Originally published at MinnPost.com on Friday, Aug. 13, 2011
Twin Cities Polish Festival,
to be held this weekend on Main Street SE in Minneapolis, sounds like a
splendid time, whether you're Polish or not. (Some 250,000 Minnesotans
claim Polish heritage.) You can sip Polish vodka, pat Polish sheepdogs,
watch Polish folk dancers, view Polish films, eat Polish food, join the
Na Zdrowie (To your health!) 5K Run, listen to some Chopin, and hear a
lot of polka.
And sultry, seductive Brazilian jazz, sung by a Polish jazz singer.
Born in Poland, now based in Chicago, where her admirers include Chicago
Tribune arts critic Howard Reich, Grazyna Auguscik (gra-ZHEE-na
ow-GOOSE-chik) will make her first Twin Cities appearance on Saturday.
As festival headliner, she'll perform with guitarist Paulinho Garcia, her musical partner for 14 years, and the Polish-born, New York-based electric violinist Adam "Evil" Baldych.
In Chicago, she keeps fans on their toes by presenting Chopin's works in
unexpected arrangements (with trombones, but no piano), singing in
three languages (Polish, English, and Portuguese), and staying
unpredictable. She can purr Jobim, put a Brazilian spin on Sting's hit
song "Fragile," evoke fellow Chicagoan Patricia Barber, and turn a
standard like "Blue Skies" into a sonic trip Laurie Anderson would envy.
On Saturday, she'll stay close to her Brazilian repertoire – perfect music for a summer day. Here's Jobim's "Summer Samba," recorded in Poland.
I spoke with Auguscik by phone earlier this week.
Pamela Espeland: How did you first become interested in jazz?
I grew up in a small town in Poland and didn't have a lot of places to
hear jazz. Two music instructors at the cultural center were into jazz. I
would participate in different music events, and they were my
accompanists. I learned some American standards; I didn't speak English
at that time, so it was very difficult. I had to learn them
phonetically. That was my beginning. I moved to Krakow and started to
play with jazz groups and tour around Poland and Western Europe. From
there I moved to Warsaw.
PLE: You came to the United States in 1988. What brought you here?
Music. A friend came first, and he brought a tape of my singing. I got a
scholarship from Berklee [College of Music in Boston] and came here. I
didn't plan to stay longer than one year – then I stayed four years. I
studied at the same time as Kurt Rosenwinkel, Antonio Hart and Roy
Hargrove. I had the opportunity to play with a lot of fantastic
I started to experiment with different instruments
and musicians. But I was always interested in bringing folk and ethnic
music to jazz. For my first recital, I sang a Polish folk tune, and my
band was a guitar player from the Congo, a bass player from Israel, a
drummer from Austria, and a keyboard player from California. I'd like to
see those guys again.
PLE: From Boston, you moved to Chicago. Why Chicago?
Boston, I was studying and working at the same time, and I was very
tired. In my second year in the States, I took a summer break, came to
Chicago, started singing here, and met a lot of musicians. I felt this
was a very friendly place for me — much slower than new York, less
competition, more opportunity to find music work. The first club I
performed at was the Green Mill, and I became part of the Green Mill
family. It's one of the great jazz clubs in the world.
A Polish-born singer, living in Chicago, specializing in Brazilian
music: That doesn't happen every day. What drew you to Brazilian music?
Garcia. I met him in 1995. He was doing a solo concert in a small
place. When I saw him, I said — wow. He sounds so beautiful, and I know I
can sound good with him. For the next four years, I kept asking, "Can
we do a demo? Can we see how we sound together?" He was so busy. We
finally did a demo and ended up with a record. We sounded great
together, and that was the beginning of our duo. We have worked together
He's 100 percent Brazilian, straight-ahead
Brazilian. Anything he does becomes Brazilian. He doesn't do what I do —
I'm crazy, jumping from one part of the world to another, one kind of
music to another, combining everything. What he does is very pure. He
always tells me, "The new music, it's just a moment, only for today. But
my music stays forever." He's right.
His playing is very
percussive. You can hear the bass in his guitar. His voice is like
another string of his instrument. It's so easy to work with him. We
travel together everywhere and it's never a problem. He's a very good
person, one of my best friends, and he makes the best coffee.
PLE: The two of you are bringing out a new CD soon, a Beatles project. Will we hear some of that music on Saturday?
Absolutely. It's called "Beatles Nova," like bossa nova. We arranged
the songs for two voices, then added bass and percussion. We harmonize
over the tunes. Paulinho is a master of harmony.
PLE: Since this is a Polish festival, will you sing in Polish a bit more than usual?
No, but I will sing some Polish. We don't have a lot of songs in
Polish. We sing British music in English with funny accents. We'll do
some Chopin, without lyrics, all scat singing. I might do some duets
with [violinist] Adam. We'll do mostly Brazilian tunes. Warm, nice
music, mostly relaxing. Very happy, very sunny.
PLE: Is there anything else you'd like people to know?
GA: I'm not a complicated person, and I drink straight vodka.
Twin Cities Polish Festival, Saturday, Aug. 13 (10–10) and Sunday, Aug. 14 (11–6), along the Mississippi River on Main Street, across from Riverplace & St. Anthony Main.
Auguscik will perform two sets on Saturday starting at 7 p.m. on the
Polka Stage. With Paulhino Garcia, voice and guitar; Heitor Garcia,
percussion; Brett Benteler, bass; and special guest Adam "Evil" Baldych,