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Piotr Turkiewicz: Putting Wroclaw On The Jazz Map

Ian Patterson By

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With the project stalled for almost a year the possibility of losing the European funding hung over Kosendiak's head. "Had that happened there would be a concrete monster still on this square," laughs Turkiewicz. After a break of close to a year, a new company was found and construction of the NFM was duly completed without further mishap. "They did a good job, and in time," Turkiewicz recognizes. "It's been an incredible effort by a lot of people," he adds.

Each of the four performance venues are equipped with recording studios. The NFM also houses a library, a music book store, various bars and restaurants, rehearsal spaces and conferences spaces. Besides the main performances spaces the balconies, the lobby and the main entrance space are also used in various capacities. "There are exhibitions and so on," says Turkiewicz. "We're trying to bring it alive."

With close to one thousand performances per year, music has brought all the spaces of the NFM to life in spectacular fashion. And, if there were some concerns about the challenge of filling so many extra seats compared to the much smaller Wroclaw Philharmonic Hall then the needn't have worried, because Wroclaw's music-loving public has embraced the NFM and its world-class program with enthusiasm.

"Since it has opened almost everything has sold out," says Turkiewicz, with undisguised surprise. "The jazz and world music, visiting orchestras, major classical music programming -the public response has been incredible. "The demand is much higher than we expected." When Turkiewicz announced an impending concert by Wynton Marsalis on Facebook tickets sold out in just few days. Similarly, a Facebook post was enough to shift seven hundred tickets for a Kamasi Washington gig.

It's a far cry from the early days when Turkiewicz would design the posters himself and run around town handing out flyers in an attempt to drag people into the concerts. That said, Jazztopad still has an extremely visible presence at street level, with posters literally all over Wroclaw in the lead-up to the eleven-day festival in November.

Jazztopad, however, is a year-round concern. "It's not just those eleven days," stresses Turkiewicz. "We do Melting Pot, which is a lab of improvisation -not just music but dance and sculpture."

After nearly a decade of changes and innovations, Piotr seems satisfied with Jazztopad's format.

"I'm pretty happy but I'm still trying to figure out the pace of the festival. Eleven days is long but it allows you to focus on something each day. If it were just three days you'd have eight or ten concerts per day—I'm not a big fan of that. When you look at the map of festivals most of them are fairly similar in terms of their schedules—everything packed from Thursday until Sunday. I like the fact the musicians come here and they stay in the city. You talk with them and you realize that's rare. They're always in a rush going somewhere else."

One musician that Turkiewicz would love to have spent time with in Wroclaw was Ornette Coleman, but sadly it wasn't to be. "Ornette was invited and programed but he cancelled two weeks before," relates Turkiewicz. "That was in 2012. He was planning to play Japan and after come to Europe for just the one performance. That was supposed to be his last European concert. It was one of the dreams that never came true. It was sad because that was one of the guys that I loved and admired since I remember enjoying music."

Most of Turkiewicz's dealings in the previous two years trying to set up the concert had been with Coleman's son, Renardo. When Ornette Coleman died in 2013, Renardo invited Turkiewicz to the funeral in New York.

"The funeral was incredible. It was one of the most beautiful celebrations of a human being and music and of life that I've ever seen in my life. Imagine the vibe, I mean, the history of jazz is sitting around you. Cecil Taylor was there, Sonny [Rollins] was there, Jack DeJohnette, Henry Threadgill—all these guys performing for five hours. It was a five-hour service and it was all about positive energy. People were crying of course, it was sad, but the general message was let's be happy because he gave us so much it's incredible. We were so lucky to witness that."

The same could be said for all those who have frequented Jazztopad over the years and witnessed there quite special adventures in contemporary music-making, where classically trained musicians put flowers in avant-garde jazz musician's music, much to Turkiewicz's delight.

Photo Credit: Lukasz Rajchert; Slawek Przerwa

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