Tomasz Bura

“I enjoy playing not only jazz but improvisation; I treat it more as a wide open topic. I don’t just want to be regarded as a jazz player, I want to play music; I want to play the best music I can.”Tomasz Bura

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Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

Pianist/composer Tomasz Bura studied classical music in Poland, going on to win several jazz and classical music competitions. Bura has toured and recorded widely throughout Europe as a sideman to an array of artists including Moyes Dos Santos, Ernesto Simpson, Nick Van Gelder and Sulene Fleming, Mark Fletcher, Joel Compass and Sola Akingbol to name a had full. Tomasz is known and respected by musicians across the Jazz, Classical, Funk and Dance circuit. June 2015 saw the long-awaited release of his first solo album, ‘Ritual’ [UK Vibe review]. Michael J Edwards sat down with the polish piano professor prior to his performance alongside Moyses Dos (bass) and Jay Phelps (trumpet) to get an insight into his musical beginnings, his passion for jazz and classical music and the aforementioned debut album release.

Michael J Edwards: Greetings Tomasz, great to catch up. Do you come from a musical lineage, parental wise etc?

Tomasz Bura: Music was around my family all the time; but no one was professional, no one was educated.
I’m kind of the first one in my family, who is doing it really professionally, playing jazz, and playing classical music.
My dad used to play guitar, and he put me into music. He said, “Forget about school, don’t worry about that, just be the best and do your best.” So my dad definitely helped me with that.

Michael J Edwards: And where exactly did you grow up?

Tomasz Bura: I grew up in South Poland. Good place to study music.

Michael J Edwards: How old were you when you first started playing the piano and why that instrument?

Tomasz Bura: I told my parents that I wanted to play music and that’s all I wanted to do with my life.
So they had no choice and they put me into piano lessons. I wanted to play drums, but drums are pretty hard to get into the building (Laughs).
I was living in an apartment block. So I had my first piano lessons when I was six years old.

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Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

Michael J Edwards: Did all your musical education during your formative years take place in Poland?

Tomasz Bura: Yes, I studied twelve years in a music school in Zabrze, Poland, and then I studied in the Music Academy in Katowice…
That was one of the best academies in Poland. I studied in the Academy for one year and then I left and went to London.
I was around twenty-one at this time.

Michael J Edwards: You very quickly garnered a plethora of Jazz and Classical awards for musicianship. Obviously you are trained in both genres, but which is your preferred genre?

Tomasz Bura: I wasn’t studying jazz, although I had some teachers who gave me private lessons, and I also attended a few jazz workshops.
Really I was educated only in classical music and I studied jazz mostly on my own. I enjoy playing not only jazz but improvisation; I treat it more as a wide open topic. I don’t just want to be regarded as a jazz player, I want to play music; I want to play the best music I can.
I have my own music in my head, and I wouldn’t call it jazz. The thing is jazz gives you the language it opens your mind definitely…
It gives you freedom, it gives you space; and we all call it jazz. But my playing is not only jazz, it’s just a mix of everything that I’ve heard in my life to be honest. I play a lot of Funk, R&B, hip hop; so many different styles. I don’t like saying I’m only a jazz player,
but obviously it’s a big part of it.

Michael J Edwards: It’s all good music?

Tomasz Bura: It’s all good music, yes.

Michael J Edwards: Which musicians inspired you growing up and which musicians continue to inspire you?

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Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

Tomasz Bura: The first person who actually inspired me to play music probably was Sting from The Police. The first time I heard The Police; I was like, “Oh my God! That’s crazy!”
I remember when I was pretty young my dad used to listen to The Police and Queen and many great British bands you know!
And then obviously I listened to a lot of classical music, because I was studying it since I was six. So I played a lot of Chopin and Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev who is one of my favourites for sure!
So I enjoy classical Russian music as well as 21st-century music. I heard about jazz quite late; I think I was sixteen when I first entered a jazz workshop, and that was my first meeting with jazz to be honest. I’d heard about jazz in that it was music for musicians, it was like something underground for musicians, but I didn’t really understand what jazz is all about.

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Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

Then I heard Bill Evans, he was the first jazz pianist I ever heard. Then I heard Herbie Hancock, and then when I heard Keith Jarrett, it stayed with me for a couple of years, I also studied music of Chick Corea but Keith Jarrett was on my headphones every day! I listened to his solo piano concerts, trios, and also his classical playing.

And then when I started playing a little bit too much in the style of Keith Jarrett, I said, “I have to stop, I can’t listen to Keith anymore. I don’t want to sound like anyone else, I want to find my own voice.” So I stopped listening to him, and I started looking for other piano players and other influences, and I found Gonzalo Rubalcaba and other amazing piano players.
But to be honest I don’t listen to much music anymore. I listen to music when I don’t practice.
Too much music in my headphones doesn’t make me feel like practicing. Sometimes playing and listening is a very similar thing. I love to be influenced by something, but I don’t listen for hours.

Michael J Edwards: Your debut album release ‘Ritual’ contains eight beautifully and creatively crafted compositions. Why the title and over what period of time was it written?

