Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Interview with Tomasz Dąbrowski. Chapter 01

Trumpet player Tomasz Dabrowski is one of the most prominent new faces of polish jazz. I had already the pleasure to write about his TOM Trio cd, more cds are soon to be released (including New York sessions with Tyshaun Sorey, Kris Davies, Andrew Drury). 
I had a brief chat with Tomek in Krakow few weeks ago as he was about to get on the train to Warsaw to play with the Pheeroan AkLaff. The interview will be posted in three chapters in the next two weeks on the blog.

Here's the first part, a biographical insight into the beginning of Tomasz's musical journey:

"I'm sure everyone has a different story to tell. In my case, my parents have still the VHS-camera recording, it's christmas time and I'm singing some songs by the christmas tree. My folks decided I have a knack for it. Even today, my aunt, and she's around 70 now, always tells me how she remembers me singing to the broom's stick some children songs. As my parents saw it they decided to buy me a keyboard. I'm the first musician in the family, that was their image of how it should begin – keyoard, you know, it has some potential for the future, maybe you'll play in the wedding band, you can show off at holidays to the family, this kind of utility music. And that's how I begun to learn, mostly classical music.

There was this moment, it's really a bad story, there was this disc, or cassette tape rather „Sax & Sex” by Robert Chojnacki with Piasek [sort of smooth jazz / pop music star very popular in the 90s]. I listened to it and I then I knew I want to play saxophone, no way around it. I wasn't the perfect age, 13 years old, it was really a last call to join music school, much smaller children would be already playing well. Ilawa, where I attended the music school, it a small city, around 30 thousand citizens, it is known for a trad jazz festival Złota Tarka („Golden Grater”). They've just initiated a special program which allowed to me enlist. So i did so, I went to thse school and it turned out there's no vacancies left to lear sax, they told me so and asked „how about the trumpet?”. And I wasn't even sure what it was exactly, some people don't know the difference between trumpet and trombone – bone „elephant” sound and that's it.

But I went to the rehearsal led by the teacher Bogdan Olkowski, he played the insteument and I thought to myself it's not that bad, I could be ok with it. I wasn't really serious about it. A guy this age would rather play some football outside. It turned out it's a damn tough instrument to learn, you need to practice everyday, be carefull about what you do, control so many aspects at once. Only today I realise all that, especially since I started to teach as well. I have young students, 8-10 years old but I had a 70 years old senior as well. Everyone starts at the first base.
First reaction one has when he takes the trumpet and tries to play it, you know, cheeks like Dizzy Gillespie, no sound at all and the though appears „God, it's so hard”. It has to be explained that it's not that hard, there are these myths about how physical the instrument is, it is not easy, but you don't loose your conscience after 30 seconds. Although a sweaty shirt after the concert is a normal thing.

I started to play with youth orchestra from Iława, quite a known big band, one of the most acclaimed in Poland. We travelled a lot and Olkowski, for which I'm eternally gratefull, would always say to me „you should do something more about it, you have knack for it”. Unfortuantely I didn't have much musical knowledge, there was nobody who could teach me more. Event though there are many musicians, jazz or otherwise, who are from Ilawa – double bass player Michal Jaros, Marcin Ulanowski who plays the groove ,rock kind of thins. But I couldn't find anyone who could show me „do this”, you can do it that way”, „practice that thing”.

The one person who would play me music would be Hipolit Szalkiewicz – the teacher responsible for the basic music teachings – literature, dictations, practices, classical etudes and so on, all that staff that everyone needs to pass through in the music school. But once the class was over, mr Hipolit would call me „Hey Tomek, wait here a second, listen to this” and he would play me maybe some dixieland jazz that I really liked. I didn't know how to apprach it, but I frequented the jazz festival in the city and that's also when I went to my first jam session.

After that Henryk Majewski visited Ilawa and he rehearsed me but that was a complete bust, I didn't know a first thing about playing jazz, jazz chords? Progressions? I had not theoretical preparation whatsoever. Two years after I applied to the jazz school on Bednarska street in Warsaw and I got in, I still don't really know how, I wasn't a good player, had a lot of technical issues and in fact the first three years I spend trying to correct these, which was very frustrating.
I was a very active environment, people making their own bands, inviting you to play with them, that's how you learn even more, but I had to decline becuase there was no point to it.
Yet after a while I was able to join them, even made own bands, got some individual and team prizes on a couple of contests.

And then the current chapter of my life begins, I moved to Denmark, all that's happening now started then."

(next chapter in a week)

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