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“Pavel Wlosok - Cesta K Poznani Jazzu Nema Konce” by Vladimír Strakoš (2007). Published in Czech periodical HARMONIE in March 2007. Click on the picture below to gain access to the entire article (Czech Language Only).
“Pavel Wlosok - I regard improvisation as a creative process..." by Vladimír Strakoš (2001). Published by Czech Ministry Of Culture periodical CZECH MUSIC in 2001. (English Language Only)
The Jazz pianist and composer PAVEL WLOSOK (1973) is one of the handful of Czech jazzmen who have managed to make a career in the USA. As a native of Ceský Tešín he began at the Ostrava Conservatory in Prof. Zdenek Pecek's class, but soon transferred to JAMU [The Janácek Music Academy] in Brno, where after a second year of composition studies under docent Arnošt Parsch he won a scholarship to study in the United States of America. In our latitudes he has worked with Janus Muniak, Roman Pokorný, Marek Patrman, Gunter Kocí, Petr Dvorský, Jaromír Honzák, Jirí Slavícek, Vilém Spilka and others. It has been five years since he recorded his debut CD with bassist Mike McGuirk and drummer Ed Soph (well-known as drummer in the legendary Bill Evans Trio, Woody Herman's big band and the Clark Terry Quintet), which he produced himself and which was distributed by Indies. Last year he won the International Association of Jazz Educators' - Gil Evans Fellowship. He is a graduate of the University of North Texas, Denton, and heads the jazz department at Truman State University, Kirksville, Missouri. He has recorded four CDs with the One O'clock Band, the best of the nine big bands in Denton, Texas, and after seven years spent over the Herring Pond, he plans to settle in America for some time.
How does someone brought up in the classical music tradition get into Jazz?
You have to have a fellow student named Jarda Pašmík who shakes your faith. He came to school one day and put on a recording of a concert by the Chick Corey Trio in Warsaw. I had never heard anything like it before, and knew very little about jazz. Then I started reading standards and listening to recordings. But the most important thing was that we were playing in a trio and quartet. Fortunately the situation in Ostrava was quite favorable. We had a club where we could play every week, and also in the Blaník Theatre, the predecessor of the Parník.
Did you get to Jazz before you got to composition?
I was studying the piano at the conservatory and then I went on to JAMU in Brno and took composition and theory of composition. I didn't start composing until the fifth year of conservatory.
It would interest me to know how far you are able to free yourself of Jazz influences when you compose contemporary classical music?
I don't free myself. I don't think of it like that. Of course it depends on which instruments I'm writing for and what kind of instrumentation - that's what inspires me. It's my first interest. Form is secondary. I like writing smaller sections and then putting them together into larger wholes later. What matters to me is what is coming from inside me, what is individual, and at the same time I try to let myself be influenced by what is around me - not just music but any kind of art or conversation with people. Of course when I'm actually composing, I concentrate on the music itself. Otherwise I don't see a difference. I probably stand somewhere on the borders between contemporary music and jazz, but essentially I don't distinguish between them.
Is the American music public liberal about arrangements for big bands, or does it insist on keeping to established traditions? If you wrote a piece or arrangement that was definitely eccentric, do you think it would succeed in America?
I think it would succeed. America is pretty open to new movements, influences and cultures, and has always been.
So you don't feel and constraints? Can you say that you have a really free hand in the your choice of techniques and approaches?
The big band I have had the chance to write for and at the same time play in, has never put any constraints on me. I think I'm not bound to tradition, but tradition can inspire me. In the Czech Republic I never had a chance to get to know it well enough. Today I study it and take notice of it, but I wouldn't start analyzing scores and looking at how something is written from that point of view. I try to find out everything through my own writing. The more I compose, the more I learn. It helps me to be individual. On the other hand, sometimes the instrumentation isn't exactly perfect, but I regard it as a process. If I believe in my own music today, then I also believe that my music will still have some value after say ten or twenty years.
Do you have time to follow events in contemporary music in America?
It's more as if I'm becoming part of contemporary music festivals that I don't actually attend. My music gets played here, in Poland and Holland, and in the USA. Often friends I've written something for write and tell me that the music has been performed. Several times I've sent parts off into the world and then heard a recording only two or three years later. Most recently I took part in a competition festival of contemporary music at the school where I teach.
