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Mr. Coolu' Got a Warm Polish Reception. By Ralph J. Gleason "We should send more jazz groups to Poland, the Poles consider jazz an art; it means the free expression of the individual to them," said Iola Brubeck, wife of pianist Dave Brubeck. Mrs. Brubeck returned last week from Europe where she accompanied her husband and his quartet on an extended tour. The high light of their tour was a two week series of concerts in Poland, sponsored by the State Department and the American National Theater Association. The Brubeck Quartet was the first small jazz group ever to visit Poland (Ray McKinley's large orchestra went there two years ago) and the first racially mixed group ever to appear in that country. During the two weeks from March 6 to March 19, that the Brubeck group was in Poland, the quartet played concerts in small auditoriums on all but two nights, were feted by Polish jazz fans, acquired a small entourage of young jazz buffs who followed them from city to city and met many citizens of Poland who were avid jazz fans. Brubeck's group was the first in-person experience the Poles have had with the so-called "cool" or "progressive" jazz style and they called Brubeck "Mr. Coolu." "Jazz is a symbol of freedom to the Poles," said Darius Brubeck, one of the two Brubeck sons who went along on the trip. "Willis Connover who does the Voice of America jazz broadcasts is listened to all over Poland," Mrs. Brubeck said. "He is the best teacher of English that Poland has ever had, many people told me. We met jazz fans who had learned to speak English from listening to his broadcasts although English is also taught in the schools now." Jazz is such a passion with the Poles that they have recently started a national jazz magazine. There are jazz clubs in all the leading cities, and Roman Washco, a 30-year-old aficionado, has a weekly column on jazz in a Warsaw newspaper. There are few jazz records available in Poland; most jazz fans learn about it from the Voice of America or by attending lectures given by Washco and illustrated with recordings loaned by the U.S. Cultural Attaché in Warsaw. Black market copies of American jazz LPs sell for as much as $20, a staggering amount for a low-income Polish jazz fan to pay. Jazz in Poland was underground, Mrs. Brubeck reported, until after the Polish October Revolution and the emergence of the Gomulka government as quasi-independent. Prior to that time, no assembly of more than three people was allowed and Polish jazz fans and musicians had to meet illegally in cellars to hear the music they liked, Mrs. Brubeck discovered. At one time a few years ago, a Polish official in the Cultural Ministry is reported to have said: "The Western Powers have three strong weapons -- American movies, American jazz and Coca-Cola." Today, Mrs. Brubeck said, American movies are being shown in Poland, American jazz is being heard there (there is no censorship of radio broadcasts at all) and Coca-Cola has just made a deal with a Polish bottling company. Although the Brubeck Quartet had enthusiastic receptions throughout Poland, perhaps the warmest response came in Stettin on the night of March 7. As an encore the Polish jazz critic, Roman Washco, introduced the two young Brubeck boys, Darius, 11, and Michael, 10, who then played a piano and drums version of Duke Ellington's "Take the A-Train." "It was my first public appearance," said Darius who is named after his father's classical mentor, Darius Milhaud. "I was real nervous. I started to fumble around and my father yelled, "Play the melody!" So I played the melody! It didn't sound too bad, really, but when it came to the breaks Michael just looked at me! I wouldn't want to do it in this country, though," Darius said reflectively. "It would be kind corny." Some idea of the attraction jazz has for the Poles may be gained from the fact that Brubeck accepted a request to play a concert in Warsaw at the Palace of Culture on only 24 hours' notice, yet filled the hall. With no publicity except a few announcements on the radio, 3000 Polish jazz fans jammed the hall to hear the Brubeck group. "Jazz means so much to them," Mrs. Brubeck said, "they take it more seriously than we do. They think it definitely is an art and one with great significance. The audiences all seem to sense creativity, even more than over here, and the fact that they continued to listen to jazz and play it even when it was forbidden shows how much it meant to them. It is a symbol of protest for the Poles." Russian propaganda about Little Rock has not been completely effective, Mrs. Brubeck reported. The presence of Eugene Wright, the first Negro jazz musician to tour Poland, caused no comment at all. When Wright was introduced he received the most applause, but there was no special questioning on Little Rock and race relations. "The Poles, who have themselves been in slavery in the past, seemed to understand the situation," Mrs. Brubeck said. And Brubeck, when he spoke on jazz at the concerts, drew tremendous applause for saying: "No dictatorship can tolerate jazz. It is the first sign of a return to freedom." The two weeks the Brubecks spent in Poland were far and away the most exciting of their overseas trip, according to Mrs. Brubeck. "You have no idea what a tremendous experience it was. The people are very friendly to Americans. We traveled without any U.S. representatives, only a Polish guide. At the railroad stations in small towns and cities people would crowd around us in a circle and sometimes even tough us for luck!" Jazz musicians in Poland are very proud of what they can play themselves, Mrs. Brubeck discovered. In fact, the Krakow jazz club held a special evening concert for the Brubecks so the visiting American jazz men could hear the Polish musicians. "They were very, very good," Mrs. Brubeck said. The Polish sense of humor was another outstanding feature of the trip. Polish jazz musicians are sending a band to a jazz festival in Copenhagen this spring and Polish jazz buffs say "Imagine! They are the first jazz group to go behind the Iron Curtain!" As a result of her experiences in Poland, Mrs. Brubeck is sending back books, records and American jazz magazines to the U.S. Cultural office. "The Poles are starved for all this, they pass jazz magazines around until they are in tatters." When the Brubeck group left March 20 after a concert in Poznan, the station platform was crowded with jazz fans offering them flowers ("There were always flowers for us, all over") and small gifts and presents. The jazz buffs who had followed the group for two weeks were crying and," Mrs. Brubeck said, "so were we." As the train left Poznan station, Roman Washco, the jazz critic, ran the length of the platform waving goodbye. "I don't know what I did to deserve this," Darry Brubeck said. "It was quite an experience," his mother concluded.
Holt-Atherton Special Collections, University of the Pacific Library
Holt-Atherton Special Collections, University of the Pacific Library
This item is part of the Brubeck Collection, MSS 004.
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Gleason, Ralph J., "Poland: San Francisco Chronicle, "'Mr. Coolu' Got a Warm Polish Reception"" (1958). News Clippings. 35.