Feature/Interview

Jerry & The Pelican System

Jerry & The Pelican System is a project led by young Polish saxophonist and composer Jerzy Mączyński. The avant-garde musician will perform via a stream of a concert recorded in Poznań at the EFG London Jazz Festival 2020 on Sunday 22 November at 7:30 pm. Interview by Tomasz Furmanek:

Jerzy Mączyński

Jerzy Mączyński. Publicity photo supplied

LondonJazz News: What is Jerry & The Pelican System?

Jerzy Mączyński: The project has an open form when it comes to line up, and the music I write is multi-dimensional and multi-genre; that’s why I work with different musicians from all over the world. This project has many faces, but one of the main ones is the quartet, i.e. Wiktoria Jakubowska, Marcel Baliński, Franciszek Pospieszalski and me. I also perform with other bands and in various collaborations, but created Jerry & The Pelican System three and a half years ago as the main project for my own music. 

LJN: Where and when was the material that will be shown as part of EFG London Jazz Festival 2020 recorded? Was there an audience?

JM: It was recorded on 25 September 2020 during our concert at CK Zamek in Poznań, Poland, with an audience at 50% capacity – which I consider to be a great achievement at the present time. What we recorded was the premiere of our new concert repertoire.

LJN: What is this repertoire based on? To what extent is it improvised?

JM: It is entirely based on the Jerry & The Pelican System Virtual Tour project, an online project series involving artists from around the world, which I created as a response to the demand for a virtual cultural offer during the coronavirus pandemic. For this culminating gig I used graphic scores and a whole lot of samples obtained during the process of creating compositions for the Virtual Tour. We tried to make a musical reference to all the previous episodes of the project – this was the greatest inspirational platform for us to create improvisational spaces.

LJN: Where did the name Jerry & The Pelican System come from? 

JM: The name came about quite spontaneously. You could interpret it as my own “pelican-like” system of creating music, often based on seemingly absurd connections that may come from, for example, the combination of musicians for a given concert or stylistic connections within one composition. You can compare such connections to the structure of a pelican, where everything seems asymmetrical – large beak, small body, wide webbed feet…

Jerzy Mączyński

Jerzy Mączyński. Publicity photo supplied

LJN: What musical influences have shaped your style?

JM: It’s hard for me to answer this question fully, because the formation of my musical language is a continuous process. I started with American jazz, I learned from following John Coltrane’s path to more contemporary saxophonists like Canadian tenorist Seamus Blake, with whom I had classes many times. From there I moved to a more European sound. During my studies, I became fascinated with Jan Garbarek and the improvised scene in Scandinavia and Germany, which is quite far removed from jazz standards. Peter Brötzmann, German free jazz saxophonist and clarinettist, is one of my greatest inspirations, also Mats Gustafsson, Swedish free jazz saxophone player.

LJN: What is it about the improvisational style embedded in the European avant-garde that inspires you?

JM: At some point I simply realised what kind of musicians speak to me most when it comes to playing the saxophone and composition. The process started at the beginning of my studies in Poland, and later, at the end of my studies at the American Berklee College of Music it was confirmed that I am closer to the music of artists raised in Europe. It is related to the sense of aesthetics, culture and history. Education at Berklee was one of the best things in my life, but it made me realise that I didn’t want to pursue music based on compositions from American musicals (jazz standards) and develop my musical language based on it. I decided that I want to play music inspired by the improvisational style that prevails in Europe. However, my inspirations are so extensive that basically every music inspires me, every style. I am trying to mix it all up and create new structures.

LJN: Do you find there to be a particular uniqueness to the Scandinavian jazz scene that inspires you?

JM: The uniqueness is primarily in its aesthetics and sound. Respect for space. The language of improvisation based on the individualism of each artist. The Scandinavian scene has always attracted me with its simplicity and, at the same time, extraordinary sophistication. This is where American musicians like Albert Ayler fled to play free jazz. Whenever I have listened to musicians from there, I have always felt and still feel this extraordinary freedom.

LJN: And what fascinated you especially about Jan Garbarek and his music?

JM: The sound! And a wide interest in world music. I was very inspired by how he was able to weave his musical language, shaped on free jazz, in conversations with various musicians.

LJN: You were at the Berklee campus in Valencia, Spain?

JM: Studying at the Valencia branch of Boston’s Berklee College of Music was the best choice possible for me. While still in Denmark, where I finished my BA studies, I was looking for a place where I could do my MA. I simply applied and was accepted; the university also awarded me a scholarship and in 2018 I started studying Contemporary Music Performance there.

I met many wonderful people there, such as my friend Apoorva Krishna, an outstanding Indian violinist, with whom I went on tour all over India in autumn 2019. I also learned a lot about music production and got inspired by electronic music – I am currently working on the second album of Jerry & The Pelican System, which will be entirely based on electronic sounds.

LJN: Your previous, debut album was released in 2019 in the Polish Jazz series and contains music that defies classification. How did the release come about?

JM: I created this material without knowing where I would release it. I invested money in recording the music while studying in Denmark, and I didn’t look for help anywhere. I only sent the music to the Polskie Nagrania label, but as fate would have it, the then director of Warner Music Poland and for a long time the curator of the Polish Jazz series, Piotr Kabaj, appeared at our concert in Warsaw. He really liked the material and said that what we recorded fits the direction in which the Polish Jazz series is going, as well as with what was previously recorded and released in this unique, specific series. I’ve signed an artistic contract with this label and the release of the second album is planned for spring 2021.

LINKS: Jerzy Maczynski’s website

Jerry & The Pelican System at EFG London Jazz Festival 2020

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