Violinist/composer/arranger Alicja Śmietana has prepared a very special concert programme to celebrate the life and music of her late father, one of the legends of Polish jazz, guitarist Jarek Śmietana (1951-2013).
With her on stage at Jazz Cafe POSK on Saturday 23 April will be a top-flight UK trio: James Pearson on piano, Jeremy Brown on double bass, and Ed Richardson on drums.
Śmietana has been a member of some of the top chamber orchestras in Europe: the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and Kremerata Baltica. She was a founder-member and co-instigator with Nigel Kennedy of the Orchestra of Life. In 2010 she founded the Extra Sounds Ensemble, bringing together young talents from Poland, England and Australia.
Also a fine improviser, she performs in a wide range of jazz and contemporary music contexts, including the Quincy Jones Orchestra with Quincy himself, and with many other jazz artists: Jan Ptaszyn Wróblewski, Wojciech Karolak, Gwilym Simcock, Krzesimir Dębski, Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein, Darek Oleś… Interview/preview by Tomasz Furmanek (*):
LondonJazz News: What is the story of your father Jarek Śmietana’s “Jazz Suites”?
Alicja Śmietana: The suites are unbelievably unique pieces of work by my father. They consist of a beautiful collage of some of his early individual pieces (some dating back to the early 70s) and some more recent ones, but in this instance, they have been rearranged to form a type of symphonic poem. They were carefully picked by my father to form this unique set of compositions, and what’s fabulous about them is that they are incredibly flexible. They offer an infinite number of possibilities in terms of the way they can be performed which is why I have picked them for this particular concert.
Each suite (autumn and spring) has been arranged for a jazz combo (with different “star” instrumentalists in mind as special guests for the recordings and concerts) and a string orchestra. The original recording of the autumn suite has a phenomenal line up of jazz stars like Eddie Henderson, Ed Schuler, Bennie Maupin, Dave Liebman, Nigel Kennedy, along with Polish heroes such as my father and Krzesimir Dębski.
LJN: Do these pieces have a personal significance for you?
AŚ: This particular combination of classically written strings accompanied by a jazz ensemble is something I have always felt particularly comfortable with which is probably why these pieces have an even deeper meaning for me on both musical and emotional levels.
LJN: Have you played these suites before?
AŚ: I have performed them several times. And in fact, it was one of my first “jazz records”, as the first recording of the suite was created at the time of my life when my father thought it was appropriate to ask me to create an orchestra for him. So, this fact also has a strong meaning for me as it was practically the first professional project we ever did together on stage.
LJN: Is playing in a jazz quartet format something rather new to you or was it happening before?
AŚ: Jazz quartet is something that I’ve been involved with on and off for many years now, but which never really settled as a particular full time existing group. I think this particular line up is the beginning of something that will stay with us and the dear audience for a long time.
LJN: What is the story of your working with James Pearson?
AŚ: I’m so unbelievably lucky to have met James through some friends in common (my dear friends Nigel Kennedy and Lizzie Ball) and my religious visits to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz club where James has been artistic director for many years.
What immediately charmed me was his ability to switch from one genre to another within the same musical phrase and I immediately thought this is someone I can do so much with. James is an incredible instrumentalist and a fascinating person both on and off stage which I suppose is the key to a fruitful collaboration.
We are now beginning to work on our first album together which will consist of our favourite material of American composers who felt equally comfortable with jazz and classical music. So just like us.
LJN: Is jazz becoming more of a focus?
AŚ: Naturally yes, though I will never try to pretend I am a full-on jazz violinist. I certainly cannot imagine my life without this as a part of my career. I have been incredibly lucky to be able to collaborate with some incredible jazz musicians over the years and invite some of them to collaborate on my own projects. Perfect example of that was my “lockdown” split screen series which involved people like Larry Goldings, Darek Oleś, Peter Bernstein and many others.
LJN: What have you been doing musically lately, what are your plans?
AŚ: The whole period of lockdown was of course extremely difficult for almost all performers around the world. But it was a good opportunity to do something outside of the regular touring life.
Part of my career has always been devoted to arranging and during that whole period I managed to create quite a few unique arrangements which have recently premiered live at concerts in Poland and the UK.
I have also been lucky to have my first “official” composition for chamber orchestra and jazz combo called “Impressions on HMG” (based on themes by Henryk Mikolaj Górecki) premiered by the wonderful Silesia Philharmonic in December last year. So, I guess this whole period was devoted to developing all these skills that have been sizzling under the surface of never-ending touring and performing.
LJN: Please could you invite the audience for the Jazz Café POSK concert in your own words?
AŚ: It would be a great honour to see you all at JCP for a wonderful concert celebrating the life and music of my dearest father Jarek Śmietana. The star line up of my quartet with James Pearson, Jeremy Brown and Ed Richardson is an incredibly exciting perspective as we are about to offer you not only music by my father, but also music that inspired him and inspired me during my time with him, as the music in our house was always present day and night. All, including the arrangements of his music, will be unique and it would be wonderful to finally play live for you all.
(*) Tomasz Furmanek is Artistic Manager at Jazz Cafe Posk