Tomasz Stanko, renowned Polish jazz musician, died on July 29 in a Warsaw hospital at the age of 76. He had been diagnosed with lung cancer earlier this year.
Tomasz Stanko was born in Rzeszów, Poland on July 11, 1942. He started his studies with classical piano and violin, but eventually switched to the jazz trumpet after being exposed to Willis Conover’s broadcasts and a Dave Brubeck Quartet’s jazz concert in 1956.
His contributions to modern-day jazz started in the early 1960s, when he started playing professionally with Jazz Darings, a band he co-founded with Polish pianist Adam Makowicz. He also forged a partnership with Krzysztof Komeda, and played European jazz festivals in a quintet with saxophonists Zbigniew Seifert and Janusz Muniak.
He created his own style by combining American jazz, eastern European folk, and contemporary classical music. He drew inspiration from the art and philosophy around him: the poetry of Wislawa Szymborska, William Faulkner’s novels, Italian neo-realist cinema, the paintings of Amedeo Modigliani. With this, Stanko has produced a variety of sounds from meditative solo music to reggae- and rap-inflected electronic music.
Over the years, he formed various partnerships, working with Jan Garbarek and Edward Vesala Cecil Taylor and Cherry, John Surman and Tony Oxley, Janusz Skowron, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette, John Taylor, Bobo Stenson, Alex von Schlippenbach’s international Globe Unity Orchestra, Cherry’s Eternal Rhythm Orchestra, Michał Urbaniak, and Vesala.
His debut album “Music for K,” was released by Polskie Nagrania Muza in 1970. He has recorded 10 albums with the German record label ECM, starting with his 1976 debut “Balladyna.”
When Stanko started losing his teeth in the early 1990s due to substance abuse, he learned to play with false teeth. He signed with ECM again and released “Matka Joanna” in 1994, followed by numerous albums, including some with other labels. Stanko received accolades throughout Europe, including the European jazz prize in 2002.
He published his autobiography, “Desperado,” in 2010. Stanko also composed for films and theater. The suite “Polin” premiered in 2014 and was dedicated to the memory of Polish Jews who died in the Holocaust.
In 2008, Stanko finally fulfilled his dream of living in Europe. In 2012 he formed transatlantic band New York Quartet with pianist David Virelles, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Gerald Cleaver. They played jazz clubs in New York and their last recorded album was “December Avenue” (2017). Stanko’s last album, “Wislawa,” was released in 2013.
Stanko is survived by his daughter and manager, Ania, his sister, Jaga Stanko Ekelund, and his ex-wife, Joanna Stanko.