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Waclaw Zimpel: How The Music Of The World Influences Me

Nick Davies By

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Waclaw Zimpel is a Polish clarinetist and composer who is recognised both nationally and internationally. His compositions have received many positive reviews in the press ("The Polish composer and clarinetist Waclaw Zimpel is a musical chameleon" —Stephen Heyman, New York Times) and he has been the recipient of numerous awards such as City of Poznań Artist Prize. Waclaw Zimpel is always pushing the boundaries of his musicality and this has led him to explore the music of India, Japan and Morocco working with leading musicians from those countries.

Independence was Waclaw' obsession since the very beginnings of his musical career to which his own projects showcase first and foremost his talents as a composer and also exceptional instrumental skills which provided a strong background.

Since 2008 he has been a member of the Ircha Clarinet Quartet (with Mikolaj Trzaska, Michał Górczyński and Pawel Szamburski) and in 2009 he joined the international ensemble Resonance, which is led by Ken Vandermark—an exceptional musician from Chicago.

His next project was Hera, which consisted of polish musicians Pawel Szpura, Pawel Postaremczak and Ksawery Wójciński. The ensemble aimed to research the roots of improvisation: liturgical music, the traditions of Indian and African trance.

Waclaw continued Hera's experiments during his travels to southern India, where he studied the complex rhythmic / melodic traditions of the region with local musicians; merging their vision with his European roots and this became the focus of his next band, called Saagara. This ensemble relies on a powerful rhythm crafted by the instruments of southern India such as ghatam, khanjira, or thavil (a drum hitherto used mostly during the Hindu rituals). That sound is then complemented by his composition and improvisation.

Wacław's newest project is LAM which features Krzysztof Dys on piano and Hubert Zemler on drums. This band focuses on the work of American minimalists which means the music is very restrained and this permits Waclaw to achieve an exceptional spatiality and clarity.

All About Jazz spoke with Waclaw about his career and how the different musical styles have influenced his playing and composing.

All About Jazz: You said that you've received classical training in both the violin and clarinet, was that from a very early age?

Waclaw Zimpel: I started the violin when I was six and played it until I was fifteen. I had a year's break and then took up the clarinet.

AAJ: Did you learn to play any instruments at school?

WZ: Yes, but in Poland we have what we call Musical Schools so you can go to musical elementary school where you are taught the normal subjects plus music. This would include tuition in the instrument plus the theory. I attended this type of school ... I was playing violin. At the end of elementary school I picked up guitar and mouth harmonica; it was later that I discovered improvisation through traditional forms of blues from early recordings. This, and listening to Dixieland music, led me to the clarinet.

AAJ: The music of Dixieland's greatly influenced you through the mouth harmonica. Did you find that this instrument allowed you more freedom to improvise than the violin?

WZ: Definitely but, to be honest, when I was playing violin I didn't feel a lot and was doing what I had to do at school but when I discovered the harmonica, I started to feel the true connection between myself and the sounds which came out of the instrument.

AAJ: It was at this point that you switched to Clarinet. You were, however, classically trained. Did your training regiment and structure what you were doing?

WZ: When I started clarinet I already knew that I wanted to be an improviser and I was listening to all kinds of jazz at that time but I had this deep feeling that I wanted to learn classical music as well because I knew that it would give me the technique and control of the sound articulation which I found interesting. After I left High School I went to Musical University to study classical music focusing partly on contemporary classical music which meant both improvisation and classical music were parallel for a long time.

AAJ: It's fascinating that, at no point, they came together. Is that correct?

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