Jazz interview with saxophonist Borys Janczarski. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Borys Janczarski: – I grew up in Warsaw, Poland in an artistic family, my mother (Barbara Wrzesińska) is an actress , both theater (Erwin Axer), and film (Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Zanussi, Agnieszka Holland) and my father (Jacek Janczarski) was a script/song/play/tv and radio show writer both of them quite famous in my country, especially throughout the 70’s. My god parents are both painters, too…my grandfather (Czesław Janczarski) was a poet and a famous polish writer for children in the 50
s and 60s. All this to say , my family is/was not an ordinary family in any way.
We had an old piano at home … I was very attracted to it when I was 6 or 7 I can remember that … nobody noticed though … so I didn’t go to a music school like most kids do at that age here in Poland.
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the your musical instrument? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the your musical instrument?
BJ: – My family had a lot of friends who were musicians, polish jazz musicians like Krzysztof Sadowski, Wojciech Karolak and theatre or movie composers like Janusz Bogacki or Jerzy Satanowski (I remember fooling around with his synthesizer at his place once as a kid!) but I only started to take piano lessons when I was around 16 yrs old (classical) because I really wanted to, for a year, but I then I realized that it was super late for starting (it’s what I thought then) and were discouraged …then I took up trumpet when I was at the American School of Warsaw, thanks to my music teacher Mr.Daniels who encouraged me to pursue my interest in music (I also sang in a school choir)….I already dreamt of playing saxophone then but the school didn’t have one…they had flutes and clarinets, but they didn’t shine as pretty as trumpets do….then I saw Miles in in Paris at La Villette in 1991(I’ll never forget that) … then my friend Jasia brought two saxophones over to my place during a summer vacation and let me try one, and that’s how it started! (the 2nd tune on our latest CD “The Liberator” is dedicated to her, it
s called „The Spark (FOR JASIA)”. Jasias brother, Mikolaj, my best friend, was playing bass and guitar, they were both listening to jazz and great pop music and had access to through musical education (both living in Canada at the time), so every summer they would bring back to Poland tapes with albums by Brandford Marsalis („Romances for Saxophone” , „Crazy People Music”, Sting („Bring On The Night”) , Manhattan Transfer, a Canadian band called „The Shuffle Demons”, “The Police”, Eric Clapton, Lenny Kravitz , Jamiroquai and many others … Jasia used to sing Aretha Franklin kind of gospel style and Mikolaj played bass guitar and double bass … they were both my first influences, I want thank them, I’m very grateful to them for what they did for me.
I was lucky to have some great saxophone teachers , they all taught me different things, Waldemar Kurpiński (baritone player from Poland who made me aware that „having a distinct sound”on the instrument was essential and made me discover the greatest saxophone players in the world, and after I moved to France, Olivier Temime (whom I first saw when he played á la Sonny Rollins, in the streets of in Aix-en_Provence and I was amazed that it was possible for a player from Europe to sound like that, to play with that energy, Olivier made me discover and even meet Steve Grossman, he still is a great friend of mine), Jean-Francois Bonnel (Conseravatoire d’Ąix-en_Provence) who insisted thatI start my saxophone education with Lester Young and made me transcribe „Blue Lester”, Eric Barret (Conservatoire de Bagneux, who made me transcribe solos from Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and Joe Henderson…which took me ages and I did it only thanks to his support).
… But my greatest mentor was and is a trumpet player (!), an incredible musician, composer, educator from Poland called Piotr Wojtasik … most of the things that I practice are either directly from him or are based on his method … he taught me and still teaches me how to teach me myself.
