The history of the Cracow
All Souls’ Day Jazz Festival


 Polish fascination with jazz music dates back to the period before the second World War but just after the liberation the real fanatic jazz boom came to appear. Today that boom seems to be the escape of intellectual society from the gloomy politics of those times to the slightly feeling of freedom given then by jazz. In 1954 there were many eminent jazz musicians performing in the worldwide level. They knew each other but with no opportunity to meet all together. The All Souls’ Day was the only day in the year when everyone had some time off. And such a day was the All Souls’ Day in 1954 when the all Polish jazz musicians gathered in the gymnastic hall at the Primary School no 32 on 78 Queen Jadwiga Street in Cracow. Among the organisers were: Witold Kujawski, Marian Eile, Jacek Borowiec and Jerzy Skarżyński. Although that musical performance were not exactly a concert but it proved then to be the first Polish jam session which was placed in the history as the very first Cracow Jazz All Souls’ Day Festival. A year after, on the same day, the second Cracow Jazz All Souls’ Day Festival was held in the Cultural Centre in Zabrze but since then all successive festivals has remained in Cracow. In 1956 the Cracow authorities officially registered the Cracow Jazz-Club “Helikon” which appeared to be in charge of organisation of The Cracow Jazz All Souls’ Day Festivals. The following year the Cracow Philharmonic Hall, as the first one in Poland, opened its door wide for jazz music. The great star of the IV festival was Andrzej Kurylewicz. The VII Cracow Jazz All Souls’ Day Festival became the first international one with Stan Getz on the stage of the Cracow Philharmonic Hall. It was the year 1960. Two years later the Cracow Jazz-Club “Helikon” run by the then President Jan Bryczek established the medal of the “Golden Helikon” handed over to the most interesting Polish musicians performing during festivals. Andrzej Kurylewicz was the first who had an honour to receive the “Golden Helikon”. Subsequently the medal was handed to: Andrzej Trzaskowski, Zbigniew Namysłowski, Roman Dyląg. The XIV Cracow Jazz All Souls’ Day Festival took place in 1967. In 1968 after the political decision of closing up the Cracow Jazz-Club “Helikon” in the fear of spreading students’ revolt – the Cracow Jazz All Souls’ Day Festival was cancelled. In 1969 when the Cracow Jazz Association came into being the then municipal authorities refused consent without giving any reasons to organise the Cracow Jazz All Souls’ Day Festival. In both 1968 and 1969 years, however, secret jazz-club events took place around All Souls’ Day and were named in confidence from the authorities and public as the Cracow Jazz All Souls’ Day Festivals. The later environmental analysis showed some conjectures that the most harmful for the festival could have been the festival name wrongly associated with religious holiday. The following year the festival was organised under the name of the Cracow Jazz Festival but everyone knew it was the Cracow Jazz All Souls’ Day Festival. The underground All Souls’ Day Festivals of the years of 1968 and 1969, however, were not included in the festival numbering. In 1970 the Cracow Branch of the Polish Jazz Association was run by the President Lucjan Kaszycki. Then the tradition of two-day festival on Monday and Tuesday held just after Warsaw Jazz Jamboree returned to a custom. The main concerts were performed on the stage of the Cracow Philharmonic Hall and the jam sessions were held in the Cracow Krzysztofory Club. The successive Presidents of the Cracow Branch: Jan Poprawa and Janusz Muniak carried out their statutory duties bringing up to the XXXV edition of the festival. They, however, remained the term of the Cracow Jazz All Souls’ Day Festival which was just after the Warsaw Jazz Jamboree for the reason that salaries of foreign artists performing in both festivals turned out then to be much lower. Although the Cracow audience had a great opportunity to watch and listen to many world-famous musicians, the rank of the festival slightly declined and some malicious people even claimed that the Cracow festival seemed to be “poor scraps of Jazz Jamboree”. This opinion, yet, was not approvable because artists like Woody Herman, the legendary Duke Ellington’s big band conducted by his son Marcel, Don Cherry or Didier Lockwood appeared during the festival in Cracow.
In the year of 1991 Marek Stryszowski took on a post of the President of the Polish Jazz Association in Cracow. He had no other way out but to realise the statutory goals of the Association. The first Marek Stryszowski’s Cracow Jazz All Souls’ Day Festival, and the XXXVI in total, took place on the stage of the Groteska Theatre. Since then two dominant changes in the history of Polish jazz have been observed. The first more essential one concerns a name referring to the time of concert festivals. Stryszowski has broken with a tradition of organising the Cracow Jazz All Souls’ Day Festival just after the Warsaw Jazz Jamboree claiming that the Cracow festival should have been an independent one with separate programme. The second change introduced by Stryszowski involves the formula of a “wandering festival”. Today in Cracow practically there is no place with jazz music where the concerts of the Cracow Jazz All Souls’ Day Festivals would not be performed. Marek Stryszowski as the President had a great honour to organise the jubilee XL Cracow Jazz All Souls’ Day Festival. He entrusted veterans of Polish jazz Andrzej Jaroszewski and Jan Poprawa with the conducting of that special edition of the festival. The President also reminded the public about once given up celebration of handing over the medal of the “Golden Helikon”, simultaneously spreading the range of awarded people. From that time not only musicians but also people supporting jazz have received the “Golden Helikon” and so among them in 1995 were: Emil Brix the general consul of the Austrian Republic and Jadwiga Tyrankiewicz the head director of the LOT Polish Airlines Company as well as awarded posthumous: Andrzej Zaucha, Henryk Słaboszowski, Jerzy Bezucha – Polish musicians. The great star of that jubilee festival was Acker Bilk.
Describing the history of the Cracow Jazz All Souls’ Day Festival we can not ignore the unique and one of the most important accompanying events which constitutes the closing up of the festival. It is not exactly an event it is a kind of mystery. The mystery was firstly initiated in 1987 by Jan Budziaszek as a requiem mass for late jazz musicians. The requiem masses have been being served at the end of the festivals as the characteristic completion for over twenty years now. Officially the requiem mass was placed in the programme of the festival in the post-communist times during the presidency of Marek Stryszowski.
In the year of 2005 Marek Stryszowski organised the jubilee 50 Cracow Jazz All Souls’ Day Festival. The atmosphere of the festival was more solemn than it used to be before but without any special jubilee background. The more important matter for that time was the fact of surviving of one of the oldest or maybe even the oldest jazz festival in the world.

Wiesław Siekierski

(tłum. Dorota Zawiślan)