Jan Ptaszyn Wróblewski – The Art of Jazz
English translation of the film
Jan Ptaszyn Wróblewski :
Welcome all to the Natura Multimedia Centre in Ostrołęka. Jan Ptaszyn Wróblewski is with us today.
Jan Ptaszyn Wróblewski
Good evening everyone.
At the very begining I would like you to ask a question from the perspective of someobedy who is not
particularly familiar with the music that you make. If you were to define what jazz is what would be the
To be honest – so many people have tried to answer this question and in fact no one is right. There were
so many evasive theories, like for example that jazz is the music that jazzmen know that it is just jazz.
Jazz is simply a genre of music and it is really difficult to say how to distinguish jazz from other types of
music. Jazz has its own requirements such as improvisation , a sense of swing, but it is absolutely
impossible to explain what swing really is. Either you know or you will never know it.
And for you – personally – what is jazz?
First of all – it is my job. Luckily for me the job I am into. In fact jazz is everything for me. If I weren’t a
jazzman , I have no idea who I would become.
Please tell me if your choice of life path is the result of casual force, chance or just coincidence?
A little bit of everything, least of all coincidence, though sometimes it also was, for example when I met
Krzysztof Komeda, the right time, the right moment, the right place. My tastes were really important – I
liked listening to the radio, music, jazz, although at that time I did not know exactly what jazz was. I liked
most those who were real jazzmen. The casual force was significant. We weren’t allowed to listen to jazz
in public in those days, even at home. Once it was allowed it was like paradise for me. I couldn’t have
imagined myself doing anythng different than playing jazz , though it required a lot of effort.
Could you please tell us a bit more about your meeting with Krzysztof Komeda – about the very first one?
-That was a strange meeting. When I lived in Kalisz I was alredy interested in jazz, once I statrted
studying in Poznań I had a schoolmate Janek Zylberg, who once decided to organise a friendly welcome
for me to Poznań. He invited me to Poznań to show me around many places with various musical events.
We ended up in a small caffee – I don’t really remember its name. There was a piano that everybody could
play. Suddenly somebody came in and everybody started asking him to play the piano. He did not want to
play without a rhytm section. Once he finally did, we knew that he was a kind of a much better player –
that was Krzysztof Komeda.
Meeting him did not change anything in my life. It was only later that we met when Krzysztof told me he
was planning to make a band and was considering me as a band’s member.
And was that your first idea of becoming a jazzman?
No it was not. I thought about it seriously much earlier. It was in Kalisz where I started to play jazz. My
real debut was in 1956. To be honest I played during various school parties in 1952. I enjoyed living in
Kalisz because there were opportunities for me to play with a band,
How has the perception of jazz changed since you started playing jazz? I mean the modern one.
I do not really feel anything has changed. The genre of music is more likely to change than the way it is
received. Sometimes people do not understand the music at all and we feel like strangers. Jazzmen are a
special community who flock to concerts. These are always pleasant encounters. We play for the audience
and the audience cheers us on to play better.
The people who listen to jazz are considered to be most grateful audience with exceptional sensitivity.
When you play jazz you have to be able to improvise. It’s impossible to play any other way. You have to
know what you learn in school for a couple of years, that is harmony or how to create melodies. The
school teaches composers who can spend a month thinking about creating a new piece of music. A
jazzman doesn’t have time for that – he is to create it straight away.
When it comes to sensitivity – if you don’t have it, you won’t start playing jazz.
Do you rememer the first piece of music composed by you?
In fact I don’t. It must have been in Kalisz – an amateur piece of music,
What was your first recorded piece of music?
I think it was something from sextet with Komeda. We used to play 20 minute music for the radio once a
month. The tapes we recoreded were not archived but luckily nobody erased them. Those were not our
best recordings. I cannot exactly state which piece of music was recorded as the first one.
What about your memories with Komeda’s sextet?
Various ones. Krzysztof Komeda was my real mentor. He taught me everything from the scratch. He
taught me to play not just relying on instinct only. He held dozens of rehearsals with me and with the
band. I had my first public appearance with him, first concert tours. I will never forget it even though I
know I wasn’t professional then. Sometimes I regret having listened to what I played then.
You are very critical of your work.
Unfortunately – that’s the way it is.
Yes, it is difficult to be fully satisfied with everything you do in your life.
If you do something in the dark, it can hardly be a masterpiece.
