Biography

Jarek Śmietana was one of the most significant figures in Polish jazz. In an annual survey among JAZZ FORUM readers, he unarguably held the first position as the most outstanding jazz guitarist in Poland for over three decades. A charismatic band leader, originator of uncountable activities and projects, great composer and arranger. He left behind dozens of albums, including over 30 authored by him.

He had his own distinguishable sound, being a synthesis of his wide interests and inspirations. Brought up on big beat music and rhythm & blues, he became the king of Polish jazz-rock. Then, he followed the path of hard bop and mainstream, encompassing thus the entire tradition of world jazz. His early fascinations include: The Animals, The Beatles, John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, Cream, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, as well as B. B. King and Santana, who were followed by such outstanding figures of modern jazz as Wes Montgomery, Pat Martino, Kenny Burrell, George Benson, John McLaughlin, John Scofield, John Abercrombie, and Mike Stern. He admired John Coltrane, Miles Davis, as well as Ornette Coleman, whom he dedicated one of his albums.

Jarek’s music was soaked with blues, it had the expression of rock music and the smoothness of a bebop phrase. The guitar held no secrets from him. In his hands, it became a tool which he used for transmitting the sounds of his heart and soul. He had a talent for grasping narration, a feeling of harmony and swing, and a melodic tone. With time, he also began to sing. Initially he supported only the guitar line, yet transformed finally into a charismatic, Jimi Hendrix-like, vocalist. He was a born showman, extraordinary host of his own concerts of which he made unforgettable performances. He was bursting with energy, yet was still very warm and kind, communicative, with positive attitude towards the world. In his sleeve, he always had up new ideas which he consistently pursued.

Jarek Śmietana was born on 29 March 1951 in Krakow in a music family. He completed Secondary Music School in the guitar class, and further studied at the Faculty of Jazz and Popular Music at the National Higher Music School in Katowice (currently the Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music in Katowice). Already at school, he used to play in big beat bands. He made an appearance at the beginning of the 70s when he triumphed at the Jazz on the Oder Festival in Wrocław. First, with a blues band Hall, then - with Extra Ball which turned out a true sensation (1974 and 1975) as the best jazz-rock band of the decade (apart from Śmietana, the first line-up included Adzik Sendecki - electric piano, Jan Cichy - bass guitar, and Benedykt Radecki - drums).

He loved also large orchestras. In 1974, he performed at Jazz Jamboree with Klaus Lenz’s Big Band (East Germany), and four years later he toured in California with Big Band Katowice. It was in November 1978 when he took part in the last concerts preceding Zbyszek Seifert’s death. The result thereof was the “Kilimanjaro” album. In spring 1980, he left with Extra Ball for a three-month concert tour around the USA, crowned with a visit at Miles Davis’ place in New York.

Extra Ball, which was dissolved in the early 80s, was a trigger for Jarek to set up new combos: Sounds, Namysłowski-Śmietana Quartet, Symphonic Sound Orchestra, and Polish Jazz Stars. As a leader of his own bands, he arranged concerts and album recordings for grand American musicians, including: Art Farmer, Freddie Hubbard, Eddie Henderson, Joe Zawinul, Gary Bartz, Carter Jefferson, Vince Mednoza, John Abercrombie, Hamiet Bluiett, Idris Muhammad, Ronnie Burrage, Harvie Swartz, Bennie Maupin, Mike Stern, Cameron Brown, and Steve Logan.

In 1998, he was honoured with the Fryderyk Polish Music Award for his album “Songs and Other Ballads”. In 2002, he began to co-operate with a British violin virtuoso - Nigel Kennedy. Nigel guest-starred his orchestral “Autumn Suite”, whereas Jarek took part in Kennedy’s international voyages. Together, they fulfilled themselves in repertoire devoted to Hendrix. One of Jarek’s favourite music partners was also the master of Hammond organ - Wojtek Karolak, They had been friends and collaborators for several decades.

The internationally appreciated and admired guitarist died on 2 September 2013 after a long struggle with the illness. He was honoured post mortem with the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta.

On 13 September 2013, ashes of the artist were buried in the Honour Lane at the Krakow’s Rakowicki Cemetery.


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