Kuba Stankiewicz - piano
Darek Oleszkuewicz - bass
Peter Erskine - drums
The Music Of Victor Young
WARNER CLASSICS 825646200313
By Adam Baruch
The making of this album turned out to be a great journey for everybody involved, full of magic and musical, historical, emotional and educational discoveries, all intertwined and dramatic, which started as a seemingly simple and straightforward task of recording a tribute album to one of America's greatest 20th Century composers and eventually emerged as a virtual bridge between the "old" and "new" continents, linking biographical treasures, personal encounters, unearthed documents and above all the hearts of so many people on both sides of the great "pond", myself included. Kuba Stankiewicz, who is not only a sublime artist but also a wonderful human being, was the catalyst and the driving force behind this project, and his limitless faith, energy and dedication are encapsulated herein. We all hope that the listeners of this enchanting music will join Kuba and all of us in a wondrous adventure.
The biography of Victor Young is surely as dramatic and full of unexpected turns and twists as many of the movies he wrote the musical scores for. Born in Chicago at the turn of the 20th Century, his parents were Polish immigrants of Jewish origin, who had a rich musical background. He was discovered very early as an immensely talented child prodigy, having started to play the violin at the age of six. The tragic early death of his mother influenced the decision to send the ten years old Victor and his sister Helen to the homeland of their ancestors, Poland, where their grandparents still resided, and where he received his formal musical education at the Imperial Music Academy in Warsaw, finishing his studies at the momentous period when Poland received its independence after being occupied and divided between the European Empires for almost a century and a half. Young made quite a career as a virtuoso concert violinist and even managed to play for the Russian Czar Nikolai, which almost cost him his life when the Bolshevik revolution erupted and all people connected to the Czar were promptly dealt with. After a life-threatening encounter in Russia, Young managed to flee to Warsaw, then Paris and later finally returned to his Chicago home.
By mid 1930s Young settled in Hollywood and concentrated on composing music for the motion pictures, in time becoming one of the most successful and prolific representatives of the American Dream. He was nominated 22 times for the Academy Award but his only Oscar was awarded to him posthumously. He died at the ridiculous age of 56 leaving behind him a tremendous legacy of hundreds of film scores and wonderful songs, which are still being performed on an everyday basis. There is hardly a Jazz gig anywhere on this planet, where at least one of his standards is not performed, after having been recorded countless times by every imaginable Jazz performer. And yet at the same time almost nobody on the same planet of ours is aware of the fact that Young's roots lie deeply on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and his life fits into the "wandering Jew" pattern like a silk glove.
The decade Victor Young spent in Poland, as well as his rich Polish roots, remain almost completely absent from his biography and are totally unknown not only in the USA but sadly also in Poland. Generations of Polish Jazz musicians, who played countless times the Victor Young standards, never even imagined that the person behind this music has such close ties to Poland and its Culture. Kuba Stankiewicz took us all on a discovery trip, walking down the streets of Warsaw where Young and his family lived, which he traced from the documents and correspondence between Young and his family members. Most of these highly personal and fascinating documents and photographs were made available by Young's niece, Helen's daughter, the wonderful Bobbie Hill Fromberg, who lives in LA and who embraced this project wholeheartedly, sharing her extensive family archive with us. I imagine that playing Young's music for Bobbie in her apartment on a piano, that Young bought as a wedding present for his sister, must have been quite a thrilling experience for Kuba and Darek Oleszkiewicz, who was also present at the occasion.
The diploma Victor Young received from the Warsaw Music Academy shows that he studied composition with Roman Statkowski, a completely forgotten Polish composer, who surely deserves to be rediscovered. This led Kuba Stankiewicz to find out more about Statkowski and later on to be enchanted by his profoundly beautiful music. Including one of Statkowski's compositions on this album is therefore completely natural, especially in view of the enormous influence Statkowski had on Young, which in fact is audible, albeit subtly, in several of Young's compositions. But even without the Statkowski influence, it is pretty apparent that although Young was a bona fide American composer for decades, the intrinsic Polish lyricism and melancholy, as well as his Jewish approach to melody, stayed with him for all these years, deeply embedded in his heritage and influenced by the growing-up period he has spent in Poland and learned from Polish educators. And as we were tracking Young's life and music, it didn't take long to se the similarities between his fate and that of several other famous American composers, like Bronislaw Kaper and Henryk Wars, fellow Jewish wanderers, whose Polish roots are almost completely obscured and are waiting to be exposed.
But of course it's the music present on this album, which is after all the center of the listener's attention, regardless of the contextual relevance. Recorded in a classic piano trio format, the most formidable chamber environment available in Jazz, it lovingly presents the music of Young, which although in most cases is well know, also includes some of his lesser known pieces as well as one of Statkowski's beautiful compositions, arranged by Stankiewicz. Accompanied by bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz and formidable American drummer Peter Erskine, Kuba Stankiewicz delivers the music of Young with passion and emotion, but also with great respect. As already mentioned these compositions have been previously recorded countless times and therefore playing them anew presents an enormous challenge. I hope the listeners will find the spark that Kuba, Darek and Peter share with us, respectfully and elegantly, proving that the long journey was worth the effort. Thank you for reading and for listening!
Side Note: The above are my liner notes for this wonderful album. It was an immense pleasure to take part in this project.