This program of jazzy extrapolations on Frederick Chopin’s music brought together two potent musical forces and kindred spirits in Chicago-based jazz singer Grazyna Auguscik and Poland’s acclaimed jazz pianist Andrzej Jagodzinski.
The Polish-born Auguscik, a marvelous vocalist, adventurous improviser and world-class scat singer, follows in the free-spirited footsteps of her fellow countrywoman, Urszula Dudziak. A 1992 graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, she has made her home in Chicago since 1994, performing regularly at the Green Mill while also making appearances at the annual Chicago Jazz Festival each summer. With 10 albums to her credit, including six under her own record label, GMA Records, she is a perennial nominee in the annual Chicago Music Awards and has been named Best Jazz Vocalist three years in a row (2002, 2003 and 2004) by Poland’s Jazz Forum magazine.
Composer-arranger Jagodzinski is regarded as one of the best pianists on the Polish jazz scene. A graduate of the prestigious Frederick Chopin Conservatory in Warsaw, he has played with most of the best jazz groups in Poland, including the Zbigniew Namyslowski Quartet, The Jan Ptaszyn Wroblewski Quartet and Jarek Smietana’s Polish All Stars. His first recording by the Andrzej Jagodzinski Trio, Chopin, was named Best Record of 1994 by Jazz Forum and won the Fryderyk Award (the Polish Grammy) as best jazz record of the year. Jagodzinski’s organically swinging and highly interactive trio continued to explore jazz interpretations of Chopin on 1997’s Live at the National Philharmonic and 1999’s Once More Chopin, helping to launch a “Chopin stream” in Polish jazz.
The largely Polish audience at this rare encounter, co-presented by the Polish Cultural Institute and the Embassy of Poland in Washington, responded to the familiar Chopin themes with nationalistic pride and a certain amount of awe at what Jagodzinski did to them. The pianist-arranger reharmonized and radically re-examined Chopin’s works through a jazzy prism, accompanied by his empathetic and interactive rhythm tandem of drummer Czeslaw Bartkowski and upright bassist Adam Cegielski. On a hip, syncopated rendition of Chopin’s “Nocturne in E-flat Major, Opus 9, No. 2,” drummer Bartkowski tapped into a loose, swinging Art Taylor-Roy Haynes vibe, while bassist Cegielski anchored the proceedings with deep tones, flawless time and impeccable intonation. Together, the trio burned through Chopin’s “Prelude in E Minor, Opus 28, No. 4” at hyper speed as chopsmeister Jagodzinski nonchalantly tossed off a brief quote from “All Blues” along the way. While Poland’s elder statesman of jazz piano, Adam Makowicz, may still be regarded as “the Polish Art Tatum,” Jagodzinski reveals touches of a more modernist strain in his playing, represented by such obvious influences as Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett.
There’s a tinge of melancholy in the Polish soul, which was apparent in the trio’s rendition of Chopin’s “Prelude in C Minor, Opus 28, No. 20,” based on a Polish folk melody. As Auguscik announced from the Joe’s Pub stage, “Chopin wrote a lot of his stuff based on Polish folk tunes and it’s our inspiration as well.” And with that, she wove a spell on the audience with an evocative interpretation of the folk tune “Matulu Moja (My Mother),” extrapolating on the form with improvisational abandon. They tackled two other Polish folk tunes—”Krywan” and “Wolszynie”—with a swinging sensibility, using the simple melodies as vehicles for stretching. The playful call-and-response between Grazyna’s rhythmically assured wordless vocals and Jagodzinski’s mercurial keyboard statements on the exuberant “Oberek” (a familiar piece associated with the Polish National Dance Company) provided some real sparks. Auguscik also showcased some wild scatting abandon in a daring voice-drums breakdown with Bartkowski near the end of this explosive set-closer.
For an encore, Auguscik joined with the Jagodzinski trio for a stirring rendition of Krzysztof Komeda’s haunting theme from Roman Polanski’s film Rosemary’s Baby, with Grazyna delivering the plaintive melody with just the right touch of melancholy as she sang: “I will remember you when I feel myself smiling.”Originally Published