“The mood of Polish melancholy is in my blood.”
Described by the New York Times as “one of the most acclaimed improvising musicians in Europe”, Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko was born in 1942 and made his debut in Krakow in the late 1950s. In the 1960s he joined Krzysztof Komeda’s quintet, soon becoming its mainstay, and recorded a masterpiece of European jazz with it, the LP Astigmatic.
Though Miles Davis and Chet Baker were early influences, he was soon drawn to the free jazz of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. As he told jazz writer Andrew Gilbert, speaking of jazz under communism, “I was interested in artistic freedom, because in person I didn't really have a big problem living in a communist country in this time. Maybe earlier musicians had some problems, they don't have the chance to play so often, but in 1963 it was beginning to be quite all right. I was much more interested in the freedom in Ornette's music."
In the early 1970s, at the helm of the Tomasz Stanko Quintet, he came to the forefront of the free jazz scene and was featured at major European festivals. His subsequent projects reinforced this stature: Unit with Polish pianist Adam Makowicz, and a quartet co-led with Finnish drummer Edward Vesala that in 1975 attracted attention of ECM’s Manfred Eicher. Stanko’s ECM debut, Balladyna, has become a legend on both sides of the Atlantic. In the 1980s Stanko was enlisted by Cecil Taylor in several of his line-ups.
The 1990s saw a renewal of Stanko’s relationship with ECM. A new quartet, featuring pianist Bobo Stenson, bassist Anders Jormin and drummer Tony Oxley, was widely hailed as one of the best jazz groups of the decade, and the album Leosia earned a rare top rating in the Penguin Jazz Guide. Released in 1997, Litania, a tribute to the music of Krzysztof Komeda, became his first global bestseller. Subsequent ECM releases, Soul of Things and Suspended Night, featuring a young Polish quartet at the beginning of the new century brought him to the attention of US jazz fans. 2013 brought a new double album, Wisława, with a new group: Thomas Morgan (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums) and David Virelles (piano). Jazz Journal’’s Michael Tucker hailed “essential music from one of Europe's most striking – and affecting – poets of his instrument”.
May his memory be a blessing.