Sunday, July 3, 2011

Tomasz Stańko - Desperado (2010) by Adam Baruch

Tomasz Stańko "Desperado"
Rafał Księżyk

Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2010

Adam Baruch ( review of fascinating biography of Tomaz Stańko, for the time being available only in Polish...

I've read a fair share of Jazz biographies in my life, probably more than most people, but reading this one was a unique experience altogether. The life of Polish Jazz legend, trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, could easily serve as inspiration for a Dostoyevsky novel or a Polanski film, not to mention a Greek play. "Living on edge", or Desperado, is Stanko's motto, both as a musician / composer and a human being. Today, aged 70, Stanko's personal life might have taken a turn towards relative tranquility, but his creative powers remain as tumultuous as ever.

The story of Stanko's life and musical career, told in his own words, is a fascinating testimony of struggle; struggle against injustice of a corrupt social reality created by political dictatorship, struggle against personal demons, weaknesses and fears, struggle against the indifference of this world towards Art in general… and above all struggle with the price one has to pay for taking an artistic stand and persistently doing, what one's inner-self dictates.

Stanko's story is also a fascinating document about the relationship between drug addiction and creativity, the struggle to stay alive and create – both physically and metaphysically. In a wider perspective, his life story is also the story of the Polish Jazz scene after WWII – the birth of the modern Jazz and Free Jazz movements, its existence under the Socialist regime and the metamorphosis it underwent following the collapse of the old system, with the new social and economic realities.

The factual information contained herein included no revelations as far as I'm concerned, but my knowledge and personal involvement with the Polish Jazz scene is hardly common. Surely, for a less informed reader there is a wealth of facts here, which is staggering. For me, the experience of reading this book was similar to reminiscing stories I've heard since my childhood; a warm, fuzzy feeling of familiarity.

But the pleasure derived from reading Stanko's own words, including his idioms, curses and deeply personal opinions is the real deal. Technically the book is a transcript of a series of conversations between Stanko and the Polish journalist Rafal Ksiezyk, who asks him a long set of leading questions and Stanko's answers tell the story. It's obvious that Ksiezyk did an excellent job researching Stanko's life and his questions are both intelligent and inquisitive enough to keep the story developing smoothly, albeit not avoiding unpleasant and difficult issues and agendas.

The book also includes an informative section with a chronology and discography as well as numerous photographs.

Any way one looks at this book, it is a masterly done piece of biography, which keeps the reader on his toes at all times. Alas, available only in Polish, this book cries out for a translation into English, as Stanko's fan base stretches today far beyond his homeland.

Text by Adam Baruch

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