LIANE HANSEN, host:
From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.
Jazz has deep roots in the United States, but its branches stretch around the world. Japan and Sweden have prolific jazz recording industries. France produced such jazz masters as Django Reinhart, Stephane Grapelli and Jean-Luc Ponty. Pianist Marian McPartland and bass player Dave Holland hail from England.
Today we're going to hear about the jazz scene in Poland from one of its superstars. Trumpeter Tomasz Stanko follows the path pioneered by Miles Davis and Chet Baker. He rarely appears in the U.S., but he and his quartet have been on tour to promote their new disc on the ECM label. It's called Lantano. And one of their stops is here in NPR's Studio 4B.
Mr. TOMASZ STANKO (Jazz Trumpeter): Hello.
HANSEN: It is nice to meet you.
Mr. STANKO: Nice to meet you and nice to meet the listeners.
HANSEN: Yes, absolutely. Tell us briefly though, why did you take up the trumpet? Why is that your instrument?
Mr. STANKO: Trumpet is fascinating me from the beginning as a sound. But also was kind of accident. I get trumpet because I was one only musician in the scout team. And they designed I have to be trumpet player to play the beginnings of day and the signals, these small melodies, because just one musician in the team.
HANSEN: Did you play jazz by accident as well?
Mr. STANKO: I don't play jazz by accident. Jazz was also was fascinating me from the beginning. You know, it was great music. It was synonym of freedom in our country. It was synonym of Western culture and just beautiful music.
HANSEN: I want to ask you, because many Americans may have heard you play but did not know it, you appear in the score of some Roman Polanski films. Is that right?
Mr. STANKO: I was doing some times with this, because I was beginning to work with Krzysztof Komeda. He was Polanski composer. He was writing music to Rosemary's Baby.
HANSEN: Ah. And so that was in the 1960s you were working with him.
Mr. STANKO: Yes. Yes.
HANSEN: Time for some music. First of all, please introduce us to your group and tell us what you're going to play.
Mr. STANKO: My drummer is Mihal Miskiewicz. Bass man is Slawomir Kurkiewicz. Pianist is Marcin Wasilewski. And we present Lantano, title song from our last CD.
(Soundbite of music)
HANSEN: Lantano played by the Tomasz Stanko Quartet here in Studio 4B. I have to remark that the rest of your ensemble seems to be a lot younger than you are.
Mr. STANKO: Much younger.
HANSEN: Yes? How did you hook up with them?
Mr. STANKO: News about good musicians are very fast, you know. In Poland, everybody knows about these young kids. They had 16, 18, and that was something like 12, 13 years ago, and I bring them, of course, to my band. They are still very young - 28, 30. We would work 13 years, and they are just very good.
HANSEN: They are very good.
Mr. STANKO: That's our third record in the ECM label.
HANSEN: That you've done together.
Mr. STANKO: Yes.
HANSEN: Hearing you play, there's a very breathy tone to your trumpet. Do you see it, hear it, as an extension of your own respiratory system, your own - your speech, your voice?
Mr. STANKO: I think sound is more together with life, you know. Sound is kind of your insight. Sound is kind of your sensitivity and something like this. Sound is very important for me and I really carry sound from the beginning.
HANSEN: The music critic Geoffrey Himes wrote that you pioneered a distinctly Polish brand of jazz. What does that mean? What's Polish jazz?
Mr. STANKO: This is question not for myself. I don't know exactly, because I play this music. I think it's kind of melancholic, what maybe it's coming from our climate, our light in our country, and this melancholy may be a little bit also in the Chopin music, this kind of romantic, melancholic atmosphere, mood.
HANSEN: So it does reflect sort of the culture. Politically, however, how difficult was it to play jazz? Because Poland has gone through so much in the last 50 years.
Mr. STANKO: Yeah. It was - in the '50s, it was quite difficult, even was illegal. But in my times, '60s, it was quite possible, even fashionable and every film director, actors, Polanski and this society, was really into the jazz music, and we were kind of kings in the arts society.
(Soundbite of laughter)
HANSEN: Do you think there's a difference between the way jazz is developing here in the United States and the direction it's going in Europe?
Mr. STANKO: Probably yes, because had war, you know, and jazz was much shorter period in Europe, because war destroyed completely everything. Like you remember, you said Django Reinhart was in France before the war, but after that, you know, everything start from the beginning.
HANSEN: You're going to play something else for us, and this is something from your second disk.
Mr. STANKO: Yes. That was from Suspended Night. We play Variation Number II, Selena.
(Soundbite of music)
HANSEN: Selena, which appears as Variation II from Tomasz Stanko's previous CD, Suspended Night, played here in Studio 4B by the Tomasz Stanko Quartet.
Your new recording was recorded in the South of France, near Avignon.
Mr. STANKO: Yes.
HANSEN: Does location have an effect on your playing?
Mr. STANKO: Yeah, I'm - especially for myself. I am a really big fan of Cezanne, and that is his area, his beautiful Provence, and this Provence autumn is also very special. I think that's very - sometimes very important to have this kind of vibration from the land where you are.
HANSEN: How do you think your playing and your music has changed over the years?
Mr. STANKO: I don't change too much. Maybe I have more experience inside and I am more rich with my sensibility because of my life, you know, and - but I think I don't change too much. I play kind of the one melody all life.
HANSEN: One melody your whole life, with variations on your theme.
Mr. STANKO: Yeah, with your variations, yeah.
HANSEN: You're finishing up a tour here in the United States. What kind of reaction are you getting from...
Mr. STANKO: We get a fantastic reaction. Everywhere is really crowded. People reacted very, very well. A lot of fans, a lot of people knows my music, what is very big abstraction for myself. But you know, here and in England, you know, you have audience with bigger experience, and that's very important for us. This music is born here.
HANSEN: We have time for one more tune, and before you play us out, I just want to thank you, Tomasz Stanko, for coming in with the rest of your quartet to play for us today.
Mr. STANKO: Thank you very much. We will play Krzysztof Komeda composition, Kattorna.
(Soundbite of song, Kattorna)
HANSEN: The Tomasz Stanko Quartet played for us in NPR Studio 4B. Their new CD, Lontano, is on ECM Records.