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Piotr Turkiewicz: Putting Wroclaw On The Jazz Map

Ian Patterson By

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You come to Jazztopad and you can only hear the music here. Hopefully the music will go on to have its own life, but Jazztopad is the place where you can experience something that you have not experienced before. —Piotr Turkiewicz
At just thirty seven years of age it's hard to believe that Piotr Turkiewicz has been pulling the strings of Jazztopad for almost a decade already. The festival, staged each November in the Polish city of Wroclaw, was already a few years old when Turkiewicz became Artistic Director in 2008, but under the canny stewardship of Turkiewicz and General Director Andrzej Kosendiak, Jazztopad has been transformed, in both style and substance, to become one of Europe's more progressively minded jazz festivals, though one with a strong sense of the music's historical roots.

Alongside cutting edge Polish, Japanese, Korean and Turkish jazz/improvised music, the Jazztopad program has embraced American legends of the genre such as Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Charles Lloyd, William Parker, Wadada Leo Smith and Anthony Braxton, to name but a handful.

Almost immediately upon being appointed Artistic Director, Turkiewicz set about radically altering the Jazztopad's artistic vision.

With so many jazz festival line-ups and formats alike, Turkiewicz has made Jazztopad stand out for the original music that he commissions. Of course, Jazztopad is not the only jazz festival that commissions new work from musicians, but how many festivals can provide the musician in question with the use of a philharmonic orchestra, a chamber ensemble or a choir?

When Turkiewicz took over the Jazztopad reins in 2008 he had clear ideas what direction he wanted the festival to take: "I thought it would be great to have new pieces in the festival to add an element of celebration. Program-wise it should be special. You come to Jazztopad and you can only hear the music here. Hopefully the music will go on to have its own life, but Jazztopad is the place where you can experience something that you have not experienced before."

Jazztopad audiences have experienced new music by the likes of Erik Friedlander, Nate Wooley, Wadada Leo Smith, Jason Moran, Charles Lloyd, William Parker, Uri Caine, Anders Jormin, John Surman and Wayne Shorter. It's no small feat on Turkiewicz's part to have succeeded in persuading these jazz luminaries to engage with such a progressive idea—that's to say the fusing of jazz/avant-garde music with classical aesthetics—but it's the result of much groundwork, often over several years. "It's a matter of long conversations, and talking about what already happened in the festival so as not to repeat the same things," explains Turkiewicz. "It's very much a discussion about the forces and the instruments. It's great fun."

All these world premieres are recorded with the aim of releasing them on a suitable label. Piotr Damasiewicz's Hadrons (Ars Cameralis, Records 2011)—recorded with AUKSO orchestra —was the first work commissioned for Jazztopad to be released on CD.

When Turkiewicz first approached Damasiewicz, the trumpeter was little known outside the local scene and was without a record to his name. Jazztopad's Artistic Director, however, had great belief in Damasiewicz's talent. "I already knew him for many years and I knew he was a great composer,"" says Turkiewicz. "I trusted him completely in terms of the aesthetics of music."

Turkiewicz's instincts were spot on. Hadrons won the Polish Phonographic Academy's Fryderyk award—the Polish equivalent of a Grammy—for Debut of the Year, significantly elevating Damasiewicz's national and international profile. "It was a breaking point in his career," says Turkiewicz of the recording. "It caught the attention of the press."

The second commission to be released was by another emerging Polish talent, Nikola Kołodziejczyk, whose Chord Nation was released on ForTune Records in 2014. Right from the start, Turkiewicz has championed Poland's jazz musicians—both the unknown and the already established—tapping into the tremendous depth of talent that exists in a country that boasts over one hundred jazz festivals.

Other Jazztopad commission that have made it onto CD include Terje Rypdal's composition "And the Sky Was Colored with Waterfalls and Angels" with the Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra, which featured on Melodic Warrior (ECM, 2013); William Parker's For Those Who Are Still (AUM Fidelity, 2015) and Charles Lloyd's Wild Man Dance Blue Note, 2015).

Turkiewicz has to pinch himself a little when he considers the legacy Jazztopad has already created. "It's unbelievable," he laughs, "to have records on ECM and Blue Note." It really helps a lot in terms of Jazztopad going further and deeper."

At the time of Lloyd's premier of Wild Man Dance, the veteran, Memphis-born musician had been the only musician to eschew Jazztopad's offer of orchestra, chamber ensemble or choir for his commissioned piece. Instead, Lloyd augmented his quartet of Gerald Cleaver, Joe Sanders and Gerald Clayton with Socratis Sinopoulos on Greek lyra and Lukács Miklós on cimbalom.

The concert was a great success, setting Turkiewicz's mind racing while the applause was still ringing in the auditorium. "I immediately started talking with Dorothy [Darr] and Charles about how I would love to continue our relationship," says Jazztopad's Artistic Director. "Charles is one of my very favourite artists of all time so I just couldn't resist and we started discussing the new commission for 2017. As usually it's a long journey to make it happen but I am so happy that this time Charles has decided to work with our ensembles, the NFM Choir and Lutoslawski Quartet. This is going to be a very special suite and I hope we will be able to release it again."

The general critical acclaim that greeted Wild Man Dance—Lloyd's first release on Blue Note in thirty years—has undoubtedly elevated Jazztopad's international profile. "It really helps to connect with people," says Turkiewicz, "because when you mention that Charles Lloyd's last record was your commission they go 'Oh, right!' There's recognition, and suddenly you're not just some random festival."

There are high hopes that commissions performed at Jazztopad 2016 by Wayne Shorter, Jason Moran and the brilliant Polish pianist Marcin Masecki, may also see the light of day in the future. Persuading Shorter to bring new music to Jazztopad gave Turkiewicz particular pleasure.

"When I got the message that Wayne Shorter would be writing a new piece and he chose only four partners he wanted to work on this with, I was over the moon. I always say that inviting and working with all those amazing musicians is a dream come true."
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