What made me choose my instrument was an unexplained and completely false conviction that I could eventually learn to play IT one day.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
BJ: – I used to want to sound like all the greats … but if I had to choose one tenor player with the most beautiful tenor sound, it would be Dexter Gordon on Blue Note Sessions. I`ve been practicing overones and long tones, every day for the past 20 years.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
BJ: – My approach to rhythm and harmony is from Piotr Wojtasik and from all the GREAT drummers that I’ve met, Kazimierz Jonkisz , Steve McCraven, Newman Taylor Baker… also african music, triplets…
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
BJ: – I don’t have any fixed preferences. I change them every day ,but they mostly serve the purpose of accustoming my ears to new harmonic material developing a language and/or maintaining a musical language. There are a couple of “bags of things” that I work on regularly and try to develop them and put them together in different combinations of keys and rhythms.
When you`re learning to speak a language you generally learn a lot of words and expressions so that you have some kind of an arsenal of things and devices at hand, this is what I do.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
BJ: – Something to look for, an eternal quest!
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
BJ: – Jamming with Lee Konitz when he honored us (more or less 10 years ago ) by paying a visit to „U Muniaka”, a famous jazz club in Cracow, one night and joined us there (with Joanna Gajda on piano btw.!), we played „Cheerokee”! Wow , I’ll never forget that , my legs were shaking for a long time after that … and still are ! 🙂
Meeting Max Roach at a workshop in Aix-en-Provence, Steve Lacy in Paris, shaking Roy Hayne’s hand after he played with Eric Barret in Paris, listening to stories from Monty Waters and/or Dave Liebman of how they were once in the same room or car with Coltrane. Spending a day with Bennie Maupin in Warsaw or driving Victor Lewis to the airport and hearing stories about how Joe Henderson approached his arrangement on Woody Shaw`s “Rosewood” (!)…
JBN.S: – Which collaboration have been the most important experiences for you?
BJ: – Sharing the stage, playing alto, as a part of a horn section, with Billy Harper and a 60 piece choir for a tour of 3 concerts in Poland was absolutely unique(DVD , BILLY HARPER in Concert: Live From Poland). An amazing band and an incredible musical adventure for me!!!
Also playing with and learning from legendary drummers like Kazimierz Jonkisz (since 2001) , Stephen McCraven and Newman Taylor Baker !
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
BJ: – I don’t think that it really matters how old those tunes are …it’s only the way that they’re played that matters … I can only speak from my own experience…but when one hears a genius like Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, John Coltrane or Charlie Parker, the message is so strong … you need not try to convince anyone … you either get it or you don’t … but exposing people to the works of such geniuses from a very early age could probably help 🙂
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
BJ: – This is because John Coltrane was a genius, he WAS music!
We can only TRY to understand and follow his example….
I suspect it all may have something to do with tuning in with a certain vibration of the Universe…
JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?
BJ: – My expectations are to make a little progress in music and in life every day, and if possible to lead a happy family life with my wife Agnieszka and my son Kostek be happy with them and make them happy.
Anxieties: old age, loneliness, poverty, human suffering in general, but also people who scare me Jarosław Kaczynski, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
BJ: – Turn off the electricity 🙂 … only for a couple of years though and see what happens THEN, musically speaking … live music everywhere again, wouldn`t that be cool?
JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?
BJ: – I don’t know, but I’ll keep on looking … I’ve started to play the soprano a little bit and I’d love to learn to play the flute and incorporate those instruments it into my playing , both make me hear „new” things when I play them so maybe it`s a good direction…
JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?
BJ: – Yes, absolutely!
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
BJ: – Hadley Calieman, Katy Roberts, Andrew White, Ahmad Jamal, Bill Evans, Jobic Le Masson Trio with Peter Giron and John Betsch (!), John Coltrane European Tour 1961, Steve Lacy, Clifford Jordan, Junior Cook and Mickey Tucker, Mwandishi.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
BJ: – 1.) 52nd street and/or Minton`s Playhouse when Bird was playing there, 2.) Hermosa Beach when Lee Morgan was playing there at the Lighthouse, and 3.) back to N.Y.C to the Half Note when Coltrane was playing there!!! Is that ok. or is that to much? 🙂
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
BJ: – How did you get our CD? ☺
JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. We have all new and old Jazz and Blues CDs.
BJ: – All the Best to You, Borys Janczarski.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan