Poland’s first taste of jazz came in the 1920’s and 30’s when Jews returning from Germany began playing the new sound. In 1939, the Nazis occupied Poland so music was put on hold.
During WWII, 200,000 men of the Polish army fought side by side with the allies to defeat the Germans, only to be betrayed by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill at the Yalta agreements. After the war, in order to appease Josef Stalin, Poland, along with half of Europe, was surrendered to the pro-communist government of Stalinist Russia.
In 1949, Stalin’s Culture Congress stated that the officially accepted doctrine for art and culture was “social realism.” Anything related to Western culture was forbidden – that included jazz, which was considered to be “the rotten product of treacherous American imperialism.” Jazz was forced underground and was only played at private parties or in a few restaurants.
Officially, jazz did not exist, but for people who longed for freedom, it represented the spirit of independence. The only contact that Polish musicians had with jazz was listening to the Voice of America radio program. There was no jazz music on the radio, no jazz records in the stores, no books and no sheet music for sale.
After Stalin’s death in 1953 and then the death of Stalinist president Boleslaw Bierut in 1956, Poland experienced a period of de-Stalinization.
The first jazz Festival took place in August 1956 and is regarded as the key event in the history of Polish jazz. It marked the full emergence of jazz from the underground and the music’s first official recognition on a major scale. Jazz became recognized as a symbol of freedom and liberation.
Krzysztof Komeda is considered one of the founding fathers of Polish jazz. The Komeda Sextet became the first Polish jazz group playing modern jazz, and pioneered the way for other jazz musicians in Poland.
In his short life (until his untimely death in a tragic accident in Hollywood at the age of 38), Krzysztof Komeda wrote music for more than 40 films, including Roman Polanski’s “Knife in the Water” and “Two Men and a Wardrobe.”
Enjoy Kris Komeda playing Moja Ballada (My Ballad) while gazing on the evening water of the Mazurian Lake District in Poland: