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Tomasz Stanko: A Mix of Two Extremes

Cezary L. Lerski By

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I've never distinguished between my desire for advance which guided my life and my love of mainstream and modal jazz...
I've always been a mix of two extremes... The conversation with Tomasz Stanko.

This interview was conducted via phone on May 18th, 2004 by Cezary Lerski from Polish Jazz Network one month before Tomasz Stanko Quartet tour in the United States and Canada.

All About Jazz: Dear Tomasz, your music has always been for many, myself included, an extreme of musical sophistication, the art form that requires special effort to comprehend, the art form accessible only to few chosen ones. Suddenly, everything has changed. For last few years average reader of any major jazz publication at any place in the world will learn about you as a natural link between post-Miles Davis-Chat Baker jazz with vocabulary of European chamber music. I believe that even yourself, you will have a problem to count all the awards and recognitions you have had received in last several years from various jazz committees. Paradoxically, being one of the pioneers of European avant-guard and one of the most un-orthodox musicians of European free jazz, today - in eyes of the jazz critics - you are the fundament of European jazz sensibility. At the same time the youngest fans of improvised music, who have never heard your music before "Soul of Things" album came out, seeing you as just another jazz master on the dusted shelf of their local library. How do you fell being today's hottest darling of jazz critics and just one more "Charles Dickens' novel" for the youngest fans?

Tomasz Stanko: I find all attempts to confront and to be against inherited reality to be natural ones and the desirable ones. It's life. To explore and to learn you can start from any point, it could be as well here and now. If you like jazz you don't necessary need to know what was in the past, which includes my music. It all depends on one thing - the sensibility of he listener.

Myself, I've always been a mix of two extremes:

  • Obsession for the innovation
  • Love for classically understand concept of tradition and "beauty". By "beauty" I mean the same approach and esthetics we find in Balthus' paintings.
I've never distinguished between my desire for advance which guided my life and my love of mainstream and modal jazz of Trane and Miles or Chat Baker's moods. I've always listened to diverse music: from Nancy Wilson to Brazilian samba to Keith Jarrett. My sound was inspired by very traditional trumpeter Buck Clayton, who has never played anything close to modern jazz but I was able to incorporate his colors, ambiance and his unique "dirty sound" into my own vocabulary. Free jazz has always been for me a philosophy of life, my way of life. It's something which determines my personality and who I am; not necessary what music I play. I love Cecil Taylor stuff but Taylor's inspirations have never precluded me from listening to say, pop music. After all jazz is primary about the tolerance.

AAJ: Many pages were written about your musical gurus, who have influenced you: Coltrane, Davis, Ornette Coleman and (of course!) Krzysztof Komeda. At the beginning of your career you had also worked with another jazz leader and composer whose influence on Polish jazz is less recognized then Komeda's but whose cognitive factor I personally find to be a very important one. I am thinking about Andrzej Trzaskowski, with whom you had played during the 60s and with whom you had recorded an album as a volume 4 of recently re-released (first time on CDs!) Polish Jazz Series. What have you gained from your association with Trzaskowski.

TS: Trzaskowski was an excellent musician, talented composer and a great human being. My tenure in his bands awarded me with a chance to work with many extraordinary musicians and I remember the time atmosphere we all had there. Andrzej was an artist and a very sensitive man. Many times he could not handle the stress very well; he just had a difficulty to relax to let it go. To be a jazz musician one need to be made from he feathers and have a skin of the elephant. Unfortunately for Trzaskowski, he just couldn't take it.

AAJ: What is the brand of the instrument you're playing?

TS: For a long time, I've been using Schilke trumpet, B5 model. This is a 3 Schilke I own. I use Bach mouthpiece 1.25 C

AAJ: During your career you have had a chance to work with many excellent musicians; the list is so long that I will not attempt to name even few. Who's missing from the list? Do you sometimes dream about working with certain jazz musicians with whom would you like to play but you haven't?

TS: I do not live in a dream that has nothing to do with reality. During the course of my career I have had a chance to work with so many musicians whose arts I love and cherish. I think that choices I made in the past were the right ones. For example I m very proud and happy to invite Dave Holland to play with me and Edvard Vesala on my first ECM record "Balladyna". Would I mind to play one day with Wayne Shorter? Of course not! Shorter is a genius and everything about him is what I love about jazz. His contemporary band (Danilo Perez, John Patitucci, Brian Blade) is just great and really fascinating. The question is really: if we haven't hooked up before would it make any sense for us to play together now? Would our music remain unique for both of us and be cohesive at the same time?

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