Jazzing It Up

23 March 2017

Jazzing It Up

Kraków is undoubtedly the cradle of jazz in Poland – jazz has resounded here for almost a century.

Although Warsaw hosted Poland’s first jazz concert in 1922, it was Kraków which was home to Europe’s first jazz association, founded in 1926. While Marshal Józef Piłsudski was holding the May Coup in Warsaw, in a city 300 km south Dr. Józef Frommer, aficionado of music, pedagogue and attorney, decided to create the Jazz Association and draw up its statute which was accepted by the Municipal Office in July. The student Jolly Boys Band started playing jazz just a year later, and the Faculty of Jazz was founded at the Władysław Żeleński Music School in the early 1930s.

Soon after the war, the new regime denounced jazz as being a part of degenerate capitalist culture. Fans were forced into the underground, marking the beginning of the catacomb period, when jazz was mostly played in private homes. A famous venue in Kraków was a small room on the first floor of the tenement house at Stradom Street, occupied by the double-bassist Witold Kujawski. It was here that during the grim post-war reality of the 1950s one of the world’s longest running jazz festivals was born: the All Souls “Zaduszki” Jazz Festival. It was here that Poland’s jazz giants such as Andrzej Trzaskowski and Wojciech Karolak took their first steps, and ensembles were led by musicians including Jerzy Harald, Kazimierz Turewicz and Jerzy “Duduś” Matuszkiewicz. When we add the legendary club Helikon, which has hosted stars such as Krzysztof Komeda and Zbigniew Seifert, the statement that Kraków is the cradle of jazz is no exaggeration.

We’re true to tradition, and Kraków continues adding bricks to its growing jazz fortress. In February, we hosted the jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval from Cuba. He was the first guest of Cracovia Music Agency’s latest cycle World of Great Music. The next superstar performing in Kraków is the fusion music pioneer, Chick Corea. Although the American pianist has visited our city before, until now he has always played solo or alongside the Return to Forever ensemble. The winner of 22 Grammy awards comes to ICE Kraków on 8 May with his trio: the double-bassist Eddie Gomez and the acclaimed percussionist Brian Blade. And the organisers promise it won’t be the last concert held under the popular banner ICE Jazz this year.

Of course Witold Wnuk, director of the Cracovia Music Agency, won’t let us forget his greatest achievement: the Summer Jazz Festival at Piwnica Pod Baranami. The 22nd festival is opened by the queen of smooth jazz: Ive Mendes. The Brazilian vocalist performs on 25 June at ICE Kraków with material from her latest album Bossa Romantica. And that’s not all the famous musicians appearing at the festival: the Branford Marsalis Quartet & Kurt Elling perform at the Kraków Opera on 11 July. The American saxophonist and composer has visited Kraków before; this time he is accompanied by Elling, whose warm voice has earned him the acclaim of one of the greatest jazz vocalists working today. The following day, on 12 July, Auditorium Maximum of the Jagiellonian University welcomes audience favourite Nigel Kennedy with his ensemble.

The second Jarek Śmietana International Jazz Guitar Competition also forms a part of the festival. The event brings together giants of jazz guitar and Polish masters of the instrument and up-and-coming jazz musicians. The event is a musical tribute paid by artists, friends and Kraków to the Cracovian jazzman who passed away in 2013.

And while we’re on the subject of festivals, let’s fast-forward to late April and the 23rd Young and Old, or Jazz in Kraków International Festival. The event is headlined by China Moses – daughter of the legendary Dee Dee Bridgewater. As usual, the festival closes with celebrations of the International Jazz Day, celebrated around the globe on 30 April under the patronage of UNESCO).

From spring it’s just a short leap to the Kraków Jazz Autumn. Initiated at Alchemia over a decade ago, the event is a huge celebration of free jazz, an annual meeting of exuberant artists and a hotbed of uncompromising sounds. But of course you can hear excellent improvised music in the cellars of the Kazimierz club year round. And while we’re on the subject of clubs, we can always hear excellent jazz at Harris Piano Jazz Bar, Piec Art, Chicago Jazz Live Music and Dali Club.

The Kraków All Souls “Zaduszki” Jazz Festival is now over 60 years old! We simply can’t imagine cultural autumn in Kraków without this reputable event.

In the autumn, the club Studio opens its door again after a major refurbishment. The concert season starts with a powerful fit: on 4 November Kraków's largest club welcomes the ensemble of Simon Philips, virtuoso of jazz and rock percussion renowned for his work with Toto and Chick Corea.

Meanwhile, for the last four decades, early December has been all about Jazz Juniors – an international competition bringing together the most talented young jazz musicians. This year, the festival takes off with a new name and new promises. “The Jazz Juniors International Exchange will have three dimensions: a showcase music fair, the traditional competition, and a festival with acclaimed guests,” promises Tomasz Handzlik from the Film and Jazz Music Foundation.

And syncopated echoes reach far beyond Kraków’s boundaries. Fans of the Tatra Mountains and jazz music are already rubbing their hand with glee at the thought of the latest Jazz Spring in Zakopane (28 April – 2 May).

We’ll also be scaling great musical heights between 6 and 8 July in Jaroszowice near Wadowice. The 7th Młyn Jazz Festival Wadowice aims for the very top. This year, the event hosts stars including Herbie Hanckock, Diane Reeves, Chris Botti, John Scofield Überjam Band, The Brand New Heavies, Stanisław Soyka & Wojciech Karolak Trio and Maria Sadowska. It will be a veritable feast! (Artur Jackowski, "Karnet" magazine)

 

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