But you try and you win.
And that’s why it is so significant for me.
Please tell me which of your musical projects you recall most fondly. Is there such a one?
No, there isn’t. These were various concerts, meetings, not neccessarily musical ones. One of the most
interesting things in my life was my short stay in Rio de Janerio. Rio de Janerio made a monstrous impact
on me, though I did not play there.I loved the concert in Village Vanguard in New York, the most
prestigious club. I believe that America impressed me most, since it was the homeland of jazz.
Did your foreign tours and concerts change your perspective on jazz?
No, they did not. Only the trip to the States gave me food for thought as to what is most important in jazz.
I saw what is mainstream in jazz. The Americans played jazz like nobody else in the world. Black
Americans in particular. I learned then that if you want to be a real jazzman, you have to follow not
European jazz but authentic American jazz.
Which meeting with America’s most famous jazzmen is most memorable for you?
There were so many of them. I believe the first one since we did not have many contacts at that time.
When I came to New York I met Gerry Mulligan’s quartet and they took care of me.
Apparently I have heard that people call you the general of Polish jazz- what do you think of it?
I have never heard that. Nobody has called me that way personally. I think I wouldn’t enjoy being called
A genral can be associated with anything but sensitivity.
Yeah, that’s true. What do you consider to be your greatest professional success?
Again – the question is a kind of a difficult one.
So give me some of them
Some singular recordings – they may come up to let’s say fifty. The most overriding moment was a
composition entitled Altissimonica, which was written for Henryk Miśkiewicz and for symphonic
orchestry. It was a very extended tour – 40 minutes of serious concert, with tens of musicians. Even
though I was an author myself, a shudder always went through me when I listened to this music. I just
couldn’t imagine how beautiful it could sound in nature.
A concert for an orchestra- it must be a beautiful experience. And who is the easiest for a jazzman to work
with? What kind of musical genres?
It is always best to work with jazzmen – you can make entertainment, serious or just jazz music with
them. Jazzmen are universal musicians. I enjoy symphonic orchestras – this is what I like best.
Everyday life – it is just a circle of a few friends. The choice of musicians depends on something specific
– either we fit together and we know it is going to be good or we can’t find a common understanding.
Sometimes it happens even to the best jazz musicians.
Do you often meet with young musicians- young jazzmen?
It depends on a kind of meeting. I often try to listen to and watch young jazz musicians. I even tried to
hire them once- we stayed together and now you cannot call us young musicians….
But they say youth is a state of mind…
It may be so. There is indeed something that arms a person wih good energy and well-being. I guess it is
not only music. You feel that if you do what you like in your life.
So I guess that there is lots of passion for jazz in your life?
It is absolutely necessary. Even if you are exhausted, you get on stage and it gives you energy and
everything changes for better.
If you come to a smaller town, such as Ostrołęka, are these meetings with people different than in cities?
They are not. There are people who listen to jazz everywhere.
But we may find a different audience here , maybe a little less aware or more sensitive ?
I wouldn’t say so. In today’s world, all music is avaiable to people – via radio, internet, television – people
can listen to as much as they like. They can choose what they like, skip what they don’t. The audience is
important everywhere – as important in the smallest villages as in New York or Warsaw..
Please tell me how many young people come to you. Do they want to learn? Are they eager to listen?
No they don’t come to me to learn, since I do not teach. Some firends of mine do teach others and I know
they have students who are eager to learn. There are good musicians and I wonder where they are going to
work in the future. There are some musicians who fascinate us, who give such good concerts that they
amaze us and suddenly – these musicians disappear somewhere and we don’t hear from them anymore. I
think there are too many of us and that may be a problem.
I meant whether young people come up to you during concerts to ask questions, to learn something form
Not really. I didn’t question anyone either. We learn best by observation.
But you have been watching others playing?
Of course, I have! I didn’t have to ask questions. It was enough to watch and observe to learn. And most
jazzman probably learn that way.
And what do people look for in this genre of music?
Emotion combined with passion seems to be a component of any type of creativity?
Passion equalls emotion.
As an experienced musician, how would you tell a young man to get the courage to follow what he really
loves in life?
To be honest I would advise him not to listen to any advice , but do what he really feels in his heart.
Observe , try to learn. Advice is always subjective.
But young people may be full of doubts about their future.
We are all full of doubts.
Still you may try to develop your passion. Thank you very much for the interview
Thank you very much.