– article translation –
Miroslaw „Carlos” Kaczmarczyk is the leader of Loud Jazz Band, a guitarist, composer, and guitar class teacher who has lived for many years in Oslo, Norway.
by Krzysztof Inglik
Album „Do not Stop The Train” was awarded by the Norwegian Cultural Council as one of the best jazz albums of the year. The next CD, „The Way To Salina”, was noticed on the European scene and very highly rated by the English „Jazz Wise” magazine. We’re meeting Carlos on the occasion of the release of his latest live album – „Living Windows”.
You started playing the guitar, because …?
Because I wanted to break free from the hopelessness of everyday life. The guitar let me stand out. Besides, as a kid, I lived in a neighborhood ruled by hooligan gangs and sometimes it wasn’t cool at all. Playing guitar had made me inviolable. They appreciated it. Then I would love and leave it, in turns. One day I got a tip that the big band of Warsaw’s famous Hybrydy club is looking for a guitarist. So I bought a new guitar this evening and the next day I was sitting in the band. This was where I saw the Real Book with my own eyes for the first time. I was stunned. In the early 1980s’ Warsaw this was virtually unavailable. I managed to copy it in an hour by some miracle and I began working over all these jazz standards with persistence and passion. Which soon made me a sight-reading expert. Later I got to study at the Jazz Department in Katowice Music Academy, where I made new contacts. I was in the same year at the Academy with people like saxophonist Maciej Sikala, trumpeter Piotr Wojtasik, vibist Benek Maseli and keyboardist Zbyszek Jakubek. The Walk Away band was formed there. It was a good year. After returning to Warsaw, one of the most important projects, in which I participated was the famous „Metro” musical.
And how was Loud Jazz Band created?
In a certain period of my life I was working on cruise ships. And instead of getting blind drunk, like some of my colleagues, I set up a band and we rehearsed regularly. That was just the Loud Jazz Band prototype. A bassist from Italy, a drummer from Jamaica, and saxophonist Wojtek Staroniewicz. I wrote my first compositions and soon the band began to work out quite well …
Improvisation is a spontaneous process, just like talking to another person, when you do not think about grammar and sentences, but just talk ”
– Miroslaw „Carlos” Kaczmarczyk –
… and suddenly you emigrated to the icebound Scandinavia. It must have been not an easy decision?
I went to Norway for love. My girlfriend studied organ at a music academy in Oslo. This was the only reason. Of course, it was not easy at first. I did not know anyone there, I had no job … But there was a grand piano in our house. Then I had time to think certain things over and redefine myself as a musician. I also believed strongly that LJB would carry on as a band. So, I slowly took off in that direction.
Now you’ve got Loud Jazz Band’s Norwegian edition. What are the differences between the Polish and Norwegian music scenes?
First of all, Norway is better off economically than Poland. There are lots of musicians. Artists can count on subsidies and support from various cultural institutions. It works very well there. As for my band, I’m lucky to work with the best musicians of the young generation who come over to play my music. We rehearse as often as we can, not only before gigs. And the most important is that these people really want to do it. For example, when we recently had to hire a new pianist, an enthusiastic man came along who could play almost everything on the first rehearsal and kept asking when we could meet again and practice further. This approach gives me unbelievable comfort.
In general, it seems to me that the musical ethics there is better than in Poland. In Poland musicians often believe that they are so good that they don’t have to practice at all. I choose only those who want to practice. If anybody had a problem with that, does not play in Loud Jazz Band anymore.
What is your approach to guitar practicing?
One of the things that I’ve comprehended over the years is that it’s better to not practice at all than to practice badly. I’ve been teaching at a school in Oslo for 15 years and sometimes it comes to very drastic observations. If you think a lot and arrange it in your head, it may happen that you haven’t played the guitar for a long while, and yet you play better. But when you practice very specifically and with a logical plan, you can achieve a lot in a brief time. If you practice chaotically, you will play chaotically. If practising tires you, then you will be tense and tired playing. It’s as simple as that.
You mentioned working at school. What is your approach to your students?
At a school, people expect making progress. You want to feel that lesson by lesson everything is moving forward. So I fully focus on each student and give them one hundred percent of my mind and heart. This is different than an accidental master workshop, which is about an impulse, inspiration, and enlightenment, and then everybody makes the best use of it on their own. At school, I feel personally responsible for the student who comes to my lessons.
„I want to play music for ordinary people, open, spatial, natural, that is, one that can carry a human soul over to another dimension”
– Mirosław „Carlos” Kaczmarczyk –
So, what do you do to make everything move forward lesson by lesson?
I believe that the only way to succeed is to break everything down into prime factors, focus on details and analyze them to the pain. This is like the work of a mechanic who dismantles a car into parts to repair one small detail inside it. Basing on details, things elementary and fundamental, is extremely effective. The student can easier see the nature of their actions and repeat them later with other mechanisms. Therefore, I focus on what is simple. Only at a later stage I try to look for tweaks, variations, modifications, with which the basic forms evolve into more complex ones, and thus become more interesting.
