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Sylwester Ostrowski: Music As A Celebration Of Life

Sylwester Ostrowski: Music As A Celebration Of Life

Courtesy Emma Halstead

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I like to play with musicians coming from different countries and cultures as this is our way to say that we are all part of the same world.
—Sylwester Ostrowski
Polish saxophonist Sylwester Ostrowski is not only a brilliant musician and producer, but an equally successful cultural promoter. In particular, he is the founder and organizer of the Szczecin Jazz Festival, a celebrated festival he organizes in his native city. As soon as he hit the road after the hiatus forced by the pandemic, we had the opportunity to meet him and talk about his very special projects, dreams and worldviews.

All About Jazz: After a long, trying year for everyone, you have just started to play live music again. You are organizing concerts with musicians coming from all over the world, which feel like a celebration of returning to life. How do you feel in this particular moment?

Sylwester Ostrowski: I am very happy for that. It is exactly as you said: a celebration of life. I have just started making international concerts, playing with great musicians such as Igor Butman, Camille Thurman, Alexander Beets, Francesco Bruno, Freddie Hendrix, Jakub "Mizer" Mizeracki, Albert Bover de Soto, Endea Owens, Owen Hart Jr.. Some of them are already special friends of mine; with the others the friendship is developing naturally as we all share a common love for music and the idea of a world where boundaries do not exist and music is a way to make deep connections between people.

AAJ: You have developed a unique voice on the tenor saxophone, combining inspirations from different cultures, American and Polish in particular, and crossing music genres like classical, traditional and jazz. How did you come up with this path?

SO: First of all, swing represents the roots of jazz music. Secondly, I come from Poland, which is a country with a great popular music tradition. So it was quite natural to combine these two sides. I am following my roots to create my future, it is a way to shape my own path as both a human being and musician. Everywhere in the world, there are two types of jazz musicians: those who swing, and the others. There are great jazz musicians who prefer to experiment, combining jazz music with electronic and digital sounds, or hip-hop grooves, etc... I have great respect for these musicians but I feel like this is not my way. Then, there are musicians who remained faithful to the swinging tradition of jazz music. I certainly do feel to belong to this second category and I am proud of that.

AAJ: What are your main music inspirations?

SO: I am inspired by the greatest saxophonists of the jazz history such as John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Dexter Gordon. Both Billy Harper and Bobby Watson have been central to my musical background and education. I consider them as my mentors as I learned so much from them.

AAJ: What is the state of the art of jazz in Poland? How international is its scene?

SO: We have a long and important jazz tradition in Poland, dating back to before the Second World War, even if the most important musicians emerged in the second half of the 20th century: I am referring to legends of Polish music such as Tomasz Stanko, Krzysztof Komeda and Michal Urbaniak. The Polish jazz scene is really strong right now. We have over 100 jazz festivals, 15 of which are big international jazz festivals. This scene is also very diverse, with musicians playing very different genres such as classical jazz, modern avant-garde and American jazz including swing.

AAJ: What is the message you want to bring to people through your music?

SO: I think that the last two years with COVID proved to us how important life is. Music is my way to contribute to a better life for both me and the people who listen to me. At the same time, I like to play with musicians coming from different countries and cultures as this is our way to say that we are all part of the same world.

AAJ: You are the founder and the organizer of the Szczecin Festival in Poland, an event that is quite appreciated at the international level for its hospitality and the quality of the music it features. What is the spirit behind this Festival?

SO: I think that the secret of the success of the Szczecin Festival is that it is an international event that promotes also Polish local musicians and artists. It is this combination of international and local elements that makes the Festival a very special event. Then, there is also a social dimension of the Festival as we organize cultural workshops and ask musicians to play live music in the streets or in the public transportation in the poorest neighborhoods of the city. Our idea is as simple as it is innovative: we want to promote international and Polish culture, art and jazz music among the general public.

AAJ: Looking ahead, where is Sylvester Ostrowski headed—personally and professionally

SO: During the pandemic, I realized that the most important thing to me is family. My intention is to put my artistic ego behind and try to dedicate my life to my family. I certainly want to be an international jazz player. All musicians dream about that and I do it as well. I want to keep touring internationally, composing and producing jazz, but I will also continue to promote jazz and make it stronger in Poland and Europe. But now family comes first. The difference with the past is just that I am no longer willing to sacrifice my family for my musical aspirations.

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