Intergenerational Dialogue

26 September 2022

We talk about the 46th Jazz Junior festival to the event’s director Tomasz Handzlik and artistic director Adam Pierończyk.

Jazz Juniors

Mery Zimny: The Jazz Juniors Festival and Competition has a long and colourful history, and in recent years it has become a respected brand on the international arena. Tell us more about the phenomenon that is Jazz Juniors.

Tomasz Handzlik: I’m the wrong person to ask about the festival’s early days, since I’m the same age as Jazz Juniors. I followed the event as a journalist, and one day I was asked to take over as director. From this perspective, I think it’s main driving force has always been the competition. It has always stirred the most powerful emotions among musicians and audiences alike. I’d also add that I think that since Adam Pierończyk took over as artistic director, the festival has taken on a new life. It was a bit of a mixed bag before then. Adam has great ideas for the programmes which he puts together. Even before taking over he prepared the unforgettable concert Tribute to Tomasz Stańko, unequalled in the festival’s long history. It featured incredible musicians, including Jeff “Tain” Watts on percussion, Avishai Cohen on trumpet, Joe Martin on double bass and Adam himself on saxophones. The following years confirmed that the artistic quality of the programme is the direct result of Adam’s ideas and the way he implements them.

The stars attending the festival don’t just perform for Cracovian audiences. They also turn up to the competition and showcases to listen to young musicians and assess them. The musicians get to know them and perform alongside them.

T.H.: The festival and competition are a hotbed of talent – we discover new, promising young artists and give them an opportunity to perform alongside established musicians. We also open up horizons to other countries: I am talking about international partnerships we have been developing over the last seven years with representatives of other festivals, labels and important concert venues. All this has resulted in around two hundred concerts including tours in China and other Asian countries featuring some of our winners such as Stanisław Słowiński and Tomasz Chyła. The international board of partners is expanding and we regularly travel all over the globe in search of new venues and institutions interested in collaborating. This year we are joined by partners from Copenhagen and Berlin. I think we’re the only competition in Poland offering winners such a range of benefits and awards. We don’t just give out cash prizes, but we provide winners with opportunities and exposure.

What values do you think Jazz Juniors brings to the jazz community in Poland and Kraków in particular?

A.P.: I hope that Jazz Juniors is an important event for the city thanks to its rich history and what it represents musically on its cultural map. The festival is constantly evolving, and Kraków is visited by guests from all over the globe, and not all of them musicians – all this builds an international reputation. I tend to go off the beaten path when preparing the programme. Over the last twenty years I’ve run many different festivals, and since they are all held under my name I take a very careful approach. That’s why I try to prepare as many brand new projects as possible. I invite artists who don’t tend to perform together, which always turns out to be a kind of an experiment. I always hope that this results in new friendships which will develop into creative projects – if not now, then in the future. I don’t assume that they’ll all turn out this way – you must always consider the risk of failure in experiments – but you have to take risks if you want to create something new. I also want to send a message to the young musicians I invite to attend. Even though we live in a world of likes on social media and paid ads, I think the best way to develop a career is still through recommendations from more experienced musicians. To me this is a better marker of a solid artistic career than launching a video on YouTube. That’s why when I’m preparing the festival programme, I always try to give young musicians a chance to perform alongside masters of their craft.

T.H.: Last year we had the unforgettable encounter between young Polish musicians and the American trumpeter Peter Evans and the New York-based Slovenian saxophonist Jure Pukl. Another incredible opportunity were workshops led by the British saxophonist Soweto Kinch a few years ago. They were attended by over twenty students from the Academy of Music in Kraków.

A.P.: I believe that most of the young musicians appreciate this and make the most of these opportunities. I often wish I could perform with such artists myself, and I’m delighted that I can provide this – perhaps once in a lifetime – chance to other musicians as part of Jazz Juniors.

As well as the music programme, Jazz Juniors also features accompanying events such as meetings and discussion panels with experts.

T.H.: They are another element of our programme of networking with partners from abroad who follow the competition and provide prizes such as invitations to their own festivals or record labels. Another aim is to widen the horizons of young musicians and teach them some of the principles essential in the industry. They are usually at the threshold of their careers, and the competition’s history reveals that many go on to win important prizes and reach the highest echelons of jazz rankings.

Let’s not forget that the competition is also open to guests from abroad.

T.H.: That’s right – we receive around forty submissions every year. I have the impression that since Adam took over as artistic director and head of the jury, we are seeing more ensembles from abroad. An excellent example is last year’s event, when the Grand Prix went to a group from Hungary and the second prize was awarded jointly to an Italian and a Polish ensemble.

Tell us about this year’s festival.

A.P.: I will be joined on the jury by the incredible percussionist Trilok Gurtu from India, who also performs a solo set. Such guests do wonders for the festival’s international reputation. I won’t reveal all the jury members just yet – we’d like to keep some things up our sleeve. I will say, though, that we are going to witness something which has never happened before: the main festival stage will welcome the pianist Bartek Leśniak and percussionist Artur Małecki – students at the Academy of Music in Kraków. I first spotted these incredibly talented musicians during improvisation workshops I ran at the school. I asked them to perform as a duo at the improvised launch concert. Another “young” accent at the festival will be a performance by the Ziółek Kwartet, winners of the competition two years ago.

Interviewed by Mery Zimny

Mery Zimny
Journalist working at JAZZKULTURA online radio and previously Off Radio Kraków. She has been writing about jazz since 2012, currently for the “Jazz Forum” magazine. She has also been published in “JazzPRESS”, “Gazeta Magnetofonowa” and “Ruch Muzyczny”. She has interviewed artists such as Zygmunt Krauze, Paweł Mykietyn, Adam Strug, Maria Pomianowska, Mikołaj Trzaska and Maciej Maleńczuk.

Adam Pierończyk
One of Poland’s leading saxophonists, composer, producer and educator, and artistic director of the Jazz Juniors Festival and Competition since 2019. He has recorded 25 albums and has been ranked best soprano saxophonist by the “Jazz Forum” magazine 17 times.

Tomasz Handzlik
Music journalist and producer. He has studied music studies at the Jagiellonian University. He worked as music journalist at “Gazeta Wyborcza” between 2002 and 2012. He has also been published in “Tygodnik Powszechny”, “Ruch Muzyczny” and “Dwutygodnik”. Co-founder of the Zbigniew Seifert International Jazz Violin Competition and Director of the Jazz Juniors Festival and Competition since 2015.

Photo: Majid Bekkas, Jean-Paul Bourelly, Adam Pierończyk (Jazz Juniors 2021) by Michał Łepecki

The article published in the 3/2022 issue of “Kraków Culture” quarterly.



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