POLISH jazz pianist Adam Makowicz (pronounced Ma-KO-vich) knew he was taking a risk when he appeared on Charles Wick's controversial television program, "Let Poland Be Poland." "It was a difficult decision," he says in the halting English he has spoken since coming to America in 1977. "I cannot say nice words about what has happened in Poland in the last few months. I knew if I would participate, it means trouble for me . . . and that's already happened."
Although he made no statement beyond dedicating Duke Ellington's "Caravan" to the people of Solidarity, Makowicz, who will appear at the National Press Club Sunday night, says the Polish government has already done its own television program on him. "They took parts of Wick's show and commented on it and tried to put down what I did to prove that what I'm doing now is against the government."
Though he lives in New York and has resident status, Makowicz still maintains his Polish citizenship and a Warsaw home. "I would like to keep both citizenships ," he says. He also hopes to go back to Poland "and all the East countries. I have a lot of friends, a lot of jazz fans and I would like to go back for all kinds of audiences, not just western ones. I would also like to go to Russia but now I'm sure they won't allow that."
Makowicz had appeared in Russia on numerous occasions; in fact, he had been voted Europe's No. 1 jazz pianist by the prestigious International Jazz Forum. He was the brightest jazz star in eastern Europe, capable of filling large concert halls. But for the Voice of America, currently run by Wick, he might have been filling those same halls as a classical pianist, which is what his early training had geared him for.
"A lot of jazz musicians started listening to VOA in the middle '50s," Makowicz recalls. "When Stalin died, Russia gave us more freedom and we could listen to western radio stations." A musician friend turned him on to Willis Conover's "Music USA" program and Makovicz was hooked. "We learned perfectly what is jazz because he Conover commented on who is playing, when it was recorded, what kind of music it is. It was like encyclopedia of jazz for us, so important. He did an excellent job."
Conover and Makowicz first met in the '60s in the Soviet Union at the Talin Jazz Festival and got to know each other better at Warsaw's annual International Jazz Festival. Another important American contact was producer John Hammond, who arranged for Makowicz' working papers in 1977 and signed him to Columbia Records. Ironically, while Makowicz is now known for his stunning acoustic style, it was his electric work with Polish jazz vocalist Urzula Dudziak and violinist Michal Urbaniak that first attracted Hammond's attention. Fusion and avant-garde music were quite popular in Europe "and it was easy to find a job; at that time, I didn't have enough clubs and concerts to survive."
Having started on acoustic as a classical pianist, Makovicz returned in 1975 to "the pure sound I dreamed of." It's a sound well-suited to his superb technique and adventurous improvisations, which echo not only his two favorite pianists, Art Tatum and Erroll Garner, but Bill Evans, Teddy Wilson, and even the influence of Chopin and Debussy.
Stateside, Makowicz is still relatively unknown, though he already has become a critical favorite (Conover calls him one of the "top 10 pianists in the world today"). He's worked recently with a bassist and drummer (new albums have been issued recently on Stash and Columbia), but Makowicz has such a strong left hand that he doesn't really need anyone's musical support. "I am practicing the same intensity with both right and left hand," he says. "For my music I need a strong left hand. I am looking for the best way to be original."
He's been here long enough to get over one major difference between American and European audiences. "I was a little disappointed when I first came here and started playing in the nightclubs. It is a little trouble to concentrate when people talk very close to where you are playing. But I know that always someone, even one, is listening very closely and appreciating and I can play for that one."
There's one other bonus, he admits. "I used to listen to a lot of jazz. Now I'm in the center of jazz, the mecca."