Many unusual and uplifting things can happen in a short span of time
It’s 1 A.M. in Zhengzhou China, and I’m wide-awake. Because we go from city-to-city at home, and country-to-country abroad, many unusual and uplifting things can happen in a short span of time. It can be especially difficult to digest your experiences across what is often a combination of space and time. There are relationships and happenings that take place in fleeting moments only to develop over decades and come back to you much later in a more potent form. Like the germination of something that has been seeded, even if unknowingly. That’s why my standard response when someone says, “I met you in XX place, twenty, ten, seven, a few years ago” is “Was I nice?” It takes an expanse of time to see if you have truly manifested the results of goodwill, of good manners and of kindness.
In Szczecin, Poland, Vincent and I did a master class with the fantastic students of trumpeter Piotr “Peter” Wojtasik. Piotr and I met and played together some 23 years ago when my septet toured Poland in the 90’s. We developed a collegial friendship with a great deal of respect and warmth. His students told me that an old tape of us playing together had become well known in their community and that our deep respect and love for each other was obvious even then. Now here we were, all these years later, listening to some of his students play.
Nothing could prepare us for what we heard. Piotr had cultivated the best group of student jazz trumpeters I have ever heard. Each played with feeling, technical skill and their own absolutely unique approach. It was enlightening and inspiring. I asked one of the students, “How did you all learn to play so differently, but so well.” He responded, “Our instructor is much more than a trumpet teacher. He is a master. And he teaches about life through the trumpet and through the spirit of jazz. He teaches us to be free and to respect freedom.” This was stated so simply, humbly and respectfully, I could only nod in response. The evidence was clear.
Knowledge, like freedom, can be very costly. And the more you sacrifice for it, the more precious it becomes. It’s easy to forget how until recently, certain types of knowledge were forbidden in this part of the world. That education and insight were controlled to limit the desire for, the taste for, and the quest for freedom. It only goes to show that when you deny basic, human rights, people only become hungrier.
At dinner later that evening, Piotr told a story about how they learned the music during the time of Communism. He said, “We couldn’t get records or information. The only thing available was Willis Conover’s “Voice of America” program. In the late 60s, when we knew what would be broadcast, four or five of us would get together and parcel out segments of, say, a Bird solo we wanted to learn. We couldn’t tape anything, so we had to be quick or it would be gone. One cat would learn the first four bars; another would take the next four, and so on until we could put a good chorus together from that fleeting performance. You better not be the one who missed your four bars!”
Here is an excerpt of a message sent to Vincent and me from Norbert Wardawy, one of the students we heard play:
“On behalf of all the students of Peter Wojtasik trumpet class…
We all strongly believe that the effects of our meeting will stay with us forever and give us much power to increase our music. We hope to see you soon.”
Yeah, WE hope to see y’all soon, too.
This is a photo of the group after the class and the names from the left (below):
Maurycy Wójciński, Sebastian Sołdrzyński, Norbert Wardawy, Paweł Palcowski, Paweł Surman, Piotr Wojtasik, Dominik Gawroński, Piotr Szlempo
I bet Piotr never missed any of his four bars. He still most for real about this music.