In Eastern Europe, during the late 1960's, interest in American jazz was one of the few pro-Western "uncensored" political statements. For many, this peaceful expression of opposition was a cultural contributor to the development of the Solidarity movement.
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In recently published major Polish history books on the subject, Sapieyevski is acknowledged as a pioneering figure in the creation and promotion of the music style that fused classical idioms with elements of American music.
And this is how it started:
Meridian International Center
the History of Cultural Diplomacy
Jazz Ambassadors Embrace the World
To the Organizers of "Cultural Ambassadors" Celebration,
great interest and moving memories, I am participating in the 50th anniversary
celebration of The Dave Brubeck "Cultural Ambassador" tour. I was a direct witness and an early product
of this program.
the midst of the Cold War, I was a young boy attending music school in Gdansk,
Poland when I won a lottery ticket to a
live American jazz concert in the old movie theatre named
"Leningrad". I thought through the insistence of the
State Department, some of the tickets were distributed by drawing.
Otherwise, mostly top Communist Party members and their families would be permitted
to attend such event.
short pants and the cleanest white shirt, I went to hear The Dave Brubeck
Quartet, the first jazz concert of my life.
This unforgettable experience changed the way I listened to and studied
music, not to speak of feeding my passionate interest in American culture. I
tried to listen to every jazz recording I could find, which was very difficult
in Poland. Living in the port city of
Gdansk, the birthplace of Solidarity, one could sometimes connect with a friend
of a merchant marine who may have smuggled western recordings into Poland. (There are many interesting aspects of this
situation, about which I discussed in my guest talks for the State Department's
Foreign Service Institute.)
few years later, as a teenager, I began to experiment with combining my school
education in classical music with what I was learning from jazz musicians. I created an ensemble that included a vocalist
and a string quartet. I received several awards in Poland, including
three Prizes at the "Jazz nad Odra Festivals".
Celebrating the City of Wroclaw, Kosciuszko Foundation Fundraiser, Dec. 2017
was one of the Polish political responses to the West, as "Jazz on the
Oder [River]" implied the permanence of our Western border with Germany,
which was part of the Cold War discussion.
compositions combining classical and jazz elements, "Third Stream"
music, were the first in Poland, as well as some of the earliest in the
world. Notably at the time Modern Jazz
Quartet among others, did several recordings of this type of compositions.
a result, I was invited to perform at the Jazz Jamboree in Warsaw. By 1966 this was the most prominent Jazz
festival in Eastern Europe. One of the
invited guests was Willis Conover, the famous producer and director of the
program, "Music USA - Voice of America Jazz Hour". Despite constant airwave jamming, millions
in Eastern Europe tuned in every night. It was one of our best "schools" of
jazz. I stated this fact at one of the
last tributes to Willis before his death in 1996.
many years, the circle closed. I was
commissioned by the New York chamber ensemble, "An die Musik" to
write a piece for them. At the same
time, unbeknown to me, they had also commissioned a piece from Dave
Brubeck. Coincidentally, at some
future time both pieces were played on the same program. When I very briefly
met Dave Brubeck between rehearsals, I told him my story and we also talked
about influence of Chopin on our music.
symbolic and important celebration could be an example of well-designed
"Cultural Diplomacy", especially in the world that America now
faces. Connecting through music is one
of the best tools in bringing people together, or at the very least, improving
international understanding. Music, and the "soul" it evokes, inspire
people to look beyond differences and historical hostilities.
Jerzy Sapieyevski - April 7, 2008
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