It’s always sad when someone whose music you admire and who you’ve even met a few times passes away. Even more so when it’s someone with such a freewheeling spirit as Tomasz Szukalski, the saxophonist, who has died in a Piaseczno hospital in Poland. He was not very old, just 64, and even though he wasn’t that well known outside his native land he was very well known indeed inside Poland, liked, admired and revered inside the country often winning polls as the leading jazz saxophonist. His playing on Stanko’s album Balladyna alone is a great legacy and testimony to his endeavours.
A true bohemian who embraced the jazz lifestyle and had an infectious smile and big personality, Szukalski, known as the Jackal, was the sort of person jazz needs. Not boring and with a willingness to reach out to any audience who cares to pitch up, listeners always got something out of his playing even if he wasn’t by any chalk an innovator nor would he have wanted to have been. He had too much modesty.
But he did make you think and he had a fine strong sound, Slavic, for sure, and with the blues at its heart as well. He was best known for his work with Stanko, and with alto hero Zbigniew Namysłowski. He had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease in recent years.
From Warsaw Szukalski was born on 8 January 1948. He studied clarinet at the Academy of Music and first made his mark nationally at the Jazz on the Oder festival in 1970 when he won a prize for his playing, ushering him in to play with the Polish Radio Jazz Studio Orchestra. He’s to be found on Namysłowski’s great album Winobranie, and the classic Kujaviak Goes Funky. But with Stanko in 1975 he left his most indelible mark on Balladyna in a band that also featured the wondrous bass playing of Dave Holland and Stanko’s great soul mate Edward Vesala on drums. In the 1980s Szukalski made a great splash with the band Time Killers in the company of keyboards hero Wojciech Karolak, and the diminutive Czeslaw Bartkowski on drums, and the album received suitable acclaim in the Polish music press notably in Jazz Forum magazine, the country’s leading authority on jazz. Stephen Graham