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Marek Balata: Improvisation is a marvelous adventure!

Roland Kánik By

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With more possiblities to combine things, more effort is required to express a pure personal essence.
Marek Balata is one of the most remarkable personalities on the Polish jazz scene. From 1990 until 2000 he was a constant winner of the Jazzforum annual chart for best jazz vocalist. His vocal art flows from several roots: a colorful and extraordinarily wide-ranging voice, an expressive variety combined with rich melodic inventiveness ' an archetypical attribute of the Slavic musical tradition (Rudy Linka, George Mraz etc.). And it isn't a big surprise that his musical thoughts are influenced also by music of Frederic Chopin.

Balata is representative of traditional bebop singing, but he also likes to experiment with ambient music, where he applies the full color range of his voice. It is necessary to mention at least some of his projects: the unusual vocal group Cantabile in Jazz, a collaboration with great saxophonist Zbigniew Namyslowski, and the contemporary jazz trio Triology. Apart from his musical activities, Balata is also artistic painter and theatre actor.

All About Jazz: How did you become a musician, jazz musician? What was the first impulse?

Marek Balata: I have had a positive attitude to art since my childhood. I used to play accordion as well as paint pictures. Later on the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin appeared, and all the boys around, including me, started to think that musical education was senseless. At the time I was just an amateur guitarist. Several years later the breaking point came: I had to choose my future occupation. I opted for the fine art academy, since my musical knowledge and skills were poor. Imagine me playing Deep Purple to the academic commitee!

So thus began the most beautiful years of my life, a time of maturation and a search for my future artistic direction. In addition to the fine art academy I was still developing my musical skills. My first contest was the International Competition of Jazz Vocalists in Zamocs (Poland), where I took first place. I sang and played guitar, Geroge Benson compositions as well as my own tunes. Later I realized that I have to concentrate on one activity if I want to success. So I've chosen singing and scatting, and that's what I do till today.

AAJ: If someone wanted to become a jazz pianist or saxophonist, there are plenty of stars from whom he can draw inspiration. But the world of male jazz singers is not so numerous. So what was your source of inspiration when you began to sing?

MB: My approach to the music is open-minded. I'm inspired by any kind of music, including even symphonic music. I consider myself a musician. I don't feel like a singer. When I'm singing, my thoughts are closer to an instrumentalist than a vocalist. In the moment of improvisation I become simultaneously a composer and an instrumentalist ' then I feel like I'm in a dream.

AAJ: That's an interesting point. The lifelong effort of many trumpeters and saxophonists is to imitate the human voice, to make their instruments "sing." Vice versa, you as a vocalist try to sound like an instrumentalist...

MB: Yes, maybe I'm a strange example. I tend to the more broader range of instrumentalists. I don't want to be bounded by the meaning of words. I like to express in the abstract ' to exploit my fantasy and feel freedom.

AAJ: Do you find any parallels between jazz singing and painting?

MB: Yes, both activities have common denominator: myself. But there are differences in the mode of artistic creation. When I paint a picture, I do it alone in private and during longer period of time. At the end of this process I show the result to the audience ' the final artwork. When I sing, I don't present the result, but the artistic process in colaboration with other musiciana. The song is like a frame, but the picture within it is different every time ' because we improvise. But with fine art, people have a different experience every time they look at a picture, even though the picture haven't been changed.

AAJ: Nice, but back to music. Please describe the formation of the project Cantabile in Jazz?

MB: This was a great period. In 1996 I called Urszula Dudziak and asked whether she would like to sing in a group of four vocalists and one bass. I sang her some sketches on the phone and she agreed. Then we called her friend Michele Hendricks and she also agreed. Thanks to Michele, we called bassist Anthony Jackson. My intention was to express instrumental music through song. The bass was a natural connection between these two worlds. Later I replaced the bass with a tuba.


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