Week ending 01 September 2018: tribute to Tomasz Stanko (1942-2018)

It was a warm evening in May. I was seated in a large medieval church in the centre of Norwich, one of the UK’s most historic and beautiful cities, and the evening sun was streaming through the windows at the western end of the building. It was in this calm and peaceful setting that I heard Tomasz Stanko perform a few years back. The clear, pure spiritual sounds of his trumpet soared towards the heavens and the venue and the musicians blended in perfect harmony.

Tomasz Stanko, who died recently, was right up there with the best jazz musicians of our era. He played with distinguished musicians both in his home country of Poland and in the US, where he was a Manhattan resident from 2008. The tune on this week’s show was from the  album Polin. It was composed at the invitation of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw and was performed at the opening ceremony of the permanent exhibition in 2014. The album includes Ravi Coltrane on sax and Cuban-born pianist David Virelles, it is important music.

It seemed appropriate to have a segment of important Polish musicians and that had to include pianist/composer Krzysztof Komeda. His album Astigmatic features Tomasz Stanko on trumpet. Stanko joined Komeda’s band in the 1960s. The album was selected for inclusion in the Penguin Jazz Guide which claims the album never fails to repay close attention and has an engrossing emotional charge that is almost physical. The tune Kattorna (apparently Swedish for female cats and dedicated to a Swedish friend) was also recorded once more Tomasz Stanko’s own quartet on the album Lontano.

The final piece of the Polish segment came from another Polish trumpeter we love on Cosmic Jazz – Piotr Wojtasik. Like Tomasz Stanko, he has played with some outstanding US jazz musicians. His album We Want to Give Thanks includes Reggie Workman on bass, (who Stanko played with too), Billy Hart on drums, George Cables on piano and Billy Harper on tenor sax. This is an impressive line-up. The tune Escape Party 3 was a fitting end to the sequence.

The show opened with Cecile McClorin Salvant, after the tune Something’s Coming appeared among my iPod shuffle songs during the week. Hearing the tune again reminded me of the range and versatility of her voice – what a fine singer! In addition, the strength of her backing musicians who are allowed scope to express themselves and travel off down unexpected paths. The tune – from musical West Side Story and with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and music by Leonard Bernstein – was well timed as the centenary of Bernstein’s birth is being celebrated at this year’s BBC Proms season.

There was yet another connection to current times. The end of August sees Europe’s biggest Caribbean carnival come to Notting Hill, London and on the first Monday of September to Labor Day in New York. A number with the title Calypso Sketches seemed, therefore, to be timely. There is another connection, however, that evoked other memories. The tune was by the great free and innovative alto sax player Joe Harriott playing with the Michael Garrick Quintet. On trumpet was Shake Keane (a poet as well as a jazz musician). Both arrived in the UK from the Caribbean in 1952 – Joe Harriott from Jamaica and Shake Keane from St. Vincent & the Grenadines. As such, they were part of the Windrush Generation, whose sad and despicable treatment by the British Government has recently been uncovered.

From time to time I like to put into the mix an old tune that I love, even if I have played it before. This week it was Amsterdam After Dark from tenor sax player George Coleman. Hilton Ruiz is on piano, (check out his subtle insertions to the tune), Billy Higgins on drums and Sam Jones on bass. It is one of those feel good tunes with a wonderful melody – perfect to hum along to.

  1. Cecile McClorin Salvant – Something’s Coming from For One to Love
  2. Tomasz Stanko – Yankiel’s Lid from Polin
  3. Komeda Quintet – Kattorna from Astigmatic
  4. Piotr Wojtasik – Escape Part 3 from We Want to Give Thanks
  5. Joe Harriott – Calypso Sketches from Genius
  6. George Coleman – Amsterdam After Dark from Amsterdam After Dark

Neil is listening to…

This 36 minute selection was compiled by ECM producer Manfred Eicher and represents some of the best of Stanko’s work with this label. The playlist is as follows: Track 1: Morning Heavy Song – Leosia Track 2: Sleep Safe and Warm (Version 2) – Litania Track 3: Svantetic – Litania Track 4: … y después de todo – From The Green Hill Track 5: Litania – From The Green Hill Track 6: Song For Anja – Lontano

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