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Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

Tomasz Bura: Thank you. The album happened quite randomly to be honest; I was recording an album with a different band in Poland. In the studio we had a huge Steinway piano; it was one of the best instruments I’ve ever played in my life! So when the guys went for dinner I said to myself, “Let me just stay and I’ll record my own album right!” I always play solo piano music, that was my thing, but I never recorded any albums
So there are about four or five tunes on this album which are 100% improvised. Some of them, like the title track ‘Ritual’ were written before.
‘Ritual’ is basically an album of my newest inspirations; it’s quite a spiritual music. I became quite spiritual over the last two years; I’ve changed my thinking towards religion and faith.
I’ve changed many things in my life… And I think this album expresses that a lot because you can feel that it’s really spiritual, it’s really emotional; so all my emotions are on this album.
It was recorded live, I recorded for an hour and a half, and I deleted forty-five minutes… still have them somewhere. So I just took the best forty-five minutes and put it on the album.

Michael J Edwards: Can you explain the reason behind the album title ‘Ritual’?

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Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

Tomasz Bura: I was reading and watching about different people and their rituals, the various scary rituals and religious rituals. And also “ritual” means to me the way in which you spend your day, that’s your ritual. The way you practice your music is a ritual, when I come to the piano it’s my ritual. For some people it’s praying which is their ritual.
Some people have sexual rituals (Laughs). I have my instrument – that’s my ritual, and I thought that is what it’s all about.

Michael J Edwards: Our UK Vibe reviewer Mike Gates was also very enamoured by the album, referring to your sound as “Keith Jarrett-esque”, especially on the lilting tune ‘Between strings’. High praise indeed; where did you draw the inspiration from for these compositions?

Tomasz Bura: Yes, ‘Between strings’ is one of my favourites and was partly improvisational. I had the first melody, but then the whole thing is just improv to be honest. I was feeling the vibe; I was listening to the piano and just going with the flow. With ‘Coda’ the last tune, I didn’t know what to play because I didn’t have much studio time left, so I just had to play!
So I choose the key and I said, “Okay, let’s do in B flat!” So I started playing in B flat and it became ‘Coda’. So that’s how it started, basically it was just coming through my being to my fingertips. It’s a really spiritual and a really emotional album.

Michael J Edwards: You have a beautiful version of Duke Ellington’s ‘Caravan’ on the album. Why did you choose that track to cover?

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Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

Tomasz Bura: I’ve always loved the standards; it gives you a lot of freedom. So I thought, let’s do a do a standard on the album to make it interesting. ‘Caravan’ is a tune I played before at a couple of gigs; but this arrangement came to me randomly, and I thought, let’s give it some groove, let’s mix up a little bit.

Michael J Edwards: Which were your favourite tracks from the album and why?

Tomasz Bura: It’s hard to say, because every day I have the feeling that I would love to listen to different tracks from the album. I think every track is pretty much different on the album; but ‘Between strings’ is for me the perfect one. It’s the one that makes me say to myself, “Yes Tomasz!” (Laughs) That was the first take; in fact, every track on the album is a first take.
I didn’t re-record anything, it was just one take – I had no time for mistakes.

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Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

Michael J Edwards: You’re playing this evening here at the Pizza Express Jazz Bar alongside some other very consummate musicians. A few words please on each of these talented musicians please?

Tomasz Bura: I met Moyses Dos Santos a few years ago. We never really played together apart from jams. Then one day he called me for a gig; and since then we’ve done a couple more at the 606 Club always with different musicians. This time around we have Pete Ray Biggin on drums, who is absolutely one of my favourite drummers in the world…I played with Pete Ray Biggin and his PB Underground a couple of weeks ago, and that was fun. What a band! We have a good time together on stage. Moyses as you know is a great bass player and plays in many bands along with Pete.
Jay Phelps (trumpet) was one of the first people I met when I came to London. We met at the Troy Bar in Hoxton about four years ago. Actually, I met him at the first jam session I came to in London. We got along, but we haven’t played since then; I think this is the first gig we’ve done together in three years!
I love his playing, he’s an amazing trumpet player and a really creative musician. Then we have Mikayl Daywood on guitar, who I think it’s going to be one of the biggest prize in London!
He’s very young but his playing is unbelievable. And what I need to say about him is he’s always super prepared for the gigs; and that doesn’t happen often these days to be honest (Laughs)
He knows his stuff, he knows my parts better than me! Amazing person as well.

Michael J Edwards: What are your plans going forward regarding promotion of this album and future projects?

Tomasz Bura: Apart from my new album ‘Ritual’ and my solo concert which I’m going to play very soon in the 2016, I’m also going to be promoting my own band featuring Ernesto Simpson on drums.
He is one of my heroes; I used to listen to him when I was younger. The album is like World Music, I recorded three of my visions and called them ‘Vision One’, ‘Vision Two’ etc.
I’m preparing to record the album with the band as well; it’s going to be something really interesting, something completely different. So watch this space definitely;
it’s going to be something special!

Michael J Edwards: Thank you for your time Tomasz and enjoy the gig tonight?

Michael J Edwards

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Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

Essential Website:
http://www.tomaszbura.com/

Essential Album: Ritual 2015
Essential Twitter: @tomaszbura
Essential Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tomaszburamusic

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