JAZZ STRAIGHT OUTTA KRAKOW

 

 JAZZ

 

STRAIGHT OUTTA KRAKOW

 

 

Krakow, sweet Cracow, the city of dreams - drop in for a day and you'll never leave. This is not an old local folk song, but it actually tells you the truth about the place. Yes! Krakow is a magic city. There's no doubt about it. Not only is it magical, it is also extremely attractive. Two years ago it attracted some 15 million tourists, a number which seems quite incredible for a relatively small big city. Although the most important among the Polish towns, Krakow's population is mere 800 000 (perhaps not including 200 000 university students). Still, for all Poles at home and in diaspora it is the heart of Poland, not geographically of course, but historically, culturally and, last but not least, emotionally. Some would like to believe that Krakow's attractiveness factor depends on the strength of one of the world's most powerful chakras. It is situated inside the Wawel Hill upon which the royal castle was built.

I, myself, would rather put the blame on Krakow's unique atmosphere which is the result of both architectural beauty and fascinating history but also its citizens' penchant for all things art and culture. If you're not Polish, I guess talking to you about local history is no use. But you might be familiar with some of the names of important people who lived and/or worked here in the past (some still do). Perhaps we could skip the mighty, mighty legendary king Krak who gave the city its name as historians are not sure if he ever did exist. But the one who did, and  made our planet exist even more than it had before, was Copernicus - to every Pole known by his real name Mikolaj Kopernik. Thanks to his genius and his revolutionary theory, the globe still keeps swinging around the Sun/Ra.

In the realm of literature I would like to mention two outstanding prose writers. Joseph Conrad, whose real name was Jozef Konrad Korzeniowski (Nostromo, Lord Jim) is especially famous for his Heart of Darkness made into a film Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppola.

Stanislaw Lem also wrote tons of great novels (The Cyberiad, His Master's Voice) but will be popularly remembered for his Solaris famously filmed by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972 and remade by Steven Soderbergh in 2002. Now younger artists like composers/performers Rob Mazurek or Ben Frost pay tribute to this genius with their music.

Krakow is a well known city of poetry but let me give you just two names: Czeslaw Milosz and Wislawa Szymborska, both of them the Literary Nobel Prize winners (1980 and 1996 respectively). And if this is not enough, remember Tadeusz Rozewicz, the excellent poet who still hasn't got the Nobel Prize although deserves it like no one else! And Slawomir Mrozek, the outstanding writer, playwright and cartoonist, who has lived in Krakow and in exile alternately.

Photography brings to mind three important names: Ryszard Horowitz (a New York based visual artist), Wojciech Plewinski and the late Zbigniew Lagocki. All three were interested in jazz and expressed that in black and white.

Film could be represented by two cinema giants Roman Polanski (Knife in the Water, Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby) and Andrzej Wajda (Ashes and Diamonds, Kanal, Katyn). I should also mention Wojciech Jerzy Has (The Saragossa Manuscript, The Hour-Glass Sanatorium) and Krzysztof Zanussi (Illumination, The Constant Factor).

Among the great theatre directors who preferred to work in Krakow, one can find such luminaries as Jerzy Grotowski, Konrad Swinarski, Andrzej Wajda or, more recently, Krystian Lupa. And Tadeusz Kantor was a class for himself - a painter and a director who created his legendary Theatre of Death called Cricot 2.

We are proud to have two world-class composers: Krzysztof Penderecki and Boguslaw Schaeffer. Krzysztof Penderecki and his work is perfectly well known, but I would just like to mention his collaboration with Don Cherry on Actions (live recording from The Donaueschingen Festival from 1971) and his soundtrack for The Saragossa Manuscript. Boguslaw Schaeffer, apart from being a giant of modern and avantgarde composition with well over 600 works under his belt and many achievements to his name, is also an outstanding musicologist, writer, educator, columnist, print maker and a critically acclaimed playwright (among others). Very active since the early 1960's, they were both interested in modern and avantgarde jazz.

And indeed, Krakow was the best place for such infectious vibes as it is commonly known as the cradle of Polish jazz. Although jazz had already been played here before WWII, it really exploded after the liberation. Those jazz musicians who survived the German genocide came to Krakow, one of the few cities that remained virtually intact, though Nazis had planned to destroy it totally after stealing and plundering it and pillaging our cultural heritage.

Initially, it was basically pre-war swing but with time new ideas started to pour in. In 1948 a jazz club was created and  Jerzy Skarzynski, a brilliant painter and set designer (The Saragossa Manuscript) became its artistic director. It only lasted about a year. But the disease kept spreading. Jerzy Matuszkiewicz, one of the founding fathers of Polish jazz, was very active on the scene.

 

 

TBC soon

 

 

 

 

 

 ALL TEXTS AND IMAGES © PIOTR SIATKOWSKI

 


Previous page: JdL QUARTET WITH BOBBY FEW
Next page: ALL JAZZ NEWS


web counter
web counter