Jazz Forum

– article translation –


Between Poland and Norway

by Marek Romański

JAZZ FORUM: It was the guitar, which let you break out of a gray and quite dangerous environment.

MIROSŁAW „CARLOS” KACZMARCZYK I come from Warsaw’s Mokotow district. In my youth, there were some fishy elements around there. Hooligan gangs ruled the neighborhood, so to survive somehow, I’d go out with my guitar, seat on a bench and play. Musicians had special rights, they were treated differently. With time, playing became increasingly important to me, I began to think of it as an option for the way of life.

JF: What did you play then?

MK: It was the 70’s, everybody listened to rock – Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, but I’d already come across Wes Mongomery, and of course I loved Carlos Santana – my nickname did not come from nothing. (laughs) I learned to play the guitar myself, I caught everything I heard.

The Hybrydy club and the scene there was very important to me. I used to go there for shows and jams. One day I got into a rehearsal of a jazz band from Sweden and I saw some music scores in their hands. It turned out to be The Real Book – the most known collection of jazz tunes and standards in the world. In those days it was a treasure! I asked the musicians to borrow it, they agreed – within a few hours I managed to copy it, and, in this way, I began learning the jazz guitar much more systematically.

Much later I decided to go to a music school and the Academy in Katowice. I wouldn’t call it just an academy, it was more of a scene, a community, which I shared with saxophonist Maciek Sikała, trumpeter Piotrek Wojtasik, vibist Benek Maseli, drummer Krzysiek Zawadzki, trombonist Grzesiek Nagórski, and many others. The most talented musicians of their generation who are still on stage and still have something new to propose. I’d learned the most just from them, at “Parnas” Student House.

JF: The Hybrydy Big Band was important in your career.

MK: It was still when I was learning to play by myself. You could hardly call it consistent music making. Someone had heard that I could do something on the guitar and recommended me to this big band, and I didn’t even have my own guitar! In one day, thanks to happy coincidences, I found someone with a replica Gibson for sale, I bought it and two days later I was sitting in the band at a rehearsal. I met a lot of great people at Hybrydy, bassist Piotr Rodowicz, altoist Alek Korecki and many others. Then, I got to hang out at Akwarium Jazz Club, I almost lived there for a while. (laugh)

JF: After the graduation from the Katowice Academy’s Jazz Department you were hired for the “Metro” musical band.

MK: This was also a coincidence, in part. As students, we were recruited for various jobs, studying there was often like waiting for a phone call and a hint who’s just leaving a tour. They were on the fly substituted with new ones and could spent their money at home. That’s how I got aboard the big band backing singers at the Actor’s Song Festival in Wrocław. Pianist and composer Janusz Stokłosa and director Janusz Józefowicz were also there with a production. They somehow took notice of me and Stokłosa told me that he’s planning something and that he would call. Of course, I didn’t take it too seriously, such talks were many, and most often in vain. But this time he called, even if after two years, but he did.

First, we worked together in singer Michał Bajor’s band and the orchestra for Andrzej Strzelecki’s musical productions. Then, I learned from Stokłosa that something big is on the horizon and we began rehearsing in his flat. I used to add some guitar frills to a larger form and I became part of a project developed in a completely different way. A large family of the “Metro” musical was emerging throughout the country. It was a great experience for me at the time, especially since it hit a period of my high activity. I played then in five combos, including bassist Mariusz Bogdanowicz’s and the late trumpeter Marek Bychawski’s groups. With organist Wojtek Karolak, saxophonist Tomasz Szukalski and drummer Czesław Bartkowski we were featured at the Jazz Jamboree Festival’s main stage. It was a big deal for me, something I will remember for the rest of my life. One of those experiences that give me strength to act, to which I can refer in times of doubt.

At the turn of the 80s and 90s I worked a lot in Warsaw theaters. I had then the privilege to meet and work with some outstanding artists, such as actor Zbigniew Zapasiewicz in “Powszechny Theatre”.

