Jazz has had a long history in Poland. Banned in the 1950s by the Communist government, it acquired a special patina of rebellion against authority, but was ironically somewhat shackled by its rigid imitation of American models. After the thaw that followed Stalin’s death, jazz came out of the shadows and for a short time became the rage among intellectuals and the younger generations. A brilliant pianist and composer, Krzysztof Komeda, known in the West mainly for his film scores (for Rosemary’s Baby and other Roman Polanski movies), drew from native artistic sources to find new trajectories. Since then, there have been two streams of jazz in the country, sometimes separate and sometimes intersecting: the more traditional mainstream jazz, now often found in more academic settings, and an eclectic, original, and unpredictable music with various means of expression.
Two representatives of the second stream will be at the Kerrytown Concert House in April. Grazyna Auguscik is a vocalist who defies any classification. Trained in her native country and then at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, she has pursued a career as a singer, composer, and arranger on both sides of the Atlantic, of late spending most of her time in Chicago. She has performed jazz standards with lush string backing and has also worked with Latin American artists, recording versions of Beatles songs with the Brazilian singer and guitarist Paulinho Garcia. She has even recorded Polish Christmas carols with the other great jazz singer from her country, Urszula Dudziak, reworked in jazz fashion, including the exquisite “Bog sie rodzi (God Is Born),” dating to 1792. She has also presented innovative versions of classical works by Chopin and Lutoslawski and delved into folk music. Such musical curiosity might seem haphazard, but it is bound together by the uniquely rich timbre of Auguscik’s voice and by her arranging skills, which impose a personal stamp on the music, regardless of the source of inspiration.
For April’s concert, Auguscik performs with accordionist Jaroslaw Bester, another Polish musician who rejects generic limits. Bester was raised playing classical music, but after graduation from the musical academy he became the leader of the Cracow Klezmer Band (now the Bester Quartet), which enjoyed international renown thanks to recordings on the prestigious New York Tzadzik label. He has also worked in classical and jazz contexts all over the world, expanding the role of the accordion and its musical language far beyond the confines of folk and popular music.
When the two play together on Wednesday, April 20, we can expect novel sounds in compositions that encompass traditional and contemporary classical music, jazz, and folklore from Poland and elsewhere, augmented by improvisation grounded in perfected musicianship.