You were a founder member of the composition group of JAMU students that you jokingly called the "Helpless Handful". What do you think today when you look back in this period from the point of view of your music? Has it left traces on the way you compose now?
Most definitely. We were all different, and that was precisely our strength. It was important to listen to various works by my colleagues and have a chance to compare. We thought that in a group we would have a better chance of promoting our music. Also, when I studied under docent Arnošt Parsch, which was a terrific experience for me, it wasn’t until today that I realize I really learned a great deal. I believe this period was very beneficial for my development as a composer.
What exactly was the Gil Evans Fellowship and what did it mean for you in practical musical life?
It's an annual award made by the International Association of Jazz Educators foundation. The important thing is that it's anonymous. The winner is chosen on the basis of a score and a recording, and has a whole year to write a piece on commission for a large "big band". This is then performed the next year as the winner's piece. Apart from the financial award and free access to chosen concerts and workshops in New York, the main benefits are the prestige and the experience gained. Many recording firms, publishers and jazz teachers are involved in this event.
Do you have any models? Someone who has been a great inspiration to you in arranging jazz?
There are plenty of models. Basically there is the whole history of Big Bands: Count Basie, Duke Ellington, the projects of Gil Evans with Miles Davis, Stan Kenton. Maria Schneider is also a brilliant composer, and I've seen her several times in New York. I also very much like Jim McNeely, who is the artistic director and pianist of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, and many others. I wouldn't like to leave anyone out. Otherwise I only distinguish between good and bad music. I'm a very choosy and difficult listener.
Do you feel more of an arranger and composer, or more of a jazz pianist?
That's a good question. My priority is to become a jazz pianist. I'd like to play the standards and my own music in a small band, which is an important part of my composing interests. Although composing for big bands is very exciting, I see it as a secondary thing. Nevertheless, the players of big band are my most important stimulus to arranging and composing. Their approach as performers carries a lot of weight with me, and their way of playing has influenced me a great deal in the choosing and mixing colors.
You record in a quartet and a trio. In this country your CD Long Journey of 1997 with Ed Soph on drums is well known. It's a classic eclectic compilation in which you come across as a jazzman capable of mastering every style. Are you concentrating more on developing any particular style in modern jazz today?
Long Journey was my first CD, and I produced and released it myself. It was a CD in which I was trying to introduce myself not just as a pianist, but as an arranger and composer. In it you'll find four original pieces for quintet with trumpet and saxophone and one composition in a quarter setting. The rest is all a trio, and those are mostly standards. As you say, essentially I was trying to show I could cope with all the styles of the Fifties and Sixties. Bill Evans was a major inspiration - Ed Soph had even played with him for some time in his trio and bassist Mike McGuirk says that the Evans Trio is his favorite band, and so we were pretty compatible, even though I had never much listened to Evans or studied him. At that time I was 22 years old and trying to absorb everything around me.
Do you currently study period styles of playing?
I've never made any special study of styles. I regard it as essential to master everything from ragtime up to today, but I think it's probably more important to play with a lot of very different musicians and try to learn from them and let them inspire me. Today it's more important for me to become a kind of medium - to receive and transmit. I see inspiration as a very creative process. When I'm improvising I don't think about what I'm able to play, since that's already a stage I'm past. I try to let myself be carried away and to create something original - to get completely submerged in what I'm doing. Many young jazz musicians in this country are toiling away trying to master technique, harmony, phrasing. Obviously you can't manage without concentrated practice, but I don't see music as everyday drudgery. Every time I sit down at the instrument for a concert I try to create something original. It isn't always easy and what professionalism means is being able to give a perfect performance despite the difficulties even when the conditions aren't satisfactory, such as not having a good instrument available or when the piano is out of tune. In a nutshell it's a matter of receiving, reforming and then transmitting.
Who would you engage if you could put together your ideal trio or quartet? Would you go for a professional eclectic, or for someone who doesn't have such a sophisticated idiom in terms of style, but might perhaps be willing to risk more and be de facto more original and more creative?
