Session 4 – Poland/Baltics

Friday 2 September – 13.15-14.30 (Sweelinck)
Chair: George McKay

Zbigniew Granat – Towards Transnational Jazz: A Perspective from Poland

The story of Polish jazz offers a fascinating glimpse into the reception and transformation of American jazz on the East side of the Iron Curtain. This process began with an extensive imitation of American models, which in this part of Europe was hampered by censorship and other restraints imposed by socialist regimes. In the same way that secret tunnels built under the Berlin Wall – as depicted in the Roland Richter movie Der Tunnel (2001) – symbolized for East Berliners the roads to freedom, Willis Conover’s radio program Jazz Hour broadcast by the Voice of America represented the main channel through which “the music of freedom” unabashedly travelled across the borders to all corners of the Eastern Bloc. This unusual form of jazz education was instrumental in the development of many different European styles of jazz.

This paper focuses on the intersections of political and artistic influences, both foreign and domestic, which contributed to the creation of the Polish jazz idiom. In the mid-1950s Poland functioned as a meeting place of two politically opposed trends: the American propaganda that used jazz as a “secret sonic weapon” to promote the superiority of the West, and the socialist propaganda, which, as early as 1955, officially embraced jazz in an effort to project a progressive image to the outside world. This relatively open political climate created an environment in which artists such as Krzysztof Komeda, Tomasz Sta?ko, and Andrzej Trzaskowski could recast the received brand of American jazz as an experimental art music combining free jazz, avant-garde techniques of composition, and Polish folk music. This unique style of free jazz, paralleled by the radical “sonoristic” style in Polish art music of the 1960s, played crucial roles in the shaping of Poland’s modern cultural identity defined by the country’s unique position between the East and the West.

Igor Pietraszewski – Streams of Freedom: Jazz in Poland

For an recent years I have been conducting research the world of jazz in Poland. What I want to demonstrate in my work are the changes of Poland’s jazz community in the longitudinal perspective: namely, from the First World War to the present. I discuss the key political-economic influences upon jazz in Poland. Choosing jazz as my subject is not accidental, for, as I try to show in my paper, this very example allows me not only to trace the process of its implementation, or the formative years of the world of jazz in my country but also later transformations in the jazz musicians community in Poland.

My analysis is focused on the influence of socio-political changes in Poland after the Second World War on the process of institutionalization of jazz community and its identity. I also touch upon the question of the economic position of artists, their progressing professionalization, as well as their gaining the professional status. The goal of this paper is also to reveal the ways in which changes undergoing in the political system resulted in parallel changes in the system of institutions as well as in the self-portrait/ image of social subjects. Using such an approach, I hope to demonstrate how individual activities in the field of jazz are conditioned macro-structurally and mezzo-structurally, and how the individual artistic endeavours influence both the relations inside jazz society and the relation between such group and the state which realizes its cultural policy. The paper to be presented here was founded on qualitative research. It was particularly helpful for me to be able to use the data gained through participant observation. I have been a member of jazz community in Poland for the last 30 years, playing various roles in it (as a musician, an organizer and a press columnist). One of the sources was information gained during interviews. The study consisted of unstructured interviews with the few dozen of active representatives of the world of jazz in Poland.

Heli Reimann – Music “from Below” and the Ideologies “from Above” Cultural and Musical Transformations in Estonian Jazz During Late Stalinism

Late Stalinism, which is conventionally understood as the period from May 9th 1945 to March 5th 1953, was a time of political transformation that also had implications for considerable changes in cultural paradigms. The turning point that finally led Soviet cultural life towards a new ideological purge was the decision taken about Vano Muradeli’s opera The Great Friendship in 1948. This began the period of the most intense pressure in the history of Soviet Estonian culture, launching a campaign against what was branded formalism and bourgeois nationalism. Jazz as an embodiment of decadent Western values became an object of fierce condemnation.

Interestingly, Estonian jazz musicians used the post-war period of repression to establish themselves as the most active and innovative jazz musicians in the USSR. By taking advantage of the slogan-like artistic principle “socialist in content and national in form”, Estonian jazz players established the standards later adopted as a model by musicians across the Soviet Union. By discussing issues such as Soviet ideology, nationalism, musical innovations, and aesthetical paradigms of jazz, this study aims to investigate how these cultural and musical transformations emerged at the level of discourse. How do the initiatives “from below”, i.e. the musical visions of the jazz musicians, and the ideologies “from above”, i.e. the directives of Soviet officials, interact in the formation of a discourse? How are shifts in political and ideological paradigms reflected in the discourse of Estonian jazz? This study suggests an answer to some of those questions.

The study is based extensively on material originating from the almanac of the jazz group Swing Club. This collection of 16 articles is an excellent witness of the hectic and erratic nature of the time.

View the full conference schedule.