Mikołaj Trzaska

Saxophonist, clarinettist, composer. He studied at the Faculty of Painting and the Multimedia Lab of the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk. Musically, he grew out of yass – an artistic and social movement that rebelled against the fossilisation of the Polish jazz community at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s. Together with Tymon Tymański and a group of several other non-doctrinal musicians, he changed the face of the Polish jazz music. Trzaska was the co-founder of the most important yass formation – the legendary Miłość (Love), and the leader of the equally creative Łoskot (Blaster). Though yass’s momentum faded many years ago, he has become a leading figure on the domestic improvisation scene. Later, he recorded a few focused and quiet albums with the Oleś Brothers section. He also accompanied poets, Marcin Świetlicki and Jurij Andruchowycz. He creates music and literary projects with writer Andrzej Stasiuk. Trzaska is also known as a film music composer, writing pieces for Wojciech Smarzowski’s films (The Dark House, 2009; Rose, 2011; Traffic Department, 2013; The Mighty Angel, 2014; Volhynia, 2016; Clergy, 2018). Today, he is the leader of the international quartet Inner Ear, the clarinet quartet IRCHA, the Danish-Polish trio Volumen, a member of, among others: Resonance – Ken Vandermark, Magic – Joe McPhee or the Shofar trio with Raphael Rogiński and Mac Moretti. Populariser of Jewish music, which has been a constant element in his work for several years. Above all, however, he expresses himself through radical contemporary free jazz. He travels the world, collaborating with the most important characters of free jazz and improvised music, including Peter Brötzmann, Joe McPhee, Ken Vandermak, Peter Friis Nielsen, Clementine Gasser, Pet Ole Jorgensen, Michael Zerang, Franz Houtzinger, Jay Rosen, Domik Duval, Mark Sanders. He recorded about forty albums.

I deal with improvised music, but I also write film music and play Jewish music. Improvised music is a commentary to the written form or the situation we find ourselves in. From the very beginning of its history, jazz itself has dealt with the commentary of social reality. My intention is to keep it that way.  I am promoting my autobiographical book now. I travel around the world, learning how to improvise from numerous masters in the United States and Europe, and I try to pass on the knowledge I have onto my younger colleagues. For me, music is a kind of spiritual journey. It gives an inner value that builds a person from within, and it gives strength.

Yass, a social and artistic movement which I co-created almost 30 years ago, wanted to soften a certain “toughness” of the Polish jazz structure, revive Polish jazz, which as a “hard canon” has had no rationale to exists. I believe in grassroots culture – even if it is disturbed, it will continue to grow. Culture is a natural artifact. The problem with jazz music these days is that you can find it in publications, but not in the streets, at homes, or in clubs. This is not a good sign that jazz does not constitute a part of culture, does not have similar impact like in the 1950s, does not generate social movements or gather bohemian circles around it. You stop being merely musician and begin to be an artist only when you leave your comfort zone, and continue to flow.

I agree with Raphael Rogiński, who once said: “Since I am a Jew, any music that I play is Jewish.” For Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, March 1968, music is a phenomenal tool to discover their Jewishness. Some people go to synagogue or start studying Torah. This is not for me because I will not be more religious than I am – and I am not. For me, music has the power of spirituality. I came back through music, if I can put it that way. Music for me is some kind of a Jewish way. Even when I play avant-garde, it contains the pinch of spirituality that I take from the Jewish tradition.

For me, music has the power of spirituality. I came back through music, if I can put it that way. Music for me is some kind of a Jewish way. Even when I play avant-garde, it contains the pinch of spirituality that I take from the Jewish tradition.

This applies not only to Jews, but to the entire Polish nation. It is most important for a man to find out where he or she is from. And our history is broken by what happened during the Second World War. Our Jewishness is different from American or British Jewishness. The Jewishness of Polish Jews is derived from a strong Holocaust trait, and every writer and creator refers to it. Each of us has to work it through. In this way we demonstrate our absolute uniqueness. In America, in New York, my friends do not understand it, and I try to explain it to them. This is the difference between us: many of them associate Jewishness with Jewish feasts, family, these are pleasant associations. But I identify with my Jewishness through Auschwitz. I worked through my suffering as a representative of the second generation of Holocaust survivors, and I decided I would make the Jewish music which exists. I want it to be up-to-date rather than associated with folk. My intention is to do what has meaning at this very moment.

I am a Polish Jew and this affiliation matters a lot to me. I thought about leaving this country many times, and stayed in numerous different places. But I always came back. Here is the space I need, relationships with people who are important to me. I am proud that I am surrounded by a lot of wonderful people here in Poland.

