TOMASZ STANKO (1942-2018)


The great Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko has died, aged 76. An innovative force in the music, with an immediately identifiable sound - integrating, by his own description, “Slavic melancholy and the blues” - Stanko first came to broader attention in the early 1960s with the groups of composer-pianist Krzysztof Komeda, playing on the soundtracks of Polanski’s films and contributing to the Komeda album Astigmatic, one of the defining recordings of new European jazz. The trumpeter would reassess this period of his life on the widely-acclaimed Litania in 1997.

Tomasz made his ECM debut in 1975 with the great Balladyna album featuring Tomasz Szukalski on tenor sax, Dave Holland on bass and Edward Vesala on drums. Stanko and the Finnish drummer enjoyed a close artistic friendship, playing together in various configurations including Vesala’s large ensemble on Satu.

Like his early hero Miles Davis, Stanko was a discerning bandleader and each of his groups had its own distinct character. Matka Joanna and Leosia, with Bobo Stenson, Anders Jormin and Tony Oxley balanced lyricism and turbulent free play.

The band on From The Green Hill – with its unusual frontline featuring Stanko, John Surman, Dino Saluzzi and classical violinist Michelle Makarski - grew out of an experimental session at an ECM festival in Badenweiler.

Soul of Things introduced the world at large to the talents of Marcin Wasilewski, Slawomir Kurkiewicz and Michal Miskiewicz, and on Suspended Night and Lontano, one could hear their improvisational capacities opening up under Stanko’s guidance. Wasilewski and co always hailed Tomasz as their mentor, a claim he would modestly wave away: “No, no – I’ve learned just as much from them.”

Dark Eyes pooled the talents of young improvisers from the North, with two Danes (Jakob Bro and Anders Christensen) and two Finns (Alexi Tuomarila and Olavi Louhivuori) in a programme referencing music originally written to accompany plays of Swedish writer Lars Norén, as well as a title track inspired by an Oskar Kokoschka painting. “Everything you experience gets into the music,” Tomasz said, “but I’ve always been touched as much by art as by anything else in life. Fiction, poetry, film, the theatre. The visual arts especially. The way a painter uses paint, or the way he approaches form, distorting it to abstraction, or painting naturalistically or poetically ... these aspects can be paralleled in my musical language, in the way I shape a melody line.”

By the early 2000s, Stanko was splitting his time between New York and Warsaw, subsequently founding a New York Quartet, strikingly free of native New Yorkers, for the album Wisława with Cuban born pianist David Virelles, Detroit drummer Gerald Cleaver, and Californian bassist Thomas Morgan, replaced on December Avenue by Reuben Rogers from the Virgin Islands.

In all of his groups Tomasz encouraged freedom of expression and he derived great pleasure from the improvisational contributions of his musicians. Before becoming ill earlier this year he was looking forward to touring in a new quintet with fellow trumpeter Enrico Rava, pianist Giovanni Guidi and the New York Quartet rhythm team of Reuben Rogers and Gerald Cleaver. Friends since 1965, Stanko and Rava had touched on almost all aspects of modern jazz in the course of their long careers – from the freest free playing (both had worked with Cecil Taylor and with Globe Unity) to the tenderest Chet Baker and Miles Davis - inspired balladry – and in concert were developing a broad programme to reflect all of this.

Thank you for your music and rest in peace, dear Tomasz!