Tomasz Stanko, who died this week at 76, was more than an important Polish trumpeter and composer, though he was certainly both of those things.
Through his ceaseless push toward formal elasticity and lyrical melancholy, he helped create a distinctly European jazz language, one with many sources of inspiration but its own character and flavor. He started out in an avant-garde capacity, influenced by the freedom-seeking music of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. He never lost that fire, though in later years he connected it to a softer and more melodic style, to excellent effect.
For a while, around the turn of this decade, Stanko kept an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, to connect with the scene in New York and fulfill his longtime attraction to the energy of the Big Apple. In 2010, shortly after ECM released his album Dark Eyes, Stanko welcomed Josh Jackson to the apartment for an interview on The Checkout.
"I think now I am more close to the tradition in jazz," he told Jackson, acknowledging that lyricism had become his guiding predisposition. They also touched on Stanko's early exposure to jazz, under Communist rule in the 1950s; his enduring admiration for Miles Davis, on the trumpet and on the bandstand; and how "dirtiness is really important for art." Stanko also discusses what he regarded as a new bloom of serious intention in his work. "Because everything is going — time is going, everything is changing," he said. "Everything like a river, like water changing." Insightful and illuminating, this conversation gets to the heart of an artist who will be dearly missed.