Tomasz Stańko (born July 11, 1942) is a Polish trumpeter, composer and improviser. Often recording for ECM Records, Stańko is strongly associated with free jazz and the avant-garde.
Coming to prominence in the early 1960s alongside pianist Adam Makowicz in the Jazz Darings, Stańko later collaborated with pianist Krzysztof Komeda, notably on Komeda's pivotal 1966 album Astigmatic. In 1968, Stańko formed an acclaimed quintet that included Zbigniew Seifert on violin and alto saxophone, and in 1975 he formed the Tomasz Stańko-Adam Makowicz Unit.
Stańko has since established a reputation as a leading figure not only in Polish jazz, but on the world stage as well, working with many notable musicians, including Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Reggie Workman, Rufus Reid, Lester Bowie, David Murray, Manu Katche and Chico Freeman. In 1984 he was a member of Cecil Taylor's big band.
Stańko lost his natural teeth in the 1990s, although over time he developed a new embouchure with the help of a skilled dentist and monotonous practice. He would spend long hours playing what he deemed to be "boring" long tones which helped to strengthen his lip, in spite of playing with the disadvantage of false teeth.
Tomasz Stańko was born in Rzeszów, Poland, on July 11, 1942. His first encounters with jazz were through Voice of America radio programs and tours initiated by the U.S. State Department. Coming of age in Communist Poland, Stanko was impressed by the correlation jazz had with a message of freedom. In 1958 he saw his first jazz concert given by Dave Brubeck. Along with the pianist Adam Makowicz; the group took inspiration from the music of musicians such as Ornette Coleman, George Russell and Miles Davis and is considered by many critics to be the first group in Europe to perform in the free jazz medium.
In 1963 Stanko joined the Krzysztof Komeda quintet, where he learned much of what he now knows of harmony, musical structure and asymmetry. During his career with Komeda, which concluded in 1967, Stanko did five tours with the pianist and recorded eleven albums with him. In 1968 Stanko formed a quintet that met critical acclaim—one that included Zbigniew Seifert on violin and alto saxophone. In 1970 he joined the Globe Unity Orchestra, and in 1971 he did collaborations with Krysztof Penderecki and Don Cherry. Not long after he formed a quartet that included himself Tomasz Szukalski and the drummer Edward Vesala. His performances with Vesala are often considered to be some of his most important work. In 1975 he formed the Tomasz Stańko-Adam Makowicz Unit.
During the 1980s he traveled to India and recorded solo work in the Taj Mahal, and also worked with Vesala in groups led by Chico Freeman and Howard Johnson. In the mid-1980s he began doing extensive work with Cecil Taylor, performing in his big bands and also led various groups of his own, including COCX (with Vitold Rek and Apostolis Anthimos). Then, before returning to ECM Records, Stanko also worked in a trio that included himself, Arild Andersen and Jon Christensen. In 1993 Stanko formed a new quartet composed of the then 16-year-old drummer Michal Miskiewicz, along with Miskiewicz's two friends, pianist Marcin Wasilewski and bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz. That same year he also formed an international quartet that included Bobo Stenson, Tony Oxley and Anders Jormin. in 1994 the quartet released their first ECM recording titled Matka Joanna. In 1997 Stanko formed a group which performed the songs of pianist Krzysztof Komeda, touring London, Copenhagen, Stockholm and appearing at jazz festivals like those in Nancy and Berlin. The idea for the project came from ECM president Manfred Eicher.
Derk Richardson has written for the San Francisco Chronicle that, "Tomasz Stanko is not the first jazz musician to negotiate a rapprochement between gorgeous melodies and free improvisation. But he is one of the most eloquent proponents of extemporaneous lyricism working today." Author Brian Morton has compared Stanko's lyricism to that of Miles Davis, calling it a "direct but individual offshoot."