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Man Of The Light: The Life And Work Of Zbigniew Seifert

Ian Patterson By

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Man Of The Light: The Life And Work Of Zbigniew Seifert
Aneta Norek-Skrycka
172 Pages
ISBN: 978-83-938054-2-6
The Zbigniew Seifert Foundation

A number of European jazz musicians stand out for having shaped the sound of the music in the past fifty years, for their virtuosity and for having influenced subsequent generations. A partial list would include Django Reinhardt, Joe Zawinul, Jan Garbarek, Jan Johansson, Norma Winstone, Henri Texier, Enrico Rava and Tomasz Stanko. A lesser known but equally worthy name is that of Zbigniew Seifert, the Polish violin virtuoso whose star shone brightly for a decade —in Stanko's first major quintet and leading his own ensembles—before he died of cancer in 1979, aged thirty two.

This welcome English translation of Aneta Norek-Skrycka's Seifert biography—published in Polish in 2009—relates the story of a singularly talented musician and a warm human being, whose unique approach to jazz violin won him admirers both at home and abroad. Seifert wasn't the first to be labelled the John Coltrane of the violin but he was arguably the most exciting and original violinist of his generation. "I have never heard anyone playing the violin like this before," McCoy Tyner told music journalist/author Joachim Brendt.

Other admirers of Seifert included John Scofield, Joachim Kuhn, Jan Hammer, Jack DeJohnette and Richie Beirach, to cite just a few. Valerie Wilmer, the renowned English jazz writer/photographer, found in Sefiert's playing at the Jazz Jamboree in 1970 "all that was really moving and inspiring in jazz." And of course Stanko, in whose first quintet Seifert played from 1968 to 1973, recording three albums. Seifert was, Stanko said in a 1979 interview, "the only musican whom I never had to explain anything to, because he already knew exactly what to do."

Norek-Skrycka's chronological, factual portrait of Seifert's life and works plays out during the Cold War, Communist years in Poland, though apart from learning that Seifert's father, Waclaw, was incarcerated by the authorities for a year, and that obtaining permission to travel abroad was both necessary and complicated, little sense of life in Poland under the Communist regime emerges from these pages.

Such historical backdrop was perhaps unnecessary to elaborate upon for readers of the Polish edition of the book, but the realities of life in Poland during that period are difficult to imagine for those in non-Communist, Western Europe. For this English edition of the book, deeper insight into what Norek-Skrycka describes as the "drab reality of Communist Poland" and "a world deprived of freedom" might have put Seifert's struggles and achievements—his dreams—in greater context.

Norek-Skrycka's narrative is neatly divided into five chapters: Seifert's childhood; his musical education; his first jazz ensemble; the Tomasz Stanko years; and finally, Seifert's international career. Testament comes from those who knew Seifert best, his family, musical colleagues and jazz journalists. The author draws heavily from Polish jazz magazines of the day such as Jazz and Jazz Forum to cast critical light on Seifert's recordings and live performances, but the one voice that is heard rather too infrequently is that of Seifert himself, who it appears, was not the subject of too many interviews during his career.

There are plenty of extracts from Seifert's letters to his parents from his sojourns abroad. Taken together, Seifert's correspondence portray a dedicated son, an ambitious musician and, following his cancer diagnosis, a selfless, caring individual who bravely shielded family from the reality of his illness for as long as he could. Not all the letters add to the narrative, however, and details of house hunting and the chores of decorating, or detailed travel itineraries, for example, seem superfluous.

Drawn to the violin at a very early age, Seifert's natural talent blossomed with an intense practise regime and he sailed through classical violin studies with top marks. The phenomenal technique that would frequently place Seifert in jazz polls alongside the likes of Stephane Grappelli, Jerry Goodman, Jean-Luc Ponty and Michal Urbaniak was honed in the Chopin State Secondary Music School under the tutelage of Stanislaw Tawroszewicz, to whom Seifert would later dedicate the song "Coral."


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