumpet and I tried to learn how to play it by listening to Miles' early albums, like Walkin', Bags Groove and Blue Haze.

TS: It was the same for me. Generally, looking back, I realize how difficult it was for us. It's as if there were filters around us. We had only had access to good movies, which I was very much into when I was young: Italian Realism, directors like Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini, early Federico Fellini, movies featuring Anna Magnani... Those were really strong works I felt a connection with. The same connection happened with the music of Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker.

ER: When I meet young musicians at seminars and workshops around the world I am always surprised when I discover that they don't know the music of Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker, they have never listened to it! They don't know what they are missing. For me, their music opened the door to understand and get into modern jazz, because, it is easy to understand but, at the same time, it contains deep emotions, just like the music of Bach...

TS: And it swings too!

ER: It swings a lot! From their music I got to Bird, Dizzy, and everything else.

TS: Do you remember how we met?

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