Examples lie at your fingertips, but many people cannot see them, because they look somewhere above instead of under their feet. Sometimes I look astonished at young guitarists who throw themselves at theoretical encyclopedias with hundreds of different scales, while so many interesting motifs can be found even in triads. Let’s take just a C major triad (example 1A). This is the foundation that must be mastered in all possible fretboard fingering variants, all combinations, and inversions. Mastered not only manually, but above all – aurally. Once through it, you can slowly add various frills to this triad. Notes that lead to specific components of it, for example. First to the root (example 1B), then to the third (example 1C), and finally to the fifth (example1D). Can you hear how subtly our C major triad’s nature changes with these subsequent variations? And this is just the beginning. We all know this exercise of playing in thirds: a note from a triad and another one – lowered by a third, then the next note from the triad and again another one a third lower… (see example 2A). Let’s see what happens when we add halftones to each first note (example 2B).
Brilliant – a simple idea, and sounds great …
Doesn’t it? And the most important is that I don’t burden my memory with what is unnecessary. Think about the C major triad only. I once worked hard to memorize some of the best-known guitar licks, but this is a road to nowhere. I do not practice this anymore.
When you improvise, you rely more on theory or on ear?
You can consciously stick to theoretical formulas, but only when practicing. But when you play in front of people – you’re playing only yourself and your own music, all that you’ve learned in your life and what you’ve lived through. If you have been practicing long enough, most of things become intuitive. You begin to feel, rather than to know. Improvisation is a spontaneous process, just like talking to another person, when you do not think about grammar and sentences, but just talk.
Well, but we all use the same vocabulary. What makes a musician play the instrument with own voice?
The greatest masters play in such a way that even at the fastest tempos you can hear their specific articulation, accentuation, rhythm, phrasing, internal pulse and the outline of motifs. Sounds do not merge into a monotonous and illegible gibberish.
Ironically, all the elements I’ve mentioned are presented and discussed in the first classes of music schools, but people often forget about them, while the great masters remember them. It is the way how they use them and connect with each other what we perceive as a unique style.
What inspires you now?
Silence. There is a beautiful Steinway piano in my house near Oslo. Sometimes I sit at it and listen to this silence. I am waiting for this one sound or chord that will delight me and I will believe that it is the most beautiful. Now we listen to music quite rarely, and if so, it is especially selected. Every day, I try not to clutter up the space with sounds constantly buzzing in the background.
One can hear in your tunes the influences from various musical cultures and styles, for example in „Park Lane” the initial riff is extremely rhythmically articulated (example 3), and later the Latin samba rhythm appears (example 4).
I think it comes from listening to very stylistically diverse music. It may be rock, jazz, Latin, or classical music. After some time, all these elements become a part of myself and naturally appear in my compositions. I strive to make Loud Jazz Band not a one-style band. This is not meant to be a jazz band in which I would prove that I can pack a thousand chords and their substitutes into one piece. I want to play music for ordinary people, open, spatial, natural, that is, one that can carry a human soul over to another dimension.
What about your gear?
My gear is the result of a compromise. I know that there are better instruments, but I always wanted to have a universal guitar that would give me the sounds I need. I found this in the Carvin instrument model Allan Holdsworth. If I want to play a jazz solo – I get this warm and soft sound, and when I disconnect the coils in the pickups – I get a Stratocaster substitute. For stronger overdrive playing I’ve got full humbuckers, which give me a Gibson substitute … I am really happy with this instrument. It stays in tune, has appropriate sustain in all positions and is very stable and immune to weather changes. I remember once playing „top-tier” axes with thin necks. I never parted with the neck adjustment key and I had to use it practically all the time. It was extra stress. There are no such problems here.
As for the effects, I use the silver Ibanez series, including also the Tube Screamer. There is also a Yamaha SPX-90 in my kit, the same that Mike Stern and many others use. This effect makes the sound very warm, soft, and velvety. Contrary to the general trend, I use only transistor amplifiers.
How about picks and strings?
As for the strings, I have such a sentiment from the old days, when in Poland good strings were hard to find. I dreamed then about Ernie Balls, and I still stick to it. I play to this day on Ernie Ball’s „elevenths”. My picks are medium-thick Jim Dunlops.
“If you practice chaotically, you will play chaotically. If practicing tires you, then you will be tense and tired playing. It’s as simple as that.”
– Miroslaw „Carlos” Kaczmarczyk –
What would you advise to a novice guitarist?
If you want to play the guitar better and better, it’s essential to be able to set a specific task. When you have a clearly defined task, you just fulfill it, and once you’re done, you know that you’ve closed a stage and left it behind. This is the most important thing – knowing that you’ve finished something. Don’t be a guitarist who wanders throughout the day and doesn’t know if there is something else to do, or whether to practice 10 more minutes or two hours. I used to be like that, and I know how tiring it is. However, both in music and in life, the basic question to answer is: what do I want to do? In principle, it boils down to the ability to divide into parts. Knowing that you won’t practice everything anyway, you choose a small fragment and focus on it hundred percent. For example, it can be one short arpeggio or just two bars of a melody. It’s important to be able to do something definite when practicing and to have a stage closed and left behind. It will give you peace and allow to live normally.
What’s next, Carlos?
Music. Everything in my life is about music. The tunes for the next album are born. My head is full of ideas and I’m very excited about it.