INTERVIEW: Polish Pianist Vladyslav Sendecki (first UK appearance in his own name, 24 March)

Vladyslav Sendecki
Photo credit: Artur Szczepaniak

VLADYSLAV SENDECKI, an icon of Polish jazz, has been pianist of the NDR Big Band in Hamburg since 1996. He is a charismatic player, composer, arranger and producer, and was  named by Village Voice as one of the world’s top five jazz pianists.

Colin Towns has written of him: 

"Many musicians have a powerful technique that amazes and surprises.
Others have a simple but powerful message.
Vladyslav lives his music with technique, simplicity, virtuosity and love.
Very few piano players can tell the stories that he does” .

Michael Gibbs says: 

"I've worked with Vlady for eons and do so love him –
he's monstrous!!
He can come up with a concerto in 3 beats' (crotchets that is!) rest -
whether asked for or not –
and will, with the grace of the ultimate pro,
refrain from playing it if asked.
My experience though finds that those unrequested
bursts of inspiration are often so masterly – 
that, Hey! – yeah I'd say – keep that in."

In advance of his two-piano concert at Pizza Express on 24 March (two houses) with Gwilym Simcock, Tomasz Furmanek interviewed him:

Tomasz Furmanek: In Poland, in the '70s, your career was developing fast as one of the best and most creative musicians on the Polish jazz scene. You played with the best.

Vladyslav Sendecki: Yes, it’s true. During my classical piano studies at the Academy of Music in Kraków I was often jamming in various jazz clubs, and one day when chatting with Jarek Śmietana we decided to form a band. We were both leading it and both writing the music. Extra Ball was basically the two of us, but of course we had many great musicians with us in the band. Jarek, who was older than me and more experienced, was also involved in the business side of it. I was more into playing and rehearsing at that time. We recorded our first album in 1976, and after a while we achieved a tremendous success. Shortly after Jarek started to push us into a more Joe Pass type of mainstream jazz, which wasn’t so much my thing… so I said “ok, you can keep Extra Ball and I am going to do something else”. And so I started the Sunship. We recorded an album in 1978 and we were doing very well. At more or less the same time I also joined Zbigniew Namysłowski’s famous Air Condition band.

TF: And shortly after you chose to live in exile. What’s your story?

VS: Unfortunately I was deeply affected by politics and the social situation in Poland, and I became very depressed by it. I felt I almost got into a sort of lethargy. I got engaged in the anti-communist movements and events. I took part in many underground performances, which the communist regime did not like. I went through a lot of stress and harassment. My family eventually got expropriated and I received an “invitation” to a military complex (which was more commonly known as a military prison). I knew I had to escape, my passport was confiscated. It was a very, very hard time. I wanted to raise my kids in a civilized place where respect and honorary rules play a major role in the society. Economically, however, I was doing very, very well.

A lot to talk about, but to cut it short, I ended up in Switzerland.

TF: What happened after you left Poland? How did “The West” receive you?

VS: “The West”… well… it was easy in a way. Musicians called me immediately, like Billy Cobham… There were studio recordings, film music… but I had to learn to talk about the money, and I had to do it quick. You know what I mean. I´ve learned my lesson.

TF: The Polski Jazz Ensemble – how important was that project and time for your artistic development and for building your position abroad?

VS: The Polski Jazz Ensemble was a very important time for me. We played some deep stuff. I was full of Coltrane since ever, so I could play myself out. Besides, we were and still are friends, there were times when we simply couldn´t even stop and to get up from our instruments. It was hugely inspiring and fulfilling. We also collected money for Solidarity in Poland. This gave us even more sense and purpose. Did it help building my position abroad? I don´t know. People respected us, and that´s all I know.

TF: Your long term cooperation with the NDR Big Band, the Radio Orchestra from Hamburg, was an important stage for you as a jazz artist in Germany. How did it start?

