Krzysztof Komeda

Krzysztof KOMEDA !!!

Flagey (Bruxelles)
01/11/12 - 31/12/12
Krzysztof Komeda, 1962-64 © Marek Karewicz Krzysztof Komeda, 1962-64 © Marek Karewicz
Who is Krzysztof KOMEDA? Let us turn for our answer to Rafał Księżyk, co-author of Tomasz Stańko’s autobiography, Desperado.

For half a century, the music of Krzysztof Komeda was listened to intensely throughout the world. The artist had only just turned 38 when a tragic accident deprived the world of this great talent who still had so much to offer. What he left behind is enough for us to consider him as one of the most original personalities in the history of jazz. He was at once a modernist and a romantic brought up on Chopin, combining inspirations from modern American jazz with the Polish classical music traditions and film music. At the intersection where these paths meet, he achieved a style of expression which was subtle, intense and unique all at the same time.
"Modernity is not at odds with tradition", he used to say. "After all, when you reread musical tradition in a creative manner, that's something very modern". One might use these words to describe both his composing method and the phenomenal way his work was received The wealth of possibilities offered by Komeda are perfectly rendered in his two most famous works, the melodic lullaby from Rosemary’s Baby.entitled ‘Sleep Safe and Warm’, a theme which remains on the lips of everyone who has seen  Roman Polański’s film and the cult album Astigmatic which is considered a masterpiece, a European jazz reference in which the ecstatic energy of a dark sound is combined with a sophisticated continental form.

After the Second World War, Poland found itself within the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union, and one of the consequences of this situation was the obligation to apply the doctrine of socialist realism in the country, a doctrine which condemned jazz. And until the thawing of relations after Stalin's death,  this music was played in illegal jam sessions held in private houses. In 1956, the first jazz festival took place in Poland, with Krzysztof Komeda’s sextet taking part. Back then, with its connection to the notion of freedom, modernity, and a sense of openness towards the world, jazz was the music of the artistic elite and the young intelligentsia, but Komeda was the first leader to express the desire to limit demands and demonstrate a completely different kind of sensibility. This new sensibility is perfectly rendered in the first films, which Komeda had illustrated with his music, right through to those which became the most famous works by Polish directors Roman Polański, Jerzy Skolimowski and Andrzej Wajda. “He added value to my films. He was very gifted”, Polański went on to observe.  

In the years 1957–1967, Komeda, who had left his job as a doctor to devote himself to piano jazz, gave concerts and made records throughout Europe. With international bands, he presented complex pieces of music which were very well put together and composed music for the theatre, the cinema or the ballet. He also wrote for the Danish director Henning Carlsen. He composed 40 films scores. Roman Polanski finally convinced him to move to Los Angeles where, shortly after finishing the soundtrack to Rosemary's Baby, which was Grammy-nominated, he had his tragic accident. There remained in Poland a whole army of musicians who had started out in Komeda’s groups who proved to be exceptional leaders of their own groups: Michał Urbaniak, Zbigniew Namysłowski and Tomasz Stańko, for example. The following generations of Polish jazzmen took his music as a reference and year after year records continue to come out which feature new interpretations of Komeda’s work.
Thanks to Tomasz Stańko, the whole world knows the Polish school of jazz initiated by Krzysztof Komeda. Stańko, who is today part of the select group of the best jazz trumpeters, began his career in 1961 as a musician in the Komeda quintet, of which he was a pillar until it came to an end. In 1965, they recorded the unmissable album Astigmatic together. Stańko, whose musical style was inspired by free jazz, brought together a romantic lyricism and a bitter sound, taking the emotional delivery of the Polish schools to new levels of intensiveness. In 1997, the trumpeter released Litania on the Munich-based record label ECM, a record devoted to the music of Krzysztof Komeda. “Komeda’s music is compact, with a clear sense of dramatic art and beautiful melodies,” Stańko commented. “With Komeda, what one often finds is that everything is built from passages of typical ballads, but these blocks are assembled in a different order, they’re bizarrely distorted. And straightaway, the form becomes unique. Even when I listen to the lullaby from Rosemary’s Baby, I am still surprised that there are two added rhythms.”
Litania has become a bestseller and prompted a new wave of interest in the composer. It was even the central jazzy point of the fashion that paid tribute to Komeda amongst the hipsters of the end of the last century. Musicians at that time claimed to be inspired by him, with the group Stereolab foremost in this trend. In Sweden, a pop group called themselves Komeda in his honour. Stańko, who on Litania placed his ballads, film motifs and broken-down forms side by side, underscored the homogeneity of Komeda’s music and drew out the nuances of his composing method. The programme of this tribute disc is the point of departure for the concert ‘Litania – Music of Krzysztof Komeda’.

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