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The Brubecks Play Live In Poland

by Howard Lawes


In 2008 Dave Brubeck was awarded the prestigious Benjamin Franklin Award for Public Diplomacy by the then US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice thanking the jazz musician for his "patriotic attitude, leadership in representing America, bringing the language, sounds and spirit of jazz to new generations around the world". The award was made close to the 50th anniversary of a tour during which the Dave Brubeck Quartet performed in countries such as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Poland. Dave Brubeck recalled that "jazz was and is a voice of freedom. People in the former satellite countries of the USSR longed for freedom and took great risks playing this music". Then he sat down at the piano and played Dziękuję (meaning Thank You in Polish and pronouced 'jen-KOO-yeh') an improvised piece composed 50 years ago at the end of the tour in Poland, dedicated to his mother who loved the music of Fryderyk Chopin.


Here is a video from 2010 in which Dave Brubeck introduces and plays Dziękuję.




Dave Brubeck's son Darius revisited Poland (he was on the original tour in 1958 aged 10) three times in 2018 and his recent release Live In Poland by the Darius Brubeck Quartet - Darius Brubeck (piano), Dave O'Higgins (tenor sax), Matt Ridley (bass) and Wesley Gibbens (drums), commemorates his father's ground-breaking tour, one of several tours by American jazz musicians, sponsored by the US government during the period of international tension called the 'Cold War' that followed World War 2.

After WW2 the world was dominated by two superpowers, the USA and its allies in western Europe who advocated free markets, democracy and personal freedom and the Soviet Union with its Eastern Bloc republics together with China who espoused the revolutionary ideas proposed by Marx and Lenin in the Communist Manifesto such as public ownership, state control and revolution. Communism was of Willis Conovercourse renounced by western governments but racial discrimination and the treatment of African Americans in the USA provided the Eastern Bloc with a powerful weapon with which to criticise Western society. 

As has been mentioned during the 80th anniversary commemorations of the Blue Note Record label it took two expatriate Germans to properly support African American jazz musicians who had been suffering blatant discrimination and segregation.  To counter criticism about race relations and also to expose the inhabitants of countries dominated by the Soviet Union to Western culture it was decided to embark on a propaganda war using radio stations such as 'Voice of America' to broadcast news and entertainment into the Eastern Bloc. Willis Conover was one of the broadcasters on 'Voice of America' whose programme Music USA began in 1956 and provided listeners with some of the best of American jazz music - if they were able to receive it despite the jamming of radio signals by communist authorities.


Willis Conover


Jazz had a following in Poland from the 1920s,  the Karasiński and Kataszek Jazz - Tango Orchestra became Warsaw's most popular dance orchestra and even toured Europe and the Middle East in the 1930s. Another very popular band during what could be called Poland's Jazz Age was the Petersburski and Gold Orchestra. In the middle 1930s, among the many Jewish immigrants that arrived from Germany during the rise of the Nazis, were several established jazz musicians such as trumpeter Ady Rosner who further strengthened the reach and appeal of jazz music in Polish cities.  However everything changed after the invasion of Poland by both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in September 1939 leading to years of brutal repression and then more conflict as Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. The Polish state was re-established in 1945 but under Soviet domination after the Nazis were expelled by combined Soviet and Polish military action.  




Poland became a Communist Peoples' Republic with a Stalinist leader and as such art and culture were restricted to what was acceptable to the government; those who strayed from the party line risked severe sanctions if discovered. Despite the dangers, an underground Polish jazz scene became established and in one article, it was written about how from 1947 the movement was led by a band called 'Melomani' (The Music Aficionados) that included  'The Founding Fathers of Polish Jazz': Jerzy 'Duduś Matuszkiewicz (leader, saxophones, and clarinet), Andrzej Trzaskowski (piano), and Krzysztof Komeda (piano).



In 1948 a jazz club was formed at the YMCA in Krakow and in 1954, on the only day when they were all available – 2nd November – Polish jazz musicians gathered in the gym of the primary school at Królowej Jadwigi Street; their jam session gave rise to the Kraków All Souls “Zaduszki” Jazz Festival. Slowly and carefully jazz music re-established itself in Poland, factors such as the death of Stalin in 1953 (leading to a re-appraisal of communist ideology) and protests and rioting in Poznan in 1956 and elsewhere against the communist government, resulted in a more liberal, although still communist regime which was led by Wladislaw Gomulka; and Willis Conover's Voice of America jazz programmes from 1956 had a very significant impact.