When it comes to the Jewish world in Poland, we refer to the world that disappeared. I will repeat after Singer that we somehow conjure the spirits. Our work and music is on the verge of reality and mysticism. We do not know the whole history of the Polish Jews. I have no idea what happened to some part of my family, how they died. I do not know where my relatives are buried. I know their dates of birth, but not death. Not everything can be found. This is like puzzles – we are trying to fill in the missing bits, and we imagine what could happen. We create some kind of literature in this way because not all the history can be reconstructed. This also applies to my work, where I look for these missing elements and try to reconstruct the bigger picture.

The Jewishness of Polish Jews is derived from a strong Holocaust trait, and every writer and creator refers to it. Each of us has to work it through. In this way we demonstrate our absolute uniqueness.

Many people who survived the Holocaust later created the State of Israel, and I wonder how – after what they had experienced – they could build a country for themselves as well as overcome fear and trauma. There comes a point, however, that one must stop mourning and go further. This is now our responsibility: to live and move forward. That is why we are currently implementing a large project aimed at renewing cultural life in synagogues, in buildings that have been restored, but remain empty. We want to make concerts and exhibitions there, invite artists and writers. This project has been the dream of my life. We intend to travel from the south to the north of Poland, looking for empty spaces that were once bustling with Jewish life: synagogues, mikvahs, mourning houses, so as to carry out our cultural program there, to show Jewish life and history to Polish people. I do not philosophize, I am a man of action. It gives me the feeling that I am living my life to the full.

While traveling around the world, I meet Jewish friends, and we cooperate in projects devoted to creating Jewish culture, be it in New York or Tel Aviv. I remember when I came to Israel for the first time, I was thrilled. I perceive it differently each time, its multicultural nature amazes me. Of course, this is not the country of my childhood. But every place there is different. When I am in Tel Aviv, I have the impression that I am in Berlin, with its hipsters and idyllic ambience. And then I drive along the walls that separate Israel from the Palestinian Territories, and I feel like I am at war. When I am in the blooming desert in March, I am enchanted. But when I observe contemporary Israeli politics, I am also scared.

Both Poles and Jews consider themselves the chosen nations, this is what we have in common. How to do a Polish-Jewish dialogue? Great Polish writer Andrzej Stasiuk put it well: “To be friends, you have to do something together.” And I think that is the best way. This is road music, road cinema. You have to experience something together so as to create bonds – and that is what it is all about. Dialogue is a bond. And grassroots initiatives derive from common culture.

Mam poczucie misji, tak jak i inni, którzy pozostali. Skoro jesteśmy, to musimy dalej to robić to, co robimy, ktoś przecież musi. Wielu ludzi, którzy przeżyli Holocaust, tworzyło potem Państwo Izrael, dlatego zastanawia mnie, jak po tym, co przeżyli mogli zbudować dla siebie kraj, przekroczyć lęk, strach, traumę. Przychodzi jednak taki moment, że trzeba powiedzieć: „koniec żałoby” i iść dalej. To jest nasz obowiązek – żyć, iść do przodu.”

When it comes to my Jewishness, being in the minority is a kind of luxury. It means access to some “secret knowledge”, which is extremely important in art, some kind of distinctness, the power of independent thinking, and unleashing from stereotypes. Of course, this also has its downsides. But if the entire society went through this process of identification, otherness would become something normal. Jews, gays, the disabled – if everybody realised their individuality, they would notice they constitute parts of a certain mosaic.

I am an atheist, but I guess that all Jewish atheists are religious in their own way. My most leftist Jewish friends also show up at Jewish holidays. I suspect that even Trotsky went to the Sabbath. Judaism is an immanent part of us. In the Jewish religion you can talk to God, and you can argue with him. This is the boon of Judaism.

I suspect that even Trotsky went to the Sabbath. Judaism is an immanent part of us. In the Jewish religion you can talk to God, and you can argue with him. This is the boon of Judaism.”

And art is a meeting with oneself, with the world of personal experiences and emotions. There is something like a lonely, gloomy Jewish note, Jewish longing for the world that no longer exists. But it could also be heard in Jewish music before the war, as if it was a kind of prophecy. A Jewish artist, or a Jewish person may feel lonely, but this sense of belonging to minority gives strength. Music is first of all a story built upon relationships with people. It reaches out to people, even when it is as difficult as mine. And if people still talk about difficult things, that means they are really close.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z75eeAzxlJs