VS: It was at the time when I wasn’t very happy with my life. Switzerland didn’t seem the country where music and arts were an existential part for society. In my opinion in Switzerland jazz was treated worse than any other form of music or art. I brought a small revolution over there, being well educated classical piano player who chose playing jazz. It was in contrast to what was happening on the scene that time over there. For me, music and all other important things were in other countries, so I worked with Americans a lot, not to say mainly. If it comes to Swiss musicians, some were very good but… there didn’t seem to be much scene for them in their country… I started to produce music, even write songs, and built a small pre-production studio. After a while I got an offer from Berlin to make it big, but I pretty soon got tired with dealing with singers, record companies, “studio musician mentality”, A&Rs and the whole business… NDR kept inviting me to join their productions since the '80s, so when they found out I would be around in Germany they gave me a call. It was the right moment. I could be interacting with musicians again. NDR Band is a great band. They are a living organism which is very alive. And it is good to be there.





TF: At some stage New York's Village Voice named you as one of the five best pianists in the world. How would you comment on that today?

VS: I actually never saw the Village Voice. I remember once an older guy came to me after my concert in New York to congratulate me, he was amazed and he said that he had decided to come to see me because Village Voice wanted to write about the concert. That’s all I can say. It could have been around 1986… The rest I have read from lexicons or newspapers which wrote about me and I got a few calls from NY. Nice, and that’s more or less it. Music is not a sport. I love all the other piano players and admire their work more than my own. I didn’t really collect any press notes or articles about me. Whatever few I had from the past got lost at some stage when I was moving flats. Maybe that was a mistake. Now when I try to put my page together, I can see I should have kept it.

TF: The list of your collaborations with great jazz musicians is an impressive one – just to mention a few, names like Billy Cobham, Michael and Randy Brecker, Larry Coryell, Didier Lockwood, Jaco Pastorius, Michał Urbaniak… What was Jaco Pastorius like?

VS: I was lucky to work with some of the greatest jazz musicians. Most of them were wonderful, big hearted people who had their own, great visions of the world, music or arts in general. Unfortunately some squandered their talent for cheap applause and a full pocket. In the late '80s, I think, I recorded an album together with a French guitarist Biréli Lagrène and Jaco Pastorius. The album was called Stuttgart Aria, and a few of the tracks we composed together. After that we went on the European tour. Jaco was a guy with very natural musical instinct, but unfortunately, in my opinion, he wasn´t strong enough to take the advantages of his amazing talent.

TF: Your suite Anima Mundi, performed together with NDR Big Band during Summer Jazz Festival in Kraków, impressed many people. 

VS: I went to Kraków in 2009 with NDR and Maria Schneider, Joao Bosco, Joe Lovano and Nils Landgren. It was my official return to Poland after 27 Years of not being there! One evening at the festival we played my Anima Mundi composition, which is a work interpreting the communication and creative and loving attitude when dealing with strangers, and understanding and encompassing the unknown which is our human purpose and gives meaning to our existence… It is saying how inspiring it is to have all of it around you, and to be able to play and have fun with it.

Technically, it was the first and so far the only big band production using samples in such a way. Samples, of course, are nothing new anymore, but I mean the way they were used in that composition…. It was a lot of work, but the effect was and still is so exciting. (REVIEW)

TF: You often say that you don’t insist on recording many solo piano albums, however could you say something about the last one, Solo Piano at Schloss Elmau?

VS: If it comes to recordings… well, I am working everyday on broadening my horizons as a musician and to be a better human being. There is not much time left for running after record deals… I have known Siggi Loch, the owner of ACT, for many, many years. This album is very OK, but I personally prefer one recorded for an English label Provocateur Records. It is much more intimate.

TF: Your duo concert with Gwilym Simcock is imminent. What can the London audiences expect on 24 March?

VS: I love Gwilym, he is a very creative artist and he is very dedicated to music. I am happy to play with him and I am looking forward to an adventure of experiencing his thoughts. It will definitely be spontaneous, exciting, fresh, inspiring, lovely and great! (laughter). I am looking forward to it all and to being in London… See you, everyone, at the gig.

Gwilym Simcock & Vladyslav Sendecki
Steinway Festival 2018
Pizza Express (Soho)
24 March 2018, 7:30pm and 10:30pm
Tickets £25 Booking Link

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