Tomasz Stańko – 11 July 1942 – 29 July 2018


In 2002, the Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stańko provided an answer to a question jazz fans had been debating since 1959: what album do you play after Miles Davis' Kind of Blue? Davis' album is so powerful it blots out the memory of anything played before and diminishes anything played after it. Yet Stańko's Soul of Things (ECM) followed on with no sense of disjunction, no feeling that someone had boorishly changed the radio station, maintaining Davis' mood of quiet introspection without seeking to imitate it.

Born in Rzeszów, Poland on 11 July, 1942, Stańko emerged during a golden period of Polish jazz, along with pianists Adam Matyszkowicz (Makowicz), saxophonist Zbigniew Seifert and pianist Krzysztof Komeda. In 1962 Stańko organised his first group, The Jazz Darings with Makowicz on piano, entered a jazz competition and won, with Stańko taking the top instrumental award. It brought him to the attention of pianist, composer and arranger Krzysztof Komeda, credited with launching the modern jazz movement in post-Stalinist Poland. At the 1963 Warsaw Jazz Jamboree Komeda invited Stańko to join his ensemble. It was a career shaping move. Soon, Stańko was recording Komeda's film music and touring with Komeda across Europe. In 1966 he appeared on Komeda's historic Astigmatic, one of the most important European jazz albums of all time. When Komeda died unexpectedly in 1969 it was a blow to Stańko. He formed a quintet with Zbigniew Seifert and Janusz Muniak (ts) recording Music for K – dedicated to Komeda – ensuring this group would become recognised as one of the best Polish jazz groups of the time.

In 1973, Stańko formed the Stańko-Vesala Quartet with Finnish drummer Edward Vesala, debuting on ECM with Balladyna. During the 1980s he formed Freelectronic, briefly reunited with the ECM label on Gary Peacock's Albert Ayler tribute, Voice From the Past – Paradigm, and collaborated with Cecil Taylor later in the decade. With the political climate changing for the better in the 1990s and personal problems behind him, Stańko's career took off. He renewed his association with ECM and a series of critically acclaimed albums followed, including Litania: Music of Krzysztof Komeda, a tribute to the pianist – which was described as "one of the jazz triumphs of 1997" by The Guardian.

In 1993, he formed a new quartet with pianist Marcin Wasilewski, bassist Sławomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michał Miśkiewicz, and toured extensively, debuting the group on record with Soul of Things (ECM). Other groups followed, with pianist Alexi Tuomarila and his New York Quintet. In April 2018 he succumbed to ill health, cancelling all concerts. He died on 29 July 2018 after a battle with cancer.

– Stuart Nicholson
– Photo by Tim Dickeson