Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mieczysław Kosz - Reminiscence (Polish Jazz Vol. 25, 1971)

Polish jazz pianist and composer Mieczyslaw Kosz went through jazz scene of the country like a shooting star: bright, awe-striking and short-lived. He died being just 29 years old (1944-1973) promising a lot, fullfilling some of promises and leaving us all with the feeling of "zschall" (żal). This word is difficult to translate into English and can be described by such English words as sorrow, regret, grief and commiseration. But there is also in this word something of fascination of human being reflecting upon irresistible passing of things and poeple in time. This emotional component was vital to Kosz (he used to say: "tylko smutek jest piekny" - "sadness only is beautiful") and was also  present in Polish music through works and lives of our greatest musicians like Chopin (in classics) or Komeda (in jazz). Both of them also died young and unhappy.

So it was inevitable to some extent that Kosz became like his precedessors more like a myth than a man of flesh and bone. And his biography was perfect material for creation of such a myth. He was born in a small village Antoniówka close to Tomaszów Lubelski, in a region regarded as poor and backwarded in Poland, very unlikely to produce and nurture any musical talent. Being just 3 years old he became subject to eyes desease. Extreme poverty of his family (they lived 16 persons in 1 room), the ruin of the country ravaged by barbaric war, bad relationships between his mother and father, unfortunate medical surgery all resulted that he lost his sight forever.

This misfortune however led him to first Polish elementary school for blind children opened in 1952 in Laski and then to secondary school in Cracow. It is doubtful whether his musical talent would have a chance to be spotted and developed had he remained healthy and living in a small, distant village where he was born. He become prominent student of those schools and was planning to enter excellent Musical High School in Cracow. But upon the completion of secondary musical school in 1964 another tragic event occured in his life: death of his mother. Because of lack of material resources he decided not to continue his studies and instead turned himself toward popular music and especially jazz.

Being still less than 20 years he started to play as pianist in Cracow clubs and restaurants. In 1965 he went to Zakopane which is small town in Tatra mountains but also winter venue for Polish culture, economical and political elites, where he lived up to the beginning of 1967 earning money by performing in local clubs. At least he was spotted there and was encouraged to move to Warsaw where he played in famous Nowy Świat cafe. In the same year 1967 he gave a groundbreaking gig at Jazz Jamboree '67 in Warsaw. Since then he was recognized as one of the most propimisng young jazz musicians in the country. In 1968 he was awarded artistic scholarship granted by PSJ (Polish Jazz Association) together with another talented pianist Adam Makowicz.

The scholorship has solved many of his financial problems and he was able to buy his own piano. On the other hand by mowing to Warsaw he was detached from poeple whom he knew and loved  in Cracow (Zakopane is also close to Cracow) and who who cared about him. His musical carrer developed now by leaps and bounds . In 1968 he was awarded 1st Prize in Vienna  VIIth Austrian Amateur Jazz Festival. Later on he played in other jazz contests always being recognized and awarded multiple prizes like at famous Montreux festival (3rd prize). At this last festival it is interesting to recall repertoire his trio played that evening: Chopin's Preludium C-moll, Cosma's "Autumn Leaves" (being also favourite song of Bill Evans whom he met in person during this festival) and "Milestones" of Miles Davis. Thus all most important influences on his music were evidenced in that gig. This same year he also played in famous Paris jazz club "Cameleon" where previously played Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, Bud Powell and the likes. Not bad for a 23 old man who just a year ago was playing pop music in restaurants in bars in small town somewhere in distant mountains in one of communist states in the East.

The possibilities in his carreer were wide open and virtually limitless. Strating from 1969 he played in innumerable giggs in most important Polish jazz clubs and festivals. He played often in Polish radio, TV station and also travelled abroad (not easy thing in those times). Unfortunately his record output is was very modest (all media were state owned then and jazz being music from the West was not to be popularized). In 1969 he appeared on disc titled "New Faces in Polish Jazz (Jazz Jamboree '69)" but his 1971 "Reminiscence" remains the only album he issued as a leader during his lifetime).

On 28th April 1973 he died after falling out of window of his Warsaw apartament. Very much like Chet Baker did more than decade later in Amsterdam hotel and also like Chet's Kosz death remains unsolved mystery.

So my own reminiscence of Kosz has ended but there is still the music on that disc that awaits few words. Perhaps I shall write more about it in other post. Ceratainly music deserves it. Undoubtly influenced by Bill Evans I find it very unique, individual, melding in perfect coexistence classical and jazz tradition. It also has this specific slavic touch present in best compositions of Russian, Polish and Czech composers and musicians. I mean by this dialogue between discipline of mind and vehemence of emotions with the prevalence of emotions. They found its expressions in improvisation that is the heart of this music. Sad but immortal.

Please listen to Mieczysław Kosz playing his own composition Przed Burzą (Before Storm):


By Maciej Nowotny

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing this man's story in English. I encourage you to add the biography to wikipedia.com because there is little written of him there. Also, there seems to be a problem with the audio of the youtube link. Thanks again for sharing.

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