Violinist Alicja Śmietana will be the focus of a special event in Polish Centenary Year at the POSK Theatre in Hammersmith on 29 June 2018. Sebastian interviewed her as she looks forward to the concert:
The Polish guitarist Jarek Śmietana (1951-2015) had a larger-than-life presence on the Polish jazz scene. He became a popular, charismatic and central figure and his name resonated with a wider public in Poland, and among émigré Poles as well.
If the aura of such figures tend to leave a mark on the wider national consciousness, they also have an impact much closer to home. Indeed, talking to his only child, his daughter the violinist Alicja Śmietana, who has devised and done all the arrangements for the forthcoming concert at Posk on 29 June, that influence, that legacy is still palpable: “I’ve put it together because of the legacy of my father. I am a classically trained violinist, but I grew up surrounded by jazz musicians, touring with jazz musicians. It was only a matter of time before I would jump into that.” And she quotes a favourite phrase of her father’s to describe jazz: “Once you try it there is no turning back.”
Alicja Śmietana grew up in Krakow and was trained at the Academy there, at the Guildhall School in London, and the Kronberg Academy in Germany. These days she has a varied career. She performs regularly with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, is one of the artistic directors of Nigel Kennedy’s Orchestra of Life – she and Kennedy have worked together off and on for 20 years. She also runs her own 10- to 11-piece string ensemble The Extra Sounds ensemble.
The Extra Sounds ensemble have recently recorded an album for the Munich-based label Solo Musica, a part of Sony. Śmietana is under contract to the label, and she likes that: “Solo Musica is a label within a label, and they allow you to record what you want. It’s great to have control to be treated as an artist rather than a product.” And there will be an important step for her and for them later in the year: she will make her first jazz album as leader with the Solo Musica.
The concert at Posk on 29 June is a major focus. When she describes the acts of transcribing or arranging, the way Alicja talked about it was not so much defensive as instinctive: “I have been arranging since I was a kid.” and then with a smile: “I am from the generation where you had to figure things out for yourself.”
And what of the programe? There is a need to mark the centenary of Poland as a country so the essentially Polish composers will be represented. Śmietana describes the eclectic mix: “Chopin, Szymanowski through to modern artists – and jazz standards.”
But there is also a distinctly personal agenda in place: she will be “going through things which have been most inspiring in my life. It’s like a diary of what I went through to get to the point where I am now”. It will be “a collage a mix of things from different eras but because I arrange it all there is a linking thread”. And it will include arrangements of a few of the 200 tunes which her father wrote. “I am trying to do something of my own with them,” she says.
And the musicians for 29 June? There is the singer-pianist Karen Edwards who has both Stevie Wonder and Prince among the names of musicians she has worked with. Edwards worked regularly with Jarek Smietana, and, as Alicja says: “I know she will be able to deal with whatever (musically) I throw at her.” Israeli-born, Berlin-trained Bassist Yaron Stavi also worked extensively with Jarek Śmietana – and did a tribute for LJN. The immensely in-demand drummer and percussionist Asaf Sirkis will also bring his special magic. A string quartet completes the line-up.
Alicja Śmietana sums it up as follows: “I have increasingly been involving myself in projects which combine the worlds in which I feel at home.” (pp)
This POSK music event is part of a series of concerts “Tomasz Furmanek invites …”
London, 29 June 2018
POSK Theatre Hall, 238 King Street, London W6
Music starts: 8pm
Tickets: £18 at the door, on Eventbrite and at POSK box office from 15 June 2018, 7pm-9pm, tel: 0208 742 6420
LINKS: Bookings for Alicja Smietana and Her Special Guests in London
POSK Polish Cultural Centre