JF: You went to Broadway with “Metro”.

MK: There were mixed comments after the venture, but I still remember it as a huge success. There was applause and standing ovation at each performance. We were the only two musicians from Poland in the band, me and Radek Maciński on drums, the rest were locals I remember that they treated this project very seriously and were readying for a long and prestigious job. When it turned out that something, money-wise probably, didn’t fit, and the production was closed, everyone was very surprised. Perhaps partly to blame was what some people involved in the production blatantly kept saying that “we’ve come to Broadway to show how to make a musical”. It certainly did not appeal to New Yorkers.

JF: The next step in your career was Loud Jazz Band. Was it really conceived … on a cruise ship?

MK: The ships were a bit sensitive topic. These gigs were considered potboilers, and serious musicians did not show off with it. Whereas it was an individual matter. I was very happy when I was offered the trip. I thought of it as an opportunity to meet new people, to measure myself with a new experience, a kind of musical scholarship. I practiced a lot then, I imposed strict self-discipline. I had a feeling that something was ahead of me, my own project, that I couldn’t let it go, because I wouldn’t get to anything.

We practiced on the ship together with saxophonist Wojtek Staroniewicz. A drummer from Jamaica joined and an Italian bassist who studied in Miami. Together, we began to experiment with my music. Paradoxically, I was helped by a skeptical comment of one of those well-seasoned cats, who had 17 ship gigs to his credit already, and when he heard that we were trying to do something there, he said: “It wouldn’t work.” So, I decided to prove that it would! (laugh)

JF: Loud Jazz Band’s first success, “4Ever 2U” (1994), the only Polish album released by Mercury Records thus far, was also nominated for the “Fryderyk” award.

MK: Darek Szweryn recorded it wonderfully. Later, only Michał Mielnik recorded us, usually live, in one or two days at the most. No overdubs, everybody in one room. We always had the material previously played at concerts, so we didn’t need much time to record it, but we wanted a lively, spontaneous atmosphere.

JF: And just when it seemed that you were on the verge of great success, when you became recognizable, you went to Norway.

MK: My then-fiancé and today wife got a job in Norway, so I left with her so that we could still be together. She is a classical pianist, she studied organ in Oslo, then she began conducting, she runs a boys’ choir and organizes classical music festivals.

At first, it seemed to me that I could be here and there. Janusz Józefowicz funded my air tickets and I flew to various gigs, TV recordings, etc.

However, it soon turned out that it was impossible to function in this way, so I decided to take root in Norway. Then I’d go to jam sessions in Oslo, get to know musicians. I used to spend days on long walks around the city, I wanted to “domesticate” it somehow, to get used to the new place. And I learned Norwegian. I lived a very simple and humble life. My Polish colleagues couldn’t understand that and kept asking with which famous bands and musicians I was playing and if I’d got the Norwegian citizenship already. And for me it was a success to go to a grocery store and buy some basic stuff asking for it in Norwegian.

A breakthrough was a meeting with the well-known pianist Hakon Graf. I dared to call him, and he agreed to meet in a cafe. At the meeting I played for him a Loud Jazz Band live recording from Remont club in Warsaw. He had a listen, opened his notebook, and shared his contacts with me. That’s how I met the great bassist Per Mathisen, we began practicing together, and eventually he became part of Loud Jazz Band. I’d sit in in diverse groups, I joined a Brazilian band, and together with a group of black musicians we played a kind of afro-jazz. Tord Gustavsen, who lived near me, sometimes practiced on the piano in my home and together we played his stuff.

In a sense, it was like starting all over again. Today I think about it very positively, I think that I got a second chance from life, what’s more, with a certain experience behind me. Perhaps thanks to this, I didn’t fall into stagnation, I was developing, and I am who I am. Now I feel at home in Norway, I have my position, I feel appreciated and needed.

JF: What is your opinion about the Norwegian music scene?

