Masters of Jazz Trumpet: Stanko, Sobczak, Sandoval


Tomasz Stanko (born July 11, 1942)

Why does trumpet talent at this moment in history seem to flow to men whose surnames begin with the letter S? I don’t know. But then, I have been baffled by lesser mysteries than that!

Devoted readers of this blog will surely want to know that one of these great contemporary jazz trumpeters, Tomasz Stanko, portrayed above, has brought out a new album ( via ECM). Its name is Wislawa, because Stanko was inspired by the writing of the great Polish poet, Wislawa Szymborska, a Nobel Prize winner of 1996 who died last year.


Wislawa Szymborska

Ten years ago, Stanko came out with Suspended Night, also via ECM. Stanko was working at the time with Marcin Wasilewski on the piano, Slawamir Kurkiewicz on bass, and Michael Miskiewicz on drums. They continue to perform, now without him, as the Marcin Wasilewski Trio.

As to Suspended Night, though, the website AllMusic raved that the ensemble had developed a “bravely compelling yet tonally accessible voice” and that Stanko himself had a “unique compositional language.” Listen for yourself here.

And now we have Stanko’s new effort, Wislawa. Ben Ratliff, reviewing it in The New York Times, praises its “soothing melodic shapes interrupted by flutters and harder intervallic stabs.”

miles-davisStanko is again the leader of a quartet. He is ably supported throughout Wislawa by Gerald Cleaver on the drums, Thomas Morgan on bass, and David Virelles on piano. The style of the quartet reminds Ratliff of Miles Davis, and of Davis’ 1959 studio album, Kind of Blue.

This is not only high praise; it is a common attribution of influence: many critics have heard Davis in Stanko.


Edmund Sobczak


Edmund Sobczak

Sobczak is somewhat better known by his stage name “EDolutionary” than by his given and surnames. As the stage name suggests, Sobczak – an alum of the University of Music in Poznan, Poland, who now lives in Oxford, in Britain – believes that his music represents a new stage in the development/evolution of jazz.

His debut album, One Step Ahead was released in December 2010. It was followed by The Soundtrack (January 2012) and most recently by Epic Film Music (December 2012).

Interviewed for the website All About Jazz, Sobczak said that his music reflects the influence of “everyone I’ve ever heard,” including Davis, Sandoval, Wynton Marsalis, Michel Camilo, and Chris Botti.

Experimentation, a pressing of the boundaries, is critical he says, otherwise “we would all still play and compose like Mozart. As much as I respect Mozart, I’m glad we moved on.”

trumpets-oldSeconding that thought, I propose that jazz, and trumpet based jazz, be considered just as mutable as civilization itself. After all, the instrument is as old. People have been re-working the trumpet and its sound, since long before Mozart. Instruments recognizably trumpet-like were employed in the days of the Oxus civilization [central Asia, circa 3500 BC]. Some of the finds are portrayed in the chart below.

Arturo Sandoval

Dizzie-GillespieBut to return to the 21st century Anno Domino, I’ll complete this triptych of contemporary trumpeters with Arturo Sandoval, who’s latest CD; Dear Diz (Every Day I Think of You) pays tribute to Dizzie Gillespie.

Sandoval is a native of Cuba. He met Gillespie, his hero, in 1977 and they played together in concerts in both Cuba and Europe. Sandoval defected to the US in 1990 while on tour. Gillespie died in 1993. Sandoval became a naturalized citizen of the U.S. in ’99.


Arturo Sandoval (born November 6, 1949)

Dear Diz, released through the Concord Jazz label, got to number nine on Billboard’s Top Jazz Albums chart in late 2012 and early 2013. It has also won Sandoval a Grammy.

Going back just a year and a half, here is a clip of a performance of Sandoval with the US Air Force Band, performing, A Night in Tunisia.

tunisia-flagA Night in Tunisia, as a song, though it was surely unknown to the Oxus civilization, has a lot of history behind it. Cole Porter composed A Night in Tunisia in 1942, and it was first sung by Sarah Vaughan. Among the great artists who did it before Sandoval … Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and … Dizzy Gillespie. The song became a signature of the bebop crowd. It’s a tune that has, for western audiences anyway, just the right touch of the exotic, and one that opens itself to a variety of interpretations.

Listening to Sandoval’s interpretation in the above clip will give you a quick sense of range his horn has in his hands – it can sound like a tuba or like a piccolo, with never a slackening of control.

So let us keep the trumpet in our thoughts. Without this ago-old instrument, it seems unlikely that jazz would ever have developed as the great musical genre we know. And, as these three gentlemen each in his own way proves, both jazz and the trumpet remain at the cutting edge of musical development.

It is worthy of remark, too, that none of the three gentlemen discussed in this column was born in the United States: our three masters of the trumpet consist of two Poles and a Cuban. Yes, jazz as a musical genre is a gift that the US has given to the world, but the rest of the world can manufacture the stuff at the very highest level.

Let us conclude with Sobczak, and what he calls his “Untold Story.”

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