A Historic Perspective
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The "Polish Jazz" series of releases, a milestone episode in the history of Jazz in Poland, will soon celebrate its 50th birthday. It's almost impossible to refer to the development of Jazz in Poland without referring to the recordings released in that series, as they encompass a major part of the Jazz heritage and history as well as document the unique and incredible achievements of the Polish Jazz from its early days to full maturity.
The "Polish Jazz" series must be seen always, even in retrospect, in the proper historic perspective, which involves the understanding of political / social circumstances in Poland between the end of WWII and the collapse of the Soviet-ruled Eastern-European Block, of which Poland was a part. The fact that Poland had a nondemocratic Socialist government, centralized economy and strict censorship over all aspects of life, art included, is a major consideration, which had its influence on the unique way the Polish Jazz developed, survived and triumphed against all odds.
The series was launched in 1964 by the only record company active in Poland at the time, the State-owned Polskie Nagrania (Polish Recordings) and released under the company's main label "Muza". Its instigators were Ryszard Sielicki (label's artistic director) and Andrzej Karpinski (label's executive producer). The great Polish photographer / graphic designer Marek Karewicz was responsible for most of the photographs appearing on the covers and the design of the cover art itself of the individual albums in the series. Albums continued to be released as a part of the series until the end of 1989, and during the 26 years of its existence, the series amounted to 76 releases, a staggering amount of music by any standard.
In retrospect one must respectfully admit, that the series includes some of the most important music ever recorded in Poland, Easter-Europe, Europe and even the World. With musicians / performers / composers / arrangers / bandleaders / visionaries and prophets such as Krzysztof Komeda, Andrzej Kurylewicz, Andrzej Trzaskowski, Zbigniew Namyslowski, Tomasz Stanko, Michal Urbaniak, Adam Makowicz, Czeslaw Bartkowski, Janusz Muniak, Jan "Ptaszyn" Wroblewski and many, many others, the entire contents of the series is a goldmine of exquisite musical achievements. One should truly admire the series for many reasons; for example the decision to make the cover art bilingual (in Polish and English) was really unprecedented at the time (in view of the East-West relationships), but on the other hand the Polish government often used Polish Jazz as a propaganda tool to "sell" the human face of Socialism outside of the country's borders. Regardless of what the initial intention was, the English texts enabled many listeners in the West to get at least some information about the music and the musicians, which trickled continuously outside of Poland.
Another extremely important characteristic of the series was its honest and again unprecedented policy to include all possible forms of Jazz as part of the series: from Dixieland to Free, from Big Band to solo performances, vocal and instrumental, established artists and newcomers, etc. This policy proved to be especially significant in the long term, as many of the recordings in the series would have been never realized otherwise. Of course the fact that Polskie Nagrania were a State-owned monopoly had its implications; some of Poland's great musicians, especially those who were associated with anti-government political affiliations, were never included as part of the series. Others, especially those more avant-garde inclined, with less social skills and "elbows" were also ignored. Obviously ego trips, personal preferences and other typical human relationships feuds also played part in the overall decision making, as to who's going to be recorded and included in the series, which resulted in somewhat uneven artistic level / aesthetic quality of the music. Some of the wrongs that were made at the time were later vindicated, others remind unrepaired. In retrospect one must admit that the series managed to achieve infinitely more positive things for Polish Jazz than the collateral damage it caused.
It should also be noted that during the period the "Polish Jazz" series was active, Polskie Nagrania released some Jazz albums, which were not part of the series. It was never completely clear why that happened, but in many respects these recordings were in reality also part of the "Polish Jazz" scene even if not formally part of the series itself, and should be seen as closely related. To see an accurate picture of the history of recorded Jazz in Poland, one must also remember that the monopoly of Polskie Nagrania ended in 1973, when the Polish Jazz Society (PSJ, an organization formally uniting Polish Jazz musicians, but in fact a full fledged business venture – another improbability in a Socialist country, which was allowed by the government to flourish for political reasons) established its own record label called Poljazz. Starting as a record club for PSJ members, the label swiftly developed, under the management of Marek Cabanowski, into a full fledged business. However, what started as a label dedicated to Polish Jazz, soon lost its focus and moved into other musical areas in parallel to its Jazz activity, mainly for commercial reasons. Poljazz albums often suffered from poor production, questionable quality of the music and other tribulations, which seriously damaged the overall quality level of its releases. Nevertheless Poljazz did release a substantial amount of excellent Polish Jazz albums, but that is another story altogether.
The "Polish Jazz" series has been remastered and reissued on CD in the mid-2000s mainly by Polskie Nagrania and Polskie Radio (Polish Radio) labels, but also by several smaller labels like Power Bros, Metal Mind, etc., but promptly disappeared from the shelves. These reissues, although properly remastered, suffered from poor packaging and most importantly missed an updated liner notes, presenting the music in a proper historic perspective. Many of the albums in the original series were never released on CD yet. This sad state of affairs is a shame for Polish Cultural heritage and should definitely be remedied as soon as possible. Of course the state of the music industry today is hardly encouraging as to the possibility this will happen any time soon.