Photo credit Lukasz Gawronski
Pianist and composer Leszek Możdżer is one of the great revelations of the last decade in Polish jazz. His most successful album to date, Komeda, released on the ACT label in 2011 went to No.1 in Poland and achieved double platinum sales..He will be performing solo in Friday 5 October at London’s Kings Place as part of the London Piano Festival. Interview by Tomasz Furmanek:
LondonJazz News: In your 2012 interview with LJN (link below) you shared the following reflection: “I don’t think I’ve recorded an important cd yet, my best recordings are still ahead of me”. Has the important album appeared already, and if so, which one would it be?
Leszek Możdżer: I think that such an important album may be the one recorded last year with the Holland Baroque band. This is my first CD recorded in a style that I have always dreamed about and which I intuitively imagined. This album, entitled Earth Particles, it’s a first step towards music inspired by the disciplines of classical and jazz, where the goal is to achieve a high temperature of emotions while maintaining a sophisticated form. I have the impression that on this album I managed to achieve it for the first time!
LJN: You were predicting “the great come back of classical music in the charts” some time ago, and always emphasized the importance of combining classical music with other genres, especially jazz. Is Earth Particles the fulfilment of your idea on how to incorporate classical music into your work and present it to the contemporary listener?
LM: I realize that the audiences that listen to music are masses of people that are very diverse in terms of intellectual development, spiritual development, etc … I had such a rather unwise dream that classical music would become its own form of popular music, but it probably will never get so popular because of the fact that it is simply much more refined and advanced formally and sonically, and it fully exploits the twelve-tone system, which is a twelve-unit mathematical system. Substantially, in order to fully receive messages encoded in this system, one needs to have experienced classical music ideally from the childhood.
LJN: So, for a person who has not absorbed the matter and form of classical music, the reception could be difficult or, to some extent, impossible?
LM: It can be quite complicated. It should be noted that the harmonic and melodic substance of pop songs, mainly American, are based on the pentatonic scale, which consists of only five sounds. The 12-voice system, due to the fact that it is more advanced, becomes slightly less understandable for people who have not had time to get used to it. And pop music of today has become hugely simplified in comparison to what we listened to in the 1960s and 1970s. Mathematically speaking, modern popular music has fewer components than popular music in the 60s-80s so it provides fewer operations to be processed by the mind during listening.
LJN: There are quite a few albums in your discography devoted to Chopin and his music. Is Fryderyk Chopin the most important composer for you?
LM: Chopin is important for every Pole, and he is an extremely important icon in our collective consciousness, same as Paderewski, who was one of the most important prime ministers in Polish history, and yet he was also a performing pianist. Chopin’s music is very close to many Poles… I will be honest with you and say that the impetus for recording Chopin came from outside influences and if not for this, I would not have begun a project to play Chopin as jazz. I, of course, love Chopin’s music no more and no less than any other pianist, but I made these records only because I received such orders from the producer.
LJN: You are valued for your sublime style of playing. There are often opinions that your music has something mystical about it, and you seem to be a quite spiritual person. Do you also see yourself that way?
LM: I am interested in everything that happens in the sphere that I only can sense. For many people it is clear that there is some mystery in the process of life, and that the matter, that is what we see, is not everything we participate in – and this of course is very interesting to me. I realize, however, that you have to be specific in a world of matter, that is, do very specific things here on planet Earth. We can talk about spirituality, with the proviso that we will never come to any significant understanding on this issue, because the higher dimensions always contact a single person only with the help of concepts that the person has already developed, and each person has a different set of concepts, other language will speak to him, words cannot be reached on matters of spiritual reality. Spiritual reality is only and exclusively an idea to each individual person. Each person who speaks about his own spirituality in their own language is right.
LJN: Can we then say, that you are a sensitive man who keeps his feet firmly on the ground, but sometimes you are able to touch some higher sphere too?
LM: Music is a promise of a better world and is an expression of some sort of reality that is beyond the material world- good music! I myself sometimes do not quite understand what is going on during my concerts, but very often I have intuitive vibes from the audience that something that could be called a spiritual event happens. But this is not a merit of mine, nor do I have any influence on it.
LJN: Is there any difference, from your point of view, between playing at a venue with a small audience or one where you have many thousand?
LM: I have the impression that the number of people that come to a concert does not determine the quality of the event. I do not know exactly what components are necessary for a good concert to take place. I must admit that the amount of people from my point of view does not matter, although I think I prefer to play in larger halls.
LJN: What are your interests or passions away from music?
LM: I am interested in the issue of consciousness itself, I try to read a lot about it, because the phenomenon of consciousness is fascinating for me and I would like to know as much as possible about it. In addition, I am fascinated by nature. Simply nature, and its contact with creation, the world of animals and plants. I am fascinated by every natural phenomenon and I must admit that I am more and more amazed by the perfection of the world around me, the number of plant and animal species, the perfection of the human body structure … It truly fascinates me, amazes me and delights me!
LJN: You manage to continuously maintain that very important element of enthusiasm and fervour, which, at the beginning of your career on the “jass scene” in Poland, made the audiences love you! It is still there?
LM: Yes, yes! … however, it seems to me that it is impossible to develop as an artist without reaching for spiritual practices. Show business will disappoint you, the partners will let you down, the money will turn out to be made of paper, the system will turn out to be tricky – the only thing that can be grabbed at least for a moment is the spiritual reality that allows you to preserve the zealousness of performing music, which is necessary to make people want to buy a ticket at all.
LJN: What is your spiritual reality like? How does it manifest itself?
LM: I practice self-observation, i.e. I try to actively and consciously participate in all processes that take place in my body and in my consciousness.
LJN: So the key to learning about the world around us is self-knowledge? Looking at yourself you deepen your contact with the world?
LM: Yes. The best portal to enter into spiritual reality is simply your own body.
LJN: Going back to music. You have participated in a huge amount of musical collaborations with many outstanding musicians, but you often come back to working with Lars Danielsson. What do you value most about him?
LM: First of all, he is a musician who has a very classical approach to sound. He is interested in noble sound, and he has respect for the sound of his instrument. We are looking for beauty in the same areas because we were both brought up on classical literature, we perceive similar things as beautiful, and all that makes it easier to communicate on stage. He also has such a beautiful persona – he is a very friendly musical partner, very supportive. This is the thing that actually promotes his genius and that you want to play with him. There are many musicians to whom I will not call again, because they are busy fulfilling some plan of their own, while Lars is an extremely supportive musician on stage. This is something that I value in him the most, in addition to his incredible technique, melodiousness and control of the instrument – his kindness which actually is an aspect of his soul.
LJN: At King’s Place you will perform solo – what will you play and what kind of repertoire can we expect?
LM: I do not know! I do not know what will I play yet …
LJN: So you’ll decide the very last minute…?
LM: I have that pleasure and privilege that I can create the course of the concert spontaneously, depending on the atmosphere, what form I am in, in what mood … It also gives me a possibility of expressing various emotions that would keep appearing… Most often, the concert organizer has enough confidence in me not to require from me a program of the show in advance – which is the case here. I will just create the course of the concert spontaneously!