Live review

Jakub Paulski Trio wins Jazz Juniors Competition, Kraków 2019

Jazz Juniors Festival and Competition
(Piec Art Acoustic Jazz Club and other venues, 27-30 November 2019. Report by Mary James)

The 43rd Jazz Juniors Competition 2019 Kraków was won by Jakub Paulski Trio from Poland. The prize is an album recording plus festival concerts in Poland, Croatia, China, Italy and Canada. Not surprising then that the winner said he felt the responsibility as well as the honour of winning when next year will bring undreamed-of opportunities. What’s special about this event is that it sits at the heart of a four day world class festival which presented adventurous programming alongside the rigours of a competition and valuable networking and learning experiences for young musicians.

Jakub Paulski. Photo © Michał Łepecki.

This year the auditions took place in the cosy basement venue Piec Art Acoustic Jazz Club, just off the main square, and the jury comprised Artistic Director of the Festival Adam Pierończyk, Anna Gadt and Will Vinson. I was pleased to see the inclusion of a woman on the panel. Competition entries (many more than last year) were sent anonymously to jury members and six bands (all male by chance) selected to audition. There were to have been eight but lack of domestic funding for travel costs meant that the two overseas bands selected could not attend.

The winning band Jakub Paulski Trio comprises Jakub Paulski, guitars; Tymon Trąbczyński, double bass and Maksymilian Olszewski, percussion. Their music was catchy, upbeat, spacious and enjoyable, especially when heard again in the more relaxed winners’ concert. There was an unshowy quality about Paulski’s lyrical playing with beautiful thoughtful phrasing.

Second prize was won by The Cuban Latin Jazz and third by Kwaśny Deszcz (Acid Rain).

Mention must be made of the duo of Jakub Klemensiewicz, saxophone and Dominik Kisiel, piano who played arrangements of Polish folk tunes about the lives of fishermen. Classical and melancholic, subtle electronics ghosted seagulls, fog and wind, this was an impressive duo that missed out on a prize but who demonstrated that even under the pressure of competition, you can hint at your soul.

With the competition over, the pressure did not let up for the young musicians. Each band took part in a session with Michal Hajduk of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute where the artists picked a question at random and had to respond (in English). Hardest of all seemed to be “You are standing next to a festival director in a lift. You have 30 seconds to impress him.” But these searching challenges highlighted the many other skills that a young musician must master in addition to being best in class and maintaining your mental and physical health.

There were two panel discussions as part of the networking aspect where we heard different interpretations of what success might mean for a musician. For one it was to appear on the front cover a magazine, another strongly disagreed that this was a measure of meaningful success, preferring instead to have a lifetime of personal growth and integrity (perhaps these are not mutually exclusive?). And we heard of the development of a booking agency database which uses metrics such as fee levels, social media impact, gross domestic product across countries, review quantities and 50 other indicators to work out the “market value” of an artist. One musician did not like the sound of this but could this be the future of artist booking? Another question was “Why do the fees of US musicians go up when they come to play in Poland?” There was an evasive answer but it highlighted the other side of the business, the nuts and bolts of running events.

And for 20 saxophonists of all ages there was the opportunity to spend 90 minutes with Soweto Kinch in a generously supportive and humour-led workshop which started with seemingly simple tasks such as clapping exercises which became increasingly complicated when combined with having to listen out for random number cues whilst playing your sax and moving your feet. My admiration for all participants knew no bounds!

So this event was definitely more than just another competition. Next year I believe the format will be amended to compress the competition aspect into a shorter period, meaning fewer days away from work, enabling musicians from the UK (and elsewhere) to apply and benefit from this supportive and career-changing event. I strongly recommend it and wish that the UK had a similar event and network.

Mary James was a guest of Jazz Juniors in association with the Adam Mickiewicz Institute. The festival is organised by the Fundacja Muzyki Filmowej i Jazzowej.

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