There is a video we can watch of the Melomani band playing although the date is not given:




By the time Dave Brubeck arrived in Poland in 1958 the Krakow Jazz Club was flourishing having organised its 4th All Souls “Zaduszki” Jazz Festival.  The response to Brubeck’s first concert, performed in Szczecin on the border between Poland and East Germany, was rapturous. “It was uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time,” recalls Darius Brubeck in an interview with TIME magazine,  “Our whole era of propaganda and demonization just evaporated in seconds.”  The Dave Brubeck Quartet played 12 concerts throughout Poland and received rapturous applause wherever he went - he is quoted as saying "No dictatorship can tolerate jazz, it is the first sign of a return to freedom".  The last concert in Poznan, where up to 100 people had died during the anti-government protests less than 2 years previously, was applauded wildly by thousands after Brubeck played that specially composed piece, inspired both by Chopin and the loss of life entitled Dziękuję -'Thank You'. 


A film on YouTube gives a brief but revealing description of the tour:




and there is a great deal more background here which makes fascinating reading. 


The "Cultural" Cold War had begun in 1954 when President Eisenhower arranged for US orchestras and performers to travel overseas as part of a diplomacy programme, the Soviets responded with the Bolshoi Ballet.  It was an African-American congressman, Adam Powell, who first suggested that mixed-race jazz bands would be particularly effective emissaries and Powell's friend Dizzy Gillespie was the first to tour countries thought to be at risk from Soviet expansion in 1956.  Brubeck and other Brubecks In Poland 1958jazz musicians such as Louis Armstrong travelled the world to promote their country and show that racially-integrated bands existed within American culture. The irony of the situation, particularly in the light of events such as Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957 when nine black students were physically prevented from attending a high school by the National Guard was not lost on these musicians. Louis Armstrong, in response to Little Rock incident cancelled a trip to Russia which some believe influenced Eisenhower to overrule the Arkansas governor and allow the black students to study where they wished.  Dave Brubeck, with his wife Iola composed a musical production called "The Real Ambassadors" in the hope that the production would be performed on Broadway; this was not to be but excerpts were performed at the 1962 Monterey Jazz Festival starring Louis Armstrong, Carmen McCrae, Dave Brubeck, Lambert, Hendricks and Yolande trio with Iola Brubeck narrating.

Dave, Iola, Darius and Michael in Poland
Picture attributed to the University of California.




Dave Brubeck tour festival programme cover



The production's lofty ideals are described in the festival programme: "The theme of The Real Ambassadors is contained in the title. Louis Armstrong, Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie - all of whom have made extensive and highly acclaimed overseas tours under the auspices of the U. S. Department of State - are the "real ambassadors" representing America to foreign peoples. And since jazz has become an international language and a force for world understanding, it may well be that the very phrase "foreign peoples" will one day become happily archaic."


Festival programme cover



The Darius Brubeck Quartet's commemorative album was recorded at 'Blue Note' in Poznan during a tour of the same seven cities where Dave Brubeck had performed in 1958.  In Szczecin, Darius Brubeck was deeply moved to find a section of the Polish National Museum dealing with the history of popular uprisings associated his father's tour and the beginning of the movement that liberated Poland from Soviet domination and that led to Polish independence in 1989.  One of the documents in the museum at Szczecin describes a reaction to Dave Brubeck's performance - "It was associated with another, free, better world and, like any forbidden fruit, tasted extraordinary. It was not just music but a lifestyle. Jazz was a promise of something different, more colorful and free than the cardinal reality of the People's Republic of Poland." Darius Brubeck says of his 2018 tour "Suffused with political meaning for the audience and my boyhood memories of witnessing the devastation left by war with my late brother Michael and my parents, this was no ordinary tour".  

And of course Live In Poland is no ordinary album, Darius Brubeck plays two of his father's compositions, In Your Own Sweet Way and Dziękuję, certainly not imitating them and with Dave O'Higgins on tenor saxophone as opposed to the alto saxophone of Paul Desmond in the Dave Brubeck Quartet there is quite a distinctive difference both in sound and improvisational approach. 


Listen to In Your Own Sweet Way.




The arrangement of Paul Desmond's Take 5 on the album certainly departs from the very famous original and quite apart from the saxophone, Wesley Gibbens creates a drum solo that is also very different but nevertheless very impressive.


Listen to that version of Take 5.




The album includes a great track credited to Hugh Masekela called Nomali; Masekela fled South Africa in 1960 when his activities against apartheid put him in danger from the authorities. Darius Brubeck taught jazz in South Africa and formed the first mixed race student band from a South African university continuing the family tradition of promoting human rights.  Other tracks on the album are composed by Darius Brubeck - Earthrise, Matt the Cat and the very evocative Sea of Troubles in which Brubeck thoughtfully uses dynamics, melody, interplay and crescendo to create a really great original sound.

There must be very few jazz albums with a more compelling backstory than Live in Poland. Darius Brubeck is following in the footsteps of "The Real Ambassadors" continuing his father's drive to make jazz an international language and a force for world understanding and he is also playing great jazz.


Listen to Darius Brubeck's version of Dziękuję from the album.




Click here for details and samples of the album.


Darius Brubeck Quartet


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Tom Bancroft - In Common
Hard Bop - Leo Richardson Quartet
Video Juke Box
Jazz As Art

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