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Nominated for the 2021 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research
Komeda: A Private Life in Jazz is the biography of Krzysztof (Trzciński) Komeda (1931-1969), composer of no fewer than 40 soundtracks, including film scores to all of Roman Polański’s early films such as Knife in the Water and Rosemary’s Baby; and a revered figure in the world of jazz, which regards his record, Astigmatic (released in 1966), as a key album in the history of European jazz.
This biography of Komeda, originally published in Polish by Znak in 2018, is the first to be published in the English language and not only traces Komeda’s life, but also the development of Polish jazz during this period. It explores how this arose in large part out of a need for self-expression and personal freedom during a repressive period of Soviet communist dominance.
The book is full of interviews between the biographer and people who worked with and knew Krzysztof Komeda personally, and, while thoroughly-grounded in primary sources, it is written in a playful, questioning, engaging style.
Published: Oct 6, 2020
Playfully informal, open-ended take on biographical literature. It sheds some light on Komeda's background living with polio as a child, moonlighting as a doctor, living under Soviet censorship laws, having laughs on the road and his by no means straightforward relationship with wife Zofia. There are insights into how Komeda composed and conducted himself in rehearsals. His life story also opens up a wider perspective into the authoritarian Communist Polish regime during the 1950s and 60s. The book is especially good in the concluding chapters on the events leading up to his untimely death.
Komeda is ... something of an enigma, so a detailed biography is overdue. Komeda: A Private Life in Jazz is commendably thorough, containing a painstakingly researched catalogue of his jazz collaborations, early gigs, foreign engagements, struggles to establish himself as a film composer, and his eventual emergence as the most important figure on the Polish contemporary jazz scene.
Where the book does score heavily ... is in its depiction of the tricky negotiations and accommodations required to survive as a jazz artist under the Soviet system. Being an award-winning journalist and historian, Magdalena Grzebałkowska is particularly adept at winkling out all the ironies, ambiguities and occasionally farcical instances of such attempts at control.
This is a valuable study of a uniquely influential figure.
London Jazz News
That it has taken over fifty years for the first English-language biography of Krzysztof Komeda to appear reflects the pianist/composer's underground status outside his native Poland. Yet no history of European jazz would be complete without mention of this modernizing figure, whose career burned briefly but brightly from 1956, when he launched his modern jazz sextet, until 1969, when he died, a rising film composer, in tragic circumstances in Los Angeles. Award-winning journalist and author Magdalena Grzebałkowska's book was published in Polish in 2018, but thanks to Equinox Publishing and a first-rate translation by Halina Maria Boniszewska, a rounded picture of Komeda emerges for international readership that places his achievements in context.
A highly readable tome that will likely serve as the main reference on Komeda for many years to come.
All About Jazz
With short portraits of important people in Komeda's life, rare photographs, 659 source references, a selected discography and bibliography, Grzebałkowska has succeeded in creating a compendium of Komeda's life and work in 15 chapters from which the reader derives great benefit. It is more than a mere supplement to previous publications about one of the most important musical personalities of our neighboring country.
Just for Swing Gazette
I have never read a jazz biography like this: vital, vodka tinged, tumultuous story of artists seeking freedom in a repressive society that seeks to limit rather than enrich. It is precise in detailing how the tools of subjugation work. It is about finding a voice against the odds.
Provides an intimate glimpse into the life and development of a Polish jazz musician whose unique talent for hybridizing musical forms made its greatest impact across an international spectrum of film soundtracks.
Journal of Film Music
An artistic work unto itself, and an important contribution to international jazz research, history, and historiography. Grzebalkowska’s biography of Komeda can and should be a catalyst for further scholarship in Polish jazz.
Association for Recorded Sound Collections Journal
Reviews of the original Polish edition:
Grzebałkowska has indeed managed to add to our knowledge of Komeda’s life in so many different areas, and this book will now be regarded as a key work – a point of departure for others, and certainly for the creators of the planned film (to be directed by Leszek Dawid and premiered in 2020). Just as the story of the pioneering years of Polish jazz can be told through Komeda’s biography, so, finally, his story has been incorporated into one comprehensive volume.
Bartek Chaciński, Polityka