Polish avant-garde jazz masters come to the Athenaeum


Four Polish guys walk into a library in the Village. One guy is carrying a double bass, one has a trumpet, and inside the library there is an empty seat at both the piano and the drum set.

Avant-garde jazz might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Poland. But in the international jazz community, the Tomasz Stanko Quartet is redefining what cool means.

“I went to that show when he played two years ago,” said Jeff Brooks, program director at the Athenaeum Music and Arts Library, about the November 2002 performance that sold out 360 seats at the Neurosciences Center at UCSD. “It was phenomenal.”

According to Brooks, Tomasz Stanko Quartet is returning to La Jolla from Poland on June 13 because of popular demand.

“Yeah, I am very happy that I am invited back to La Jolla for a second time,” said Stanko by telephone from his flat in Warsaw. “It was a fantastic audience. I really enjoyed playing La Jolla and they invited me back so I couldn’t have played too bad.”

According to Stanko, the quality of the quartet’s play is what makes for a successful show.

“If we are strong on stage, the audience always likes (the show),” said Stanko, who was taking a 10-day break from touring.

Tomasz Stanko Quartet kicked off their North American tour in Seattle on June 9. The tour will take them to 11 cities to play 11 shows in just 15 days.

Stanko, who has been playing the trumpet for almost half a century, said he used time before the tour “to work with my insides. ... Music, for me, is abstract art, and that is why I really enjoy it. I am an improviser. Moments and situations and my moods and even things I don’t know dictate my direction with the composition.”

Music is communicative and Stanko believes that even if the musician plays avant-garde music, the music is for the people. “I want the audience to feel the mood and the atmosphere. I want (the audience) to be happy with our quality of play and realize that I am also very happy.”

Tomasz Stanko Quartet has been playing together for 10 years. Bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and pianist Marcin Wasilewksi were 18 years old and drummer Michal Miskiewicz was only 16 years old when Stanko took them under his wing.

“They were just kids when I started playing with them,” said Stanko, who was 52 when the quartet formed. “On one side there is a distance between us, but on the other side there is no distance between us because we have very good contacts with music and we are both very professional with music. ... Quite early you can recognize who plays very good and who plays good but not at the highest level. I had to wait for this kind of Polish band for 40 years.”

According to Stanko, sound is the most important thing when playing music. That’s why he likes the trumpet.

“I played the trumpet quite early. I have to say that my first experience touching the trumpet was in the Scout group. Because I was a musician, the Scout group gave me the order to play trumpet signals for the morning and evening.”

After the Boy Scouts, Stanko continued his education on the piano and the violin. After a couple of years of classical education, Stanko stopped going to school. He took a short break from music and then returned with the trumpet and jazz in mind.

“The first time I heard jazz music was in 1958 at a Dave Brubeck concert in Krakow, Poland,” said Stanko. “This concert was absolutely very important in my life. I decided to play jazz after that gig. “

Tomasz Stanko Quartet will perform two shows at the Athenaeum on Sunday, June 13. The first show begins at 7 p.m. and the second show will start at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $18 for Athenaeum members and $23 for non-members.