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Piotr Turkiewicz: Putting Wroclaw On The Jazz Map

Ian Patterson By

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Jazztopad's commissions are, at least for Turkiewicz, a cornerstone of the festival. "If I'm still doing the festival in the future I'd love to have one edition that is only commissions—every day. You know, every day you experience new music, something that has never been played before. That would be fantastic, I think. I don't know about for everybody," Turkiewicz laughs, "but for me it would be great."

There's much more to Jazztopad than the commissioned music. An integral part of the program is the Concerts in Living Rooms, whereupon willing Wroclaw citizens open their doors to musicians and often complete strangers for intimate improvised performances. "We wanted the city to be part of the festival and all those other spaces," explains Turkiewicz. "It's really important to be present in the city."

The musicians who take part in the living room concerts are variously local, national and occasionally international artists. The number of talented young Polish jazz musicians and improvisers who perform year after year hints at the strength in depth of the Polish jazz/improvised music scene.

"The Polish jazz scene is very strong," acknowledges Turkiewicz. "Each city has a community of improvising, avant-garde musicians and also more mainstream musicians." Turkiewicz's claim was certainly born out at the European Jazz Conference 2016, held in Jazztopad's home in Wroclaw as part of the city's celebrations as joint European Capital of Culture 2016.

Three days of showcases gave ample demonstration of the breadth of Polish jazz. Established artists like Marcin Wasilewski Trio, Waclaw Zimpel and Maciej Obara were part of an impressive bill that included space for up-and-coming young talents such as real-time composer Nikola Kolodziejczyk, pianists Aga Derlak and Marcin Masecki, the Wojcinski/Szmanda Quartet and the trio LEM, featuring local clarinetist Mateusz Rybicki and bassist Zbigniew Kozera, and Australian drummer Samuel Hall.

Though Turkiewicz is an ardent advocate of Polish jazz in all its rich variety he recognizes that there some areas are stronger than others.

"What's maybe missing, and I've seen this in other countries as well, is that there aren't a lot of great singers. They tend to be very traditional, imitating American jazz. Also the female side of jazz here is not terribly strong. That's something still to be developed."

Two improvising Polish jazz vocalists who are definitely following their respective muses are Anna Gadt and Gregorz Karnas, both of whom also graced the European Jazz Conference showcases in Wroclaw. The showcases represented a small cross-section of Polish jazz, which still remains, bar a few marquee names, relatively unknown abroad.

Turkiewicz, through the Jazztopad brand, has been doing his utmost in recent years to promote Polish jazz abroad by presenting special Jazztopad editions in the USA, Canada, Mexico, Turkey, Japan and South Korea. "I think it's really important to support Polish artists, using the festival," Turkiewicz explains. "It's a huge undertaking—just the cost of visas is enormous—but the response has been very positive."

For the past three years the main international edition of Jazztopad has taken place over a week in June in New York City. With the support of the Polish Cultural Institute in New York, the festival has brought Polish artists to the venues like Jazz at Lincoln Center, Jazz Standard, Jazz Gallery, Cornelia Street Café, Joe's Pub, National Sawdust, Alwan for the Arts and, in the true spirit of Jazztopad, into the inner sanctums of New York apartments. During the NYC Jazztopad festival Polish musicians have collaborated with artists such as Tony Malaby, Uri Caine, Erik Friedlander, Mark Feldman and Sylvie Courvousier.

Turkiewicz's extensive travels have also broadened his own musical horizons. "I fell in love with Korean jazz and Korean improvised music when I went to Korea for two weeks," he enthuses. "Japanese music too. It's such a big, interesting scene. I am so grateful to Mark Rappaport who has been my guide into Japanese sounds and he was also curating the Far Out East residency at Jazztopad in 2016."

As a result, Turkiewicz has brought some of the most adventurous Korean and Japanese groups to Jazztopad, once again changing the aesthetic of the festival and introducing Jazztopad audiences to exciting new sounds.

Jazztopad's star has risen both at home and increasingly abroad, with interest from bands wishing to play at the festival increasing year by year. "In terms of musicians wanting to play it's too much," laughs Turkiewicz, "which is great, but the way I program I kind of know what I want. I want to meet all the guys that I work with. I have commissions lined up for 2018 and I'm already thinking about 2019—it's a really long term process."

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