On March 27th, 2020 at Glenn Gould Studio, audiences in Toronto have one last chance to experience jazz master Adam Makowicz in concert. Known for his virtuosic performance as a jazz pianist and unique interpretations of Chopin’s music, he will be joined by the members of his jazz trio from New York — Krystof Medyna on saxophone and Jeff Dingler on double bass – as well as Canadian pianist Daniel Wnukowski.
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Adam Makowicz’s musical journey is a remarkable one. He studied classical piano during the communist regime in Poland, which officially censored jazz music and forbid it from being broadcasted on radio. Yet, every city has its underground life, and jazz found a way to the people.
The first time Makowicz heard jazz was of an Art Tatum recording, which someone brought back on vinyl from a trip. By his wife Joanna Makowicz’s account, it was like lightning struck him, and he quit school the next day to devote himself to learning and practicing jazz music.
It was far from easy to pursue an art form actively being suppressed by the government of the day. It was a struggle, to a point where he was rendered homeless, but he persevered along with other jazz musicians in Poland to study and perfect his art.
Makowicz began to gain a name for himself in Poland and through his contacts in Europe and United States. He began to collaborate with American artists and producers, most notably talent scout and record producer John Hammond, who firmly launched him in New York with a 10-week tour and a recording of his first US album with Columbia in 1977.
As Makowicz performed with the jazz greats and classical orchestras in major concert halls, the situation in Poland did not ease and only became more oppressive, the height of which saw martial law coming into effect between 1981 and 1983. One can only imagine what it must have been like to be breaking through as an artist in the United States, while watching the places and people from which you came struggle to survive.
Meanwhile, Joanna Makowicz (not married to Adam at the time) was having a similar experience as a Polish violinist, music teacher and concert producer. They were known to each other back in Poland, but they had different paths out of the country. Her artistic career took her to major orchestras around the world, such as the Mexico City Orchestra where she was concert master for 5 years. Privately, she taught students with high aspirations, and introduced numerous audiences to great artists as a concert producer.
Eventually she ended up in Niagara-On-The-Lake, where she founded a local Arts Extravaganza in 1998, featuring a variety of art forms such as visual arts, classical and jazz music. When someone suggested she invites Adam Makowicz to open the festival, it seemed like a great opportunity to bring a world class talent to the area.
For Adam, it was a festival in a quaint wine country in Canada, not a major hub for classical or jazz music. Yet, it was a stone’s throw away from New York, and a chance to meet an old acquaintance to reminisce those early days of musical awakening and the years since then. So Adam agreed to perform, and the rest, as they say, is history.
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After a remarkable career spanning 40 years as a concert pianist performing in major concert halls around the world, a prolific recording artist with over 30 albums, and a composer and arranger to boot, this concert will be a culmination of a lifetime of achievements. It’s also a celebration of hope against all odds, and the twist of fates that sets us off into unexpected paths.
This concert was actually originally slated for last October, and entitled “Brillante Merci Monsieur Chopin”, a celebration of Chopin by Makowicz and Wnukowski, both virtuosic pianists of Polish decent. Yet, during a performance in Warsaw, Makowicz collapsed unexpectedly, and had to be hospitalized. From what Joanna tells me, it was a harrowing experience and recovery was not certain.
As a result, one of the biggest implications for his performing career is that he will have to reduce the amount of intercontinental travel. This means he won’t be able to fly between Poland and United States as much. Instead, he will stay closer to Europe, where he is in much more demand, and traveling by train is a doctor-approved option.
The programming of the concert has also changed as a result. It will still be a celebration of Chopin, and quite timely as this March will mark Chopin’s 120th birthday. But more than previously envisioned, this will a be celebration of Adam Makowicz’s musical contributions as he turns 80 this year, and a final farewell to his Toronto fans.
It is difficult to do justice with a blog post to the accomplishments of a man trained in classical music, who goes on to discover and pursue jazz in spite of it being suppressed by government. A man whose unique talents paved the way for him to the United States, with a serendipitous invitation that brought him to Canada, where he became a mainstay in Toronto’s Jazz scene.
His upcoming concert in a few weeks will probably be the best way to hear his story, as told by the man himself, through a medium that he has devoted his life to. It is also the best parting gift he could leave behind for his Canadian fans.
Don’t miss Mark Makowicz at Glenn Gould Studio on Friday March 27, 2020 at 7:30pm. Tickets are $69-$90 and available at bemusednetwork.com.