An ex-classical pianist on the road to jazz stardom

Adam Makowicz sits slightly hunched over the keyboard at the Copley Plaza Hotel, his smallish hands finishing off a ballad lavishly peppered with lightning-fast runs a la Art Tatum: Makowicz has been compared to Tatum for his astonishing technique and a stylistic similarity to that grand master of jazz piano.

Virtually an unknown just a few years ago, Makowicz is now attracting the attention of critics and jazz aficionados around the United States and Canada. Although he had been playing professionally in Europe since 1965, it wasn't until John Hammond of Columbia Records discovered him and booked him into The Cookery, a jazz club in New York, that his career began to take off.

He spent some time playing fusion jazz in Michal Urbaniak's group in Europe and ultimately made an album with that group, playing electronic keyboards. But not long after that Makowicz came back to his first love, the acoustic piano, an electronic keyboard instrument.

"If you are open to every kind of music you are freer," comments Makowicz in an unmistakable Polish accent. "But now I give up all that experimental music -- it was enough for me to have known those things. Now I come back to the roots."

So it was natural that Adam Makowicz, a classically trained European pianist but a true lover of jazz, would come to be United States, the birthplace of jazz , to pursue his career. I wondered now he became so enamored of this typically American art form, and he explained that the Willis Conover jazz broadcasts during the late '50s had initially sparked his interest.

"Before 1956, under the dictatorship, no art from Western countries was allowed. But after Stalin's death, Conover started to broadcast his jazz hour: Music USA. Jazz had existed before this in Poland and even in Russia, but always underground."

Makowicz learned much of what he knows from these programs and from jazz records he was able to buy at the time. He entered college to study classical musict, but didn't finish because "I decided to switch to jazz. I couldn't find a teacher, so I learned from my friends, and the radio program."

Listening to Makowicz play solo piano is not unlike attenting a supmtuous smorgasbord, with samplings of the finest foods. One hears not only Tatum in his playing, but some choice Erroll Garner chords, some Bill Evans, and even a little Rachmaninoff and Chopin! All of this dished up with remarkable ease, speed, and delicacy.He whips off a lickety-split stride left hand with a light deftness, sometimes barely touching they keys, but never missing a note.

Yet some critics say Makowicz is merely a derivative player, a carbon copy of Art Tatum, a recycled Erroll Garner. What is Makowicz's response to the accusations?

"People listen for a few minutes only, and make a judgment -- it's not enough. It's like saying, I've read lots of books and they're all the same -- they all use the same words!'"

Makowicz likes to feel that he is coming from the roots of jazz piano, but putting his own, more up-to-date interpretation into the older style. I could hear some of this in his playing, especially in his choice and placement of chords.It's clear that he has the technique to play any way he might choose, and he has simply chosen the way most meaningful to him.

You'd think it would be a delight to Makowicz to be here at last in the home of jazz, playing and performing and getting lots of recognition to boot. But despite his appreciation of all this, he has is reservations, too.

"In Europe I played only concerts and jazz clubs where people really listen. Here I play in restaurants where people come to talk and the music is in the background. Sometimes it makes me so angry, I think the customers can see it in my face!"

Many musicians can sympathize with his feelings, and it certainly can get a fellow to think he's knocking himself out and nobody's listening. So what does Adam Mackowicz do when he's low on inspiration?

"I put on an Art Tatum record."

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