MK: There are lots of musicians in Norway. This is a very musical nation. Almost everyone can play some music, many sing in choirs, play in brass bands. Therefore, the competition is enormous. It also means that if someone has gained a significant position in the musical community, must be very good. There are very many big bands and choirs throughout the country that bring up young, talented musicians.

What struck me right away was that they played differently than, for example, in Poland. I think this is due to the impact of the nature. Norwegians look at everything from a distinct perspective – there is always this vast space implicit with them, fjords and stretches of the sea. There is no this urban hectic feel characteristic of jazz. Also, a lot of free jazz, avant-garde, and intuitive music is played there. It turned out, however, that the Norwegians in Loud Jazz Band mix well with the Poles, our differences complement each other rather than lead to conflicts.

Now I contribute to Oslo’s musical life a little bit differently than I used to. I’ve moved out of the city’ center to its outskirts and now I live in a forest. I teach in a music school, among my students are guitarist Eivind Aarset’s nephews. They were delighted when I told them that their uncle was very much appreciated in Poland.

JF: Has Loud Jazz Band’s music become more “Scandinavian” over the 25 years of existence?

MK: I think that during these years we have influenced each other. Wojtek Staroniewicz plays the saxophone better and better, also inspired by Norwegians. I never tried to make it a guitar band. I’ve always made sure that each musician had their own significant place in our playing, which is why I am very happy when we work together to develop our music. Now it is probably even more democratic than ever because of the participation of pianist Paweł Kaczmarczyk. He’s brought a lot to our group, with him we’ve embarked a new stage in our development. The Norwegians fell in love with him, they want to play with him all the time. It is also very important that he does not take anyone’s space away, he’s just found his own way to integrate into this music. This is a very important and rare skill. I had in my band many musicians, sometimes excellent ones, with whom I couldn’t play, because they just took too much space. They played their own “stories” without contributing what Loud Jazz Band needed.

Of course, each of our musicians has their own significant role in the band. I have mentioned the reedman Wojciech Staroniewicz already. Percussionist Maciej Ostromecki from Ciechanów is my friend, a constantly searching and developing artist. Keyboardist Piotr Iwicki is a unique character, a musician and strategist. Loud Jazz Band wouldn’t have survived until the 25th anniversary without his help in many areas. Also, Kuba Karłowski is worth mentioning, the designer of our album covers, posters, and website. He is a non-playing, yet permanent member of the team.

JF: Let’s talk about the band’s latest DVD, recorded at a concert in the Polish Radio III concert studio.

MK: This music has been inspired by and rooted in the jazz-rock classics. I’ve always appreciated the electric Miles, loved Scofield, Stern, and Metheny. It’s all out there in our playing. Over the years, however, we’ve developed our own approach to this music. My composing is not inspired anymore just by the desire to catch up with the champions from the other side of Atlantic. All our tunes are inspired by our experiences, memories, the nature, and life reflections.

I can’t forget of the Norwegian contingent to the band. These are the sensitive trombonist Erik Johannessen, reading my mind bassist Kristian Edvardsen, and virtuoso drummer Ivan Makedonov. Today it is an original and genuine musical proposition. Loud Jazz Band’s strength is the melting pot of these unique and very different personalities.

We’re privileged and honored to play and record at the Polish Radio III stage. We’ve got our own soundman, Krzysztof Podsiadło, who had beautifully set the sound for us. We were after a large tour, the material was very much in the musicians’ fingers, so we could render our tunes with ease. Jakub Krzeszowski was very helpful in organizational matters. And the great, emotionally responsive audience was a plus. With all that we managed to raise our music to the next level. I am also very happy with this material’s production – audio and video alike.

The setlist was tailored to the anniversary jubilee occasion. This was our showcase – selected stuff from our 25-year songbook. Of course, now these tunes sounded completely different than in the past. We are different too, the lineup has changed over the years, now we play more acoustically than we used to.

Interview by Marek Romański