KOMEDA: The giant of Polish jazz

MARTYNA KIELEK / Senior Music Editor

It is not possible to talk about Polish jazz (which I intend to make one of my regular topics here, among other types of jazz and occasionally blues music) without bringing up the composer and pianist Krzysztof Komeda. His enormous talent (displayed during a time in communist-governed Poland when there was hardly any jazz scene to speak of), his international success and his brutal death (he succumbed to his injuries after falling off an escarpment in Los Angeles during a drunken party at only 37 years old) made him one of the biggest legends of Polish music.

Even today, more than 50 years after his death, his influence remains strong. If you are a jazz musician in Poland, you will likely pay tribute to Komeda at some point. Many contemporary Polish jazz artists will find any excuse under the sun to insert his name on the cover of their album, because, simply put, Komeda sells. A recent attempt was made by a band called Weezdob Collective – with lyrics written by Komeda’s adoptive son, about Komeda, but no Komeda’s original music. The reception of the album by Polish music critics was unfavourable, to put it mildly.

The genius of Komeda lives on. There even exists a Swedish pop band called “Komeda”, with the name having been chosen “in honour of” by the band’s own admission (they initially chose the name “Cosma Komeda”, but the name of French composer Vladimir Cosma was dropped, and he avoided this rather peculiar type of tribute). But isn’t the best way to honour him simply by enjoying his own music?

Although his life was brutally interrupted at a young age, Komeda was an incredibly prolific artist. His movie scores (and there are dozens of them) are the biggest part of his back catalogue, along with a handful of albums unrelated to cinema and a few live recordings.

Does his music stand the test of time? While his best-known work will forever remain the haunting lullaby from Rosemary’s Baby, I would like to invite you to discover two other pieces and make up your own mind. The first one is from the soundtrack to the 1960 Polish movie Innocent sorcerers. It is a great testament to Komeda’s ability to write a brilliant theme that can easily exist on its own, independently of the film. The second video is an excerpt from Komeda’s 1966 album Astigmatic. More experimental and less “easy on the ears”, it helped shaped the European jazz aesthetic and it perfectly showcases Komeda’s genius.

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