It's hard to give a single answer to that question. I would certainly look for musicians who try to be open and create something artistic. Personality would be crucial, since I like modest people. It's also important that I play with musicians who are at least at the same level as me. When I play with better musicians, it's a great inspiration and impulse for me to work better, and at the same time a great pleasure. I would definitely choose Ed Soph. He is an outstanding musician with enormous experience. He fits into a band wonderfully, doesn't try to be an exhibitionist and always creates something new. I'm sure that there are good musicians in this country, but I have the feeling that they don't have enough experience, and haven't played with so many Americans, for example. But what mainly worries me is their cliquishness. Czech and European musicians in general have their permanent co-performers and that limits them a little. Often they have a kind of pact and don't want to play with anyone else, and when they happen to play with someone else, they make it ostentatiously clear that it's not the real thing for them. I used to find this attitude mainly in Prague. Of course, the situation in the Czech Republic is very difficult, since the jazz tradition is quite weak and you can only making a living from jazz in Prague. But even in Prague there are very few creative musicians, and I could count them on the fingers of two hands. In the USA members of bands choose each other mainly on the basis of personality. They think about whether someone is communicative, how he behaves in public, if he's modest or conceited, and how he gets on with others. The musical requirements only come second! Also someone has to be the leader. To make a living from jazz in the USA and to be responsible for a whole ensemble is very complicated. This means that the one who is manager organizes and the others have to adapt themselves, even on the music side. But I definitely don't think I would want just to play in some ideal group.
Are you ever tempted to pack up and leave your school in Kirksville, go to New York and try to make it there on your own?
I've played a few times in New York and I know what it involves. Of course it was tempting, but when I looked at the competition there, and the number of people, the prices... I'm married and we want to have a family soon, and so I have to think about financial security, which is something jazz doesn't provide anywhere in the world. Furthermore, I very much enjoy teaching talented students, and it's a great inspiration for me. Then there is my legal position to think of. The school provides me with a work permit and if I went off to New York I would have to be there illegally, without life insurance and social security. It all means that I've chosen the roundabout legal path, but maybe fortune will smile on me one day and there will be some teaching vacancy in New York. Without assured work you simply can't manage there.
What do you think is interesting in American mainstream today? Does it still have anything to say?
It definitely has. Everything depends on the quality of the musicians and their ideas. Not everything that's released will survive in the future. I don't think that mainstream is stagnating. The basis may be the same - the range of instruments and form of improvisation - but in comparison with the past the situation today is postmodern and so jazz music, and indirectly mainstream too, is being influenced by all kinds of different cultures. I would say that mainstream will still have something to say even fifty years from now.
That is certainly true if you look at mainstream simply as a system in itself. But if you look at it in the context of music as a whole, you could argue that its development is not very impressive...
I don't know. It's hard to say. Maybe in some areas mainstream actually is stagnating, but that relates mainly to a tradition from which it's not easy to turn aside, just like that, for example the method of improvisation...But this doesn't necessarily apply to standard jazz form, which can be composed in more complex ways and mixed with other stylistic forms. In any case, it will only really be possible to map jazz today in thirty or forty years, when these five thousand recordings will have been tested by time and maybe only five hundred will pass. Then people will find that several names turn up again and again.
And so you believe in the future and evolution of jazz mainstream?
Definitely, although I don't think it would change fundamentally from the times of Charlie Parker. Bebop is the basic communicating element, while everything else is development.
Have you recently heard anything in music that has captivated you completely or somehow addressed you at a deeper level?
In the past two years I experienced something like that listening to the Tom Harrel Quintet in Village Vanguard in New York. I went to both evening concerts. I remember I met Franta Kop there, whom I hadn't seen in Prague for maybe five years. I also saw Garrick Ohlsson at his solo recital in Fort Worth, and then there was the Maria Schneider Orchestra. In this country I got the most from Jaromír Nohavica and Cechomor. In Brno I found the Sting concert terrific. Most recently I have discovered Henryk Górecky, his Third Symphony and many other pieces.
This article above was taken from Czech Music 2001 at:
Czech Music is issued bimonthly with the support of the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic , Bohuslav Martinu Foundation and the Czech Music Fund by the Czech Music