May 27, 2024

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With cool fire: One tone and you knew it was Tomasz Stańko: Video, Photos

The Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stańko shaped European jazz like few others – as a sound magician and eternal seeker. On July 2022 he would have celebrated his 80th birthday.

One tone and you knew it was Tomasz Stańko. There was something inexplicable about his trumpet sounds: they were cold and hot at the same time. They could warm your heart, but also freeze the blood in your veins. An art that made him unique. He was a celebrated star worldwide and an ambassador for jazz from his native Poland. His career also began there, at the end of October 1963 in Warsaw at the “Jazz Jamboree” festival.

Gerald Cleaver, David Virelles, Tomasz Stańko, Reuben Rogers | Bildquelle: Caterina di Perri/ECM Records


The young trumpeter Tomasz Stańko is a guest at this major jazz event. He is from southern Poland, born on July 11, 1942 in the town of Rzeszów. Studied in Kraków. A great talent of the scene. Just 20 years old, he has a “pretty good sound”, that’s what the others say: rough, full, powerful but not sharp. This trumpeter sounds different. Fiery and cool at the same time. And Poland’s most important jazz musician of the time, pianist Krzysztof Komeda, is looking for him. Stańko sees the blond piano star and introduces himself, Komeda replies: “Okay, do you have time? Tomorrow is the rehearsal, then we’ll play together at this festival.”

“I was incredibly proud; that was the beginning of my professional career,” said Tomasz Stańko in an interview at Jazzfest Berlin in 2011. He was sitting completely relaxed in his artist’s dressing room, wearing a baseball cap and thick black-rimmed glasses. Later, at the concert with Komeda pieces, he appeared in a suit and a stylish flat cap.

Krzysztof Komeda was his main patron and influence. Stańko went on tour with him, and the trumpeter developed a distinctive sound in his band. In 1967 Komeda went to Hollywood with director Roman Polanski and wrote immortal film music for “Dance of the Vampires” and “Rosemaries Baby”. Tomasz Stańko became a bandleader himself. Two years later, in 1969, Komeda was dead. Died after being put into a coma by either a car accident or an unfortunate fall. The circumstances are not exactly clear. Tomasz Stańko’s first album as a bandleader was released in 1970, entitled “Music for K”.

Trompeter Tomasz Stańko | Bildquelle: Caterina di Perri/ECM Records


“I actually only play my own music, the only exception being Komeda’s. He was my first hero and we both have a similar understanding of lyricism, melody and simplicity. When I play his music, it feels like it is mine,” Stańko said of his former mentor. But the trumpeter was able to detach himself from Komeda’s aesthetics and create his own style: music with a strong reference to the melody, with wide arches, but which at the same time has complete freedom in dealing with harmony and rhythm. Stańko’s music floats, but is absolutely down to earth thanks to its robust sound.

The trumpeter had his own theory as to why Stańko, Komeda and also the classical composer Frédéric Chopin had this special sonority in their works: “The light of your homeland determines the mood and the sound of your music. You can also hear this light of Poland in Chopin’s music feel it. It’s a special kind of melancholy, I firmly believe in it.”

His 1975 album Balladyna was the beginning of his association with the ECM label. Here Stańko’s sound was able to mature to perfection and here he was able to develop into one of the most important European jazz musicians.

Trompeter Tomasz Stańko | Bildquelle: /ECM Records


The trio of pianist Marcin Wasilewski later became his longtime backing band. But Stańko kept playing with other musicians, trying out different line-ups. He performed with such different musicians as free jazz icon pianist Cecil Taylor, drummer Manu Katché, saxophonist Mark Turner, guitarist Jakob Bro, played together with the NDR Bigband under the direction of Quincy Jones for his 70th birthday or in 2016 the Globe Unity Orchestra. He loved being surprised: “I instinctively choose musicians. Sound is important, but it’s also about the musician simply bringing something fresh with him. The different personalities of the musicians are also part of improvisation. I want to be surprised by it to let.”

Trompeter Tomasz Stańko | Bildquelle: © Jacek Poremba / Universal Music Polska

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