Interview: Wojtek Mazolewski
Wojtek Mazolewski is a bassist, composer and a leading figure of the contemporary Polish jazz scene. He heads up the Wojtek Mazolewski Quintet, who are playing a special edition of Church of Sound on Sunday 9 April, focusing on Polish Jazz under the Iron Curtain: '63-'89.
Wojtek's ability to present jazz to younger listeners in the most unconventional of manners is fused seamlessly with a clear nod to the traditions established by this golden era of Polish jazz. Along with his Quintet, he plays in Pink Freud, Me And That Man and Jazzombie. We first covered his album Polka, in a Dig and Discover last year.
Having just released a new 12" on Lanquidity Records, and ahead of his upcoming London show, we had a quick chat covering Wojtek's youth in Poland, his musical influences and his personal experience of the relationship between music and politics.
Your tunes exhibit a range of influences from Rage Against the Machine to jazz greats such as Miles Davis and Coltrane. How do these different strands come together in your approach to making music?
Music was always a hugely important part of my life. As a three year-old boy I loved Uriah Heep, and later Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. When I was 10, I started singing in a punk band. It was in Poland in 1986… through punk we expressed our rebellion. It was very creative movement. I was evolving all the time and took inspiration from new records I listened to. I started with the Dead Kennedys, No Means No and Sex Pistols, through Rage Against The Machine and Red Hot Chili Peppers and later discovered Albert Ayler, Eric Dolphy and Charles Mingus. The most important thing for me was to be open to every new genre of music and be inspired. Crossing boundaries in music is crucial because it gives us development and quality.
"It was in Poland in 1986… through punk we expressed our rebellion."
The influence of electronic dance music is also very apparent in your compositions. On your new track, 'London' for example, you can hear elements of techno as it speeds up, while the main motif in ‘Sunday’ from your album Polka is based around a four-the-floor beat. Tell us a bit about this.
In the 90s, when I was forming my first bands, the electronic music scene was booming. Music styles like house, techno and rave were new for us in Polish clubs. I spent a lot of nights in these places. During the day, when we played the music together, we tried to recreate the sound with our instruments and improvised with the rhythm. We listened to records from Ninja Tune and Warp, weird jazz and looked for our own style. This is how my second band was formed – Pink Freud. On the last album by PF, we paid tribute to Manchester IDM duo Autechre.
‘London’, is a three-piece suite which starts with my double bass solo. This is a very personal and minimal impression of my own experience of London. The first part of the suite is inspired by the rhythms and sound of the 50s, the 70s and the 90s. In short periods of time we move through the various stages of the development of the music in London. Part two is an attempt to recreate the energy of this city – a peak of positive energy and happiness. When I played it for the first time, I imagined the Notting Hill Carnival and Soho, Brick Lane and Dalston by night.
Do you feel your appearance challenges previous perceptions of jazz musicians? Is this a conscious decision?
I am who I am. I’m not trying to be someone else. The biggest challenges for me are my own weaknesses. For other people, I try to be an inspiration and motivation for action. My work and my music should bring incentives to others for further action and to benefit from their own potential.
Can you talk us through the writing process of your music? It often feels that the melodies and rhythms are very much dependent on you leading with the bass work.
Thank you. Usually, I compose when I’m on my own. I take a double bass or a guitar in order to practice but after some time my consciousness drifts away into unexplored territories. Then I play without calculations and I improvise. Sometimes in these moments I capture the sound. This is the first incentive for further work on the next composition. I play with it, create the main motif and add additional parts. Sometimes I dream about the music. Also, my journeys give me huge artistic inspirations. I write a lot during travelling and touring with my band.
"Jazz means freedom; in Polish jazz freedom is embodied in the music’s DNA"
Music and politics have always had a close relationship in Poland. How has this affected your music?
Polish jazz was the true voice of free people in the tough time during the Communist era. Jazz means freedom; in Polish jazz freedom is embodied in the music’s DNA. The jazz movement in Poland in the 50s, 60s and 70s was a platform for very intelligent creators and artists. Writers, poets, painters and music lovers were meeting together at the jazz concerts in order to protest against the government and manifest the freedom. The Polish Jazz series is a beautiful document of the accomplishments of Polish musicians and it is still a huge inspiration for younger artists.
Krzysztof Komeda, Tomasz Stańko and Zbigniew Namysłowski are only few of the many names which became an important part of the European and world jazz scene. What is important is that Polish jazz is still evolving and developing. Every year we have new talents and large numbers of young people who want to play jazz. We have a huge jazz festival scene. Polish musicians are releasing amazing records in Poland and Europe. Personally, I’m very excited with the collaboration with London-based label Lanquidity Records.
I think the relationship between music and politics was important not only for Poland. For example, in the UK punk scene there were voices against social injustice and the hypocrisy of politicians. In Poland, we have a strong tradition of describing reality through art and music. During the Communist era, it was the only possibility for escaping the brutal reality. I believe that music and positive energy can change the world and it is happening now.
You came from a Polish music scene in the 90s, 'Yass'. Was the relationship between music and politics still important in the post-Soviet era? Tell us a bit more about this time of your life.
It was an amazing time! At that time in Poland we had an enormous group of young, creative musicians and artists who felt that they could do what they wanted. We were inspirations for each other; we formed the most ridiculous bands, records and compositions. Yass was our own way to create our own music language. We rebelled against the traditional way of playing jazz in Poland and the whole atmosphere of a very closed environment. We mixed jazz with the latest music that appeared such as grunge, techno or drum n bass. It was a hippie period of Polish jazz!
"We were inspirations for each other; we formed the most ridiculous bands, records and compositions."
What can we expect from the Church of Sound show?
During the concert, we will play some of the compositions from the Polish Jazz series and we will play ‘London’ live for the first time. The repertoire isn’t the most important thing but it’s the emotions which we want to give to you. We plan to fill you with energy and positive vibrations and inspire you for the action. For this to happen, you need to experience the concert without any expectations. Turn off your phone and let the music speak. See you soon!