Jazz and popular music
Recording not available.
Wojciech Kilar’s versatility as a composer of both music for concert halls and of film scores has other aspects as well – not very well known, it would seem.
These include, in the first place, jazz, with which the composer had been fascinated in his youth. After returning from scholarship studies in Paris, Kilar even wrote a long article for the magazine Jazz, reporting on the jazz season of 1959 and 1960 in the French capital, during which he'd had the opportunity to admire artists including John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald. In an interview with Jerzy Radliński (Obywatel jazz [Citizen Jazz], Kraków, 1967), Kilar says that jazz – which in the early 1960s was to have been only a form of escape for him at a moment of creative crisis that followed Oda Béla Bartók in memoriam – turned out to be “a cure” and indicated new compositional possibilities to him.
Above all, Kilar appreciated a certain “philosophy” of the genre: the fact that the main goal of a composer was to “write a piece of music” without claiming to be writing a masterpiece. However, he was far from being an advocate of bringing jazz closer to classical music: “We, ‘serious’ composers, will be passionate about jazz as long as it remains different from the music we make,” he explained to Jerzy Redliński. Kilar’s estate includes notes suggesting that he seriously considered writing a piece for the 1962 Jazz Jamboree Festival in Warsaw. On the first page of the score (that was probably never completed), the composer noted its title and scoring: One for Three: Alto Vibes and Bass Music. In the same year, however, he wrote Riff 62 – a work for the Warsaw Autumn Festival that shows its jazz inspirations already in its title.
Although Kilar clearly sided with one party and remained a “serious” composer, on many occasions he flirted with popular music – for example, through cinema. It was for films that he composed a number of unforgettable songs, some of which existed on their own and were presented for example at the annual Polish Song Festival in Opole. It is worth remembering that Kilar composed the big beat song So many roads to lyrics by Agnieszka Osiecka, sung in The Island of Villains (1965) by Marta Kotowska; ballads for Whoever Knows (1966) sung by Wanda Warska; Out of My Eyes to words by 19th-century national bard Adam Mickiewicz, which in The Leper (1976) is sung by Stefcia Rudecka (played by Elżbieta Starostecka), accompanying herself on the piano; and I’m Calling You to lyrics by Wiktor Woroszylski (also known as the Radio Operator Song from the popular 1960s TV series Four Tank Men and a Dog), crooned in the film by Lidka (Małgorzata Niemirska) and sung with great devotion by circus artist Natasza Skobcewa (Hanna Skarżanka).
Finally, Kilar also composed the Song of the Little Knight, sung for the first time by Leszek Herdegen with his characteristic voice over the opening credits of the Adventures of Sir Michael TV series (1969). The fact that the song became the anthem of Polish volleyball fans was a source of huge satisfaction to Kilar.
A separate group is that of popular pieces in which Kilar’s music was used in independent arrangements. The most famous example is the song Whispers and Tears on Anna Maria Jopek’s album Barefoot (2002), featuring a Kilar theme from the film The Portrait of a Lady arranged by Marcin Pospieszalski. As the singer recalls, the composer gave carte blanche to the creators of the new arrangement, which only increased their responsibility, yet he was apparently delighted with the result (Jan Błaszczak, Wojciech Kilar: Piękne wyjście do człowieka ["Beautifully Reaching Out to Other Human Beings"]). Promoting the album Kilar: The Best (2000), Jopek also recorded a vocalise to his music from Andrzej Wajda’s film The Shadow Line. Other arrangements of Kilar’s film music include a song in Violetta Villas’ repertoire, Melancholy, to lyrics by Agnieszka Osiecka. Its material came from the soundtrack to The Leper. Rumour has it that the composer especially wanted the song to be sung by Villas.
Kilar also welcomed Kuba Stankiewicz’s jazz arrangements of twelve of his film compositions in 2013. These were included in the Jazz Jamboree Festival programme that year, then recorded and issued on CD. As Stankiewicz has said in an interview for the newspaper "Gazeta Wrocławska", Kilar’s message was: “Do it and don’t be afraid of change”. The encounter of two open minds produced a tribute to music on which several generations of cinema lovers have been brought up, and which turned out to be ideal for jazz improvisations. The spontaneity, in this fresh approach, which Kilar greatly admired, did not infringe on the music’s original beauty and romantic expression.