Even through his thick Polish accent, one is struck by the humility of renowned jazz trumpeter Tomasz Stanko. After making his mark in hometown Krakow in the early 1960s and bringing the free-jazz movement to Europe, Stanko has travelled the world with his challenging but delicate compositions. Taking cues from Miles Davis and other key improvisers of the avant-garde jazz explosion, Stanko never lingers too long on one idea and constantly seeks out fresh ways to express his own lived experience. This is reflected in his diverse portfolio of projects including collaborations with Chico Freeman, Cecil Taylor and Howard Johnson.

In talking with him about the Tomasz Stanko Quartet, which will be featured at the Melbourne Jazz Festival next month, it is clear that Stanko’s global success has far from gone to his head.

Here Stanko shares his musical motivations and offers a few philosophical gems down the phone from Warsaw.

Tomasz Stanko My first contact with jazz was in 1959 at a Dave Brubeck concert in Krakow, and around this time jazz was just starting to be legal [in Poland] and I was very enthusiastic. It was after this concert I decided to shift my classical education towards a jazz direction.

Jazz Darings was my first jazz band. That was around the ‘60s in Krakow and very early on we started to play free-jazz music. Free-jazz was more interesting to me because it was easier in this style to create my own sound. I think it is the most important thing to have your own sound, instead of copying a traditional style. That decision was very important for me.

My father was a judge but also a musician, so for me the stage is my life and a very exciting thing. Music is a beautiful abstraction of art. During the performance I don’t think about anything. I just follow my instinct. Everyone has roots, has influences, like for me Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, you know, great American jazz artists. I also am influenced by different kinds of art, like painters - Modigliani was my guru - writers or just from life.

When I was younger I painted, but not any more. At that time I was also interested in the history of art. I played violin in school and I also had to play piano as a second instrument. The trumpet has a very specific sound, and you play it mostly for its sound. You only need three fingers so it means more is coming from inside, from the head.

The quality of musician is the most important thing, not their nationality. It is nice to play in a Polish quartet, especially now that I have played with them for almost ten years, no, more than ten years! But now I have lots of different international projects, and nationality is not important; it is how well they play or how they inspire me. I give a lot of freedom to musicians with my music and so I expect creativity from them. Musicians today need to be strong, because the competition is so big, and of course they must believe in what they are doing.
{xtypo_quote_right}I give a lot of freedom to musicians with my music and so I expect creativity from them. Musicians today need to be strong, because the competition is so big, and of course they must believe in what they are doing.{/xtypo_quote_right}
In our tour of the USA I was playing in famous clubs like Birdland, Yoshi’s in San Francisco, Bakery in Los Angeles and that was quite successful. I might like to spend some more time in New York to be at the centre of jazz music. But I am pretty satisfied with my artistic life. Now it’s nice to have many different projects – much more than in the last ten years when I was playing mainly with one band, which is also beautiful to do now. But now I want to involve myself in other activities with different bands; different feelings. Though maybe it doesn’t matter; sometimes it’s like that, sometimes it’s like this!

Now jazz is quite big in Poland, we have a couple of good famous festivals.
In Communist times – 50s, beginning of 60s – jazz was pretty strong. We were kind of lucky because jazz was not dangerous for this regime. You know, because people of this regime have daughters and sons and maybe they promoted us and maybe they felt - I don’t know. It is probably also luck, because in Czechoslovakia it was a little different. They had more problems.

I don’t have a big talent for teaching. I have done one before in Israel, Denmark and a couple of times in Poland, of course as I have lived quite long I have taken a few master classes in my life, but generally I don’t feel comfortable as a teacher. I don’t know how to say “this is the answer”, I don’t have that kind of education and for teaching you need a special talent. If I work with a band as a leader then I can explain a lot, but it is different just expressing myself for a short time. It also depends on the students: if they are interested and ask good questions then I can be interesting enough as a teacher. 

I learn from everyone and everything, not only from artists but from life and different kinds of people. It is very important for me to try to translate an idea, even from politics, to art; to translate this knowledge into music.

Tomasz Stanko QuartetDouble Bill
Tord Gustavsen Trio followed by
Tomasz Stanko Quartet

Marcin Wasilewski, piano
Slawomir Kurkiewicz, bass
Michal Miskiewicz, drums
Tomasz Stanko, trumpet

Venue: Hamer Hall, the Arts Centre | 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Date/Time: 8:00pm Saturday 3 May 2008
Tickets: Premium $115; A Reserve $105; Concession $99
Bookings: Ticketmaster 1300 136 166 or www.melbournejazz.com

Master Class with Tomasz Stanko Quartet

Venue: BMW Edge, Federation Square
Date/Time: 4:00pm Sunday 4 May
Tickets: Full $35, Concession $30
Bookings: Ticketmaster 1300 136 166 or www.melbournejazz.com

Top Right - Tomasz Stanko
Bottom Right - Tomasz Stanko Quartet. Photo - Andrzej Tyszko/ECM Records

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