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Zbigniew Seifert International Jazz Violin Competition

Ian Patterson By

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I didn’t know that we have so many jazz violin players in the world. The violin is enjoying a renaissance in jazz. —Professor Janusz Stefański
1st Zbigniew Seifert International Jazz Violin Competition
Krzysztof Penderecki European Centre for Music
Luslawice/Krakow
Poland
July 16-19, 2014

He was one of the great jazz virtuosos, right up there some would say with Django Reinhardt, Art Tatum and Charlie Parker. Most frequently, however, he was compared to John Coltrane. The cruelly premature death of Polish jazz violinist Zbigniew Seifert at the age of 32 undoubtedly robbed jazz of one of its most exciting and original musical voices. The cancer that took Seifert in 1979, however, could not extinguish his light and he continues to inspire musicians—and not only violinists—around the world.

Evidence of Seifert's growing legacy could be seen in the sixty three entrants from seventeen countries who applied for the 1st Zbigniew Seifert International Jazz Violin Competition. Ten finalists qualified for the semi-finals and finals which were held over three days in the Krzysztof Penderecki European Centre for Music in Luslawice, Poland.

"To be honest, there is a really huge interest," said Aneta Norek-Skrycka, President and co-founder of the Zbigniew Seifert Foundation and one of those chiefly responsible for making the 1st Zbigniew Seifert International Jazz Violin Competition a reality: "We didn't expect to have so many applications and such big interest from the media so it seems that in this we have achieved our goal. Finally in Poland we hear about Seifert."

It's strange to think that Seifert should better known abroad than in his native Poland but he conducted few interviews during his lifetime and only now—through the tireless work of the Zbigniew Seifert Foundation—are those print articles related to the violin genius being digitally archived. Thanks too, to the phenomenon of You Tube Seifert's music is more accessible than it's ever been. It's taken a few determined individuals and the arrival of the internet age to reawaken interest in Seifert.

Significantly too, Seifert's recorded legacy was relatively small and his records have long been out of print in Poland. Recently, however, there has been a spate of reissues and archival releases on CD, which is bringing Seifert's music to new generations. In 2006 Polish label Anex reissued Kilimanjaro Vol 1 and Vol 2, live sets from 1978. In 2008, Polonia Records reissued Seifert's celebrated 1978 recording Solo Violin. In 2010 another Polish label, GAD Records, released Nora, a series of radio recordings from 1969 and 1970 featuring Seifert on alto saxophone. Also in 2010, German label Promising Music issued Man of the Light, remastered from the MPS label recording.

The latter recording—originally released in 1976—is considered by All About Jazz's chief writer and Seifert fan John Kelman to be "a true desert island disc; one of the most exhilarating, important, and underexposed jazz albums ever recorded." Man of the Light featured Joachim Kuhn, Cecil McBee, Billy Hart and Jasper Van't Hof and is widely considered to be Seifert's masterpiece.

Certainly it's the recording that the ten finalists who graced the inaugural competition are most familiar with. All acknowledged being inspired by Seifert and there was a sense of homecoming in their bringing Seifert's music alive once more in his native Poland.

The idea to commemorate and promote Seifert was hatched several years before, as Norek-Skrycka explained to me in the quiet of one of the many practice rooms of the Krzysztof Penderecki European Centre for Music:"I was shocked that although Seifert is such a great musician you couldn't find any information about him and you couldn't buy his CDs in the shops," said Norek-Skrycka. "It's a shame that he is better known abroad than in Poland. I started to figure out what to do to make his legacy known, because as Tomasz Stanko said recently, he's our national treasure."

Norek-Skrycka wrote a master's thesis about Seifert's music but with the ink barely dry she came to the conclusion that to truly promote the violinist beyond the relatively narrow confines of academia a more comprehensive work was required. Consequently, the fiercely determined Norek-Skrycka spent countless hours over the next four years meticulously researching and writing the first biography on Seifert—The Life of Zbigniew Seifert: Man of the Light (Music Iagellonica, 2009), published in Polish.

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