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Krzysztof Komeda (born Krzysztof Trzciński 27 April 1931 in Poznań – 23 April 1969 in Warsaw) was a Polish film music composer and jazz pianist. Perhaps best known for his work in film scores, Komeda wrote the scores for Roman Polanski’s films Rosemary’s Baby, The Fearless Vampire Killers, Knife in the Water and Cul-de-sac. Komeda's album Astigmatic (1965) is widely regarded as one of the most important European jazz albums; critic Stuart Nicholson describes the album as "marking a shift away from the dominant American approach with the emergence of a specific European aesthetic."
Born Krzysztof Trzcinski, he used Komeda as a stage name due to the Communist government's dislike of jazz. He grew up in Częstochowa and Ostrów Wielkopolski where in 1950 he graduated at the Gymnasium for Boys (gender-separated high school). While at school, he participated in the Music and Poetry Club. After graduating from high school he entered the Medical Academy in Poznań to study medicine. He finished six-year long studies and obtained a medical doctor diploma in 1956. He chose to specialize as an otolaryngology physician.
He took music lessons from early childhood; to become a renowned virtuoso was his dream. He became the member of the Poznań conservatoire at the age of eight, but the war thwarted his plans. Komeda explored the theory of music, and learned to play piano, during this period and later, until 1950; however, he was aware of the loss of the past six years. Komeda was interested in light and dance music. He met Witold Kujawski, the graduate of the same school and already a well-known swinging bass player, at the gymnasium (high school) in Ostrów Wielkopolski. It was Kujawski who acquainted Komeda-Trzciński with jazz, and took him to Kraków. The romantic period of Polish jazz, called the catacombs, had its day in the spotlight, concert publicity did not exist then. Jam-sessions, in which participated such famous musicians as Matuszkiewicz, Borowiec, Walasek and Kujawski himself, took place in the legendary, small Witold’s apartment in Kraków.
Some years later, it became clear why Komeda was fascinated with be-bop performed by Andrzej Trzaskowski. The fascination with jazz and the friendship with famous musicians strengthened the connections of Krzysztof Trzciński with music, even though he was a doctor by profession. He worked for some time with the first, postwar, pioneer Polish jazz band, a group called Melomani that was from Kraków and Łódź, and which mainstays were Matuszkiewicz, Trzaskowski and Kujawski.
Later on, he played with various pop groups from Poznań. One of them was Jerzy Grzewiński’s group, which soon transformed into dixieland band. Komeda appeared with Grzewiński on the I Jazz Festival in Sopot during August 1956, but he achieved success performing with saxophonist Jan Ptaszyn Wróblewski and vibraphonist Jerzy Milian. The reason for that was simple: dixieland did not meet Komeda’s expectations at the time. He was most fascinated with modern jazz. Thanks to this passion, the Komeda Sextet was created. Krzysztof Trzciński used the stage name 'Komeda' for the first time when he worked at a laryngological clinic, and wanted to conceal his interest in jazz from co-workers. Jazz was beginning its struggle for respectability with the communist authorities in the era of 'the thaw' and Polish society also; it was regarded as a cheap suspicious music from night clubs.
The Komeda Sextet became the first Polish jazz group playing modern jazz, and its pioneering performances opened the way for jazz in Poland. He played jazz that related to European traditions and which was the synthesis of two most popular groups at those times: The Modern Jazz Quartet and the Gerry Mulligan Quartet.
During thirteen years that passed after the I Sopot Jazz Festival, the artistic personality of Krzysztof Trzciński became more mature, crystallized and lyrically poetic. Krzysztof was, above all, a constantly searching poet and he could find ways of individual expression of jazz inside himself, in Slavic lyricism, and in the traditions of Polish music. He excelled at creating a poetic atmosphere, and knew better than many others how to reach wide audiences. His music has an unmistakable style and its own, unique tone.
The years 1956–1962 saw Komeda with his group taking part in domestic festivals and preparing ambitious programs. These were also the years of his first foreign successes: Moscow, Grenoble and Paris. The interesting show was created at that time; it was called "Jazz and Poetry" and shown on Jazz Jamboree ’60, and later in Warsaw Philharmonic. Komeda's adventure with film music also begun. Scores for the films of Roman Polanski such as Knife in the Water (1962), of Andrzej Wajda such as Innocent Sorcerers (1960), and of Janusz Morgerstern Good Bye, Till Tomorrow (also 1960) were created. The period, which in Komeda’s artistic biography can be called the period of growing up and improving his own music language, was crowned with "Ballet Etudes" performed on Jazz Jamboree ’62. Although the reaction of domestic critics for the Etudes was rather cold, it opened the door of Europe for Krzysztof Komeda Trzciński.
Komeda visited Scandinavia for the first time in spring 1960, and he came back there since then every year. All of his performances at the ‘Gyllene Cirkeln’ (Golden Circle) in Stockholm and at the Montmartre Jazz Club in Copenhagen, where the most famous celebrities of American jazz performed, turned out to be a real success. Metronome, the Swedish record company recorded his music played by an international quintet: Allan Botschinsky (trumpet), Jan "Ptaszyn" Wróblewski (tenor saxophone), Krzysztof Komeda (piano), Roman Dyląg (stage name: Gucio; contrabass) and Rune Carlsson (percussion). The famous Danish director Hennig Carlsen ordered music to his movies: Hvad Med Os, and Sult (the movie based on Knut Hamsun’s novel Hunger). Komeda also wrote the music to Tom Segerberg's movie Kattorna and several Polański scores. Overall Komeda wrote more than 70 soundtracks. After successes in Scandinavia, came next successes: jazz festivals in Prague, Blend, Koenigsberg; toure of Bulgaria and both West and East Germany. The Komeda Quartet (Tomasz Stańko (trumpet), Roman Dyląg (bass), Rune Carlsson (percussion), and Zbigniew Namysłowski (saxophone)) recorded in May 1967 ‘Meine süße europäische Heimat - Dichtung & Jazz’ for the West Germany record company Electrola. Komeda stayed in Los Angeles in 1968 where he composed film music for Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (with one of his most recognizable compositions, "Rosemary's Lullaby" song by Mia Farrow) and Kulik’s The Riot.
In December 1968, in Los Angeles, Komeda had a tragic accident which led to a haematoma of the brain. He was pushed off an escarpment by writer Marek Hłasko during a drinking party. Roman Polański mentioned in his memoirs that as a result of friendly rough-and-tumble with Marek Hłasko, Komeda fell down and suffered head injuries. Medical treatment in the US hospital did not rescue his life. After having been transported home to Poland in coma and in terminal state, he died.
As a jazz musician, he exerted crucial influence on creating an original style, often described as the Polish school of jazz, which subsequently influenced the Polish jazz scene's development after his death. Since 1995, the Komeda Jazz Festival has been held on a regular basis, including an International Composers' Competition. The goal of the competition is to promote young artists.