Jazz piano virtuoso, Adam Makowicz, riffs on Chopin

By - Jan 26th, 2011 03:53 pm
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The preservation and promotion of Polish culture is the mission of the Polish Heritage Alliance. Occasionally, the alliance snags a performer of interest beyond the Polish community. Saturday (Jan. 29), for example, the group will present pianist Adam Makowicz, a jazz man with major international credits and more than 50 recordings, at the Polish Center of Wisconsin. (Discography and more background here.)

Adam Makowicz performing in Carnegie Hall (Dec 2010)

Adam Makowicz performing in Carnegie Hall (Dec 2010)

Makowicz, born in 1940 to Polish parents in Czech Silesia, grew up in Poland from age 6. He studied classical music at the Chopin Conservatory of Music in Krakow, but dropped out because of his involvement in jazz. His recollection, “I chose a new life of freedom – considered by authorities to be ‘decadent’- over the career of a classical pianist my parents and teachers envisioned for me.”

After many years of hardship, Makowicz launched his professional career in 1964. A series of acclaimed performances and recordings enhanced his reputation in both Europe and the United States. He first toured in the U.S. in 1977. Now a U.S. citizen, he tireless tours the U.S., Canada and Europe. Poland once banned the pianist from performing in his home country; in 2010, the Polish government bestowed him with its Gloria Artis.

Observers have compared him to the great Art Tatum, as in this Wall Street Journal review by Jim Fuselli: Mr. Makowicz’s fiery style, firm chording, and rapid, Tatumesque right hand phrasing make him more than deserving of the accolades he has received.

Geoff Chapman, in the Toronto Star: A rare artist who grips and holds attention, Makowicz handles the classics of the American songbook with an aplomb equal to the way he deals with the devastatingly complex structures of his own compositions. A gifted improviser with splendid technical prowess, the pianist can also offer warmth and affection in melodic lines, the balance of fine taste, pungent swing and a jubilant approach inevitably generating audience cheer.

Makowicz has not forgotten his classical roots. He is one of several Polish jazz performers to recognize the improvisation potential in Chopin’s music. Chopin himself improvised at private performances. (More on that in The Cosmopolitan Review.)  In 2010, Makowicz toured Europe with classical pianist Krzysztof Jablonski; they alternated and combined traditional and jazz treatments of Chopin’s works. Those with limited jazz exposure may consider  Vince Guaraldi (composer for Charlie Brown TV specials) meets Chopin – not much of a stretch. An earlier album, Reflections on Chopin, can be sampled here.

A Makowicz riff on a classic American standard can be much more intricate –


Additional video here.

Makowicz will devote half of the Polish Center concert to jazz improvisations based on familiar Chopin works. On the other half, he will improvise on standards from the ‘American songbook.’

The concert begins at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29. at the Polish Center of Wisconsin, 6941 S. 68 St, Franklin (between Rawson Avenue and Loomis Road).  Call (414) 529-2140 for tickets – $23 in advance, $25 at the door, $15 for students with valid Id.

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