The launching of the European Jazz Prize comes at a time when there are signs of stagnation in American jazz, while innovation and search for new modes of expression are taking place elsewhere, especially in Europe - the scene with a great tradition of its own, openness to fresh inspiration, a wealth of talent and burgeoning new trends which may shape the future course of the music.
That the first award should go to the Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko is perhaps no surprise. The 60-year-old veteran, who has long been a key figure in the development of European jazz, is now in peak form, receiving widespread attention and critical praise for his international concert appearances and his newest album "Soul Of Things," recorded last autumn for ECM.
While the European Jazz Prize is not an honor for overall achievement, but rather for a specific contribution made during the past year, in the case of Stanko this new prestigious award marks the culmination of his whole 40-year career, and especially of the past decade, during which he left a succession of outstanding recordings made for ECM with his international groups on such albums as "Matka Joanna," "Leosia," "From The Green Hill" and "Litania," a tribute to the late Krzysztof Komeda, the tragic muse of Polish jazz, his first great mentor and influence.
Tomasz Stanko's most recent venture, "The Soul Of Things," also recorded in Olso's famed Rainbow Studio, was his first all-Polish project for the ECM label, showcasing the talents of his young compatriots in the rhythm section who provide the trumpeter with a sensitive support and emphatic interplay. The quartet's cool sound, introspective mood, relaxed pace and deep emotionality have been compared to "Kind Of Blue," Miles Davis's timeless masterpiece of more than 40 years before.
While Stanko has obviously drawn on Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Don Cherry, Lester Bowie and other American models, he has developed a unique sound and personal music, which is instantly recognizable and unmistakably his own, rooted in his Slavic heritage, romantic upbringing and classical education, which he received in Cracow before starting a jazz career in the early '60s. His distinctive, rough tone conveys a sense of drama, melancholy, sadness and existential pain. A free-jazz pioneer, he went on to become one of the finest trumpeters, a world class player, a stylist, a charismatic performer and original composer, his music now assuming simplicity of form and mellowness that comes with years of work, exploration and experience. Tomasz Stank o - a true master and leader of European jazz.