50!

08/06/2019, Winnica De Sas, Poland

Few months before my Dad’s 50th birthday, we sat together at my Grandma’s house in Poland, discussing what kind of surprise we can do for my Father, as he has always been very supportive for our family and organized amazing trips for us. We thought it had to be something HUGE! I have been living in Oslo for a couple of months now, but managed already to become friends with a lot of our favourite musicians. So as we sat in the kitchen, brainstorming ideas and searching for cool wineyards in Poland, my Dad’s wife, Magda, very casually, just thinking out loud, threw this thought on us – Why don’t we invite some of his favourite musicians to play for us? And from this very moment I have created a whole vision for the best birthday concert ever, and in reality it turned out even much better. So now there was only one big question – Who are we going to invite? I didn’t have to think twice – I knew exactly who to ask first.

Our “core” musician, favourite bass player of all times, which my Dad, as he stated, was listening to his whole life. The Thing, Atomic, The Young Mothers… and thousands other projects he’s been a part of – the one and only – Ingebrigt Håker Flaten! Someone told me that it was very brave of me to contact Ingebrigt and find courage to ask him to play a private gig for my family. I guess sometimes you just have to go for it and see what happens. What’s the worst thing that could happen? He could’ve said no… But he agreed!

Now that we have a bass player on board, it would be nice to have another musician for a perfect birthday duo, right? How about getting two musicians together who have been playing for 20 years in a jazz ensemble, but have never played in duo before? You got it!

10th April 2019, there was a fantastic concert happening in Oslo – Bushman’s Revenge at Kampen Bistro in two intimate and cosy nights, celebrating their 16-years-carrier. The key to my mission was a special guest, fantastic reeds player from Sweden, Fredrik Ljungkvist. I was so excited not only for the concert (which was of course amazing), but also to meet Fredrik in person and present him my idea. After the show I have to act fast and take the first chance I have to talk to him. He friendly gave me a hug even though it was the first time we’ve met. In one breath, I presented my idea and invited him to play on my Dad’s birthday. He was positively shocked by this invitation and its originality, so he asked me to e-mail all the details to give it a thought. The next day I sent all the information, and Fredrik replied almost immediately – Ok, I am free on this date. Let’s do this!

And here we are! After months of planning the whole trip, logistics, booking flights and fixing small details, we made it to a beautiful winery Winnica de Sas, located literally in the middle of nowhere in Poland. Before the gig we did a little trip to another winery Winnice Wzgórz Trzebnickich at which we had an amazing tour, wine tasting and scenery straight from Tuscany. See for yourself:

After a lovely wine tasting in the open air, it was about time to go back to our house and start preparing for the show. Everyone contributed as best as they could and helped with everything. My siblings, cousins and the owners of the winery, Ania and Leszek, helped with setting up the “stage”, or to be more precise a space where the concert was held. When the owners heard that we will be hosting a jazz concert, they immediately offered to hold it in a huge storage room equipped in enormous wine metal tanks, barrels and cider containers. Imagine that! And what was even better, this place had amazing, natural acoustics. Isn’t that a cool place to play a concert at?

The soundcheck was a must, so while we were setting up chairs for the audience, Ingebrigt and Fredrik were testing the space and sound:

Dinner time! Artists cannot play on empty stomachs, so during the soundcheck, the other half of the family prepared delicious food, served with even more great wine, so that everybody could eat before the show. We’ve settled the time for the concert, but actually, after all this fresh air, wine tasting and delicious food, we forgot what time was. The evening simply came as it was, with team work, creative planning, a lot of talking and laughing and listening to cool music in between. After a while, when everybody felt like it, we decided that it would be nice to see a live show now. The audience, aroused and excited, headed to the storage with a glass of wine in their hands, and musicians waited at the backstage for a proper introduction, to enter the stage with a loud round of applause.

I think I’ve never seen my Dad with such a broad smile on his face, when he took a seat in a front row. He told me, that the best part of this concert was this feeling that it was just for him. That the musicians were there for him and played each song with a special birthday dedication. That’s what made it so unique and exciting.

After my improvised speech, with a trembling voice and tears in my eyes, I wished my Dad happy 50th birthday one more time and almost shouted Ingebrigt’s and Fredrik’s name to invite them on stage, as the audience started very quickly to welcome them with loud applause.

They played for us an amazing repertoire which consisted of one composition for Atomic, and well-known jazz standards. I only made one request beforehand for the evening, but I will get back to it later.

Performance started with a composition written by Fredrik, Feets From Above, which also borrows from Ornette Coleman. It appeares on Atomic’s second album Boom Boom, released in 2002. Atomic is a jazz quintet in which Ingebrigt and Fredrik have been playing together for 20 years now. Although, when you take out the drums, trumpet and piano, the composition is taken to a whole new approach by our precious duo. A very cheerful and uplifting melody from saxophone (which, every fan of Atomic could probably recognize from its first sounds), in the company of juicy bass, invites us to an amazing show. Strong warm-up eventually leads us to a unique bass solo, in its own style, playfully touching the main theme here and there, so that both instruments meet back again to take on a free part. As the tempo accumulates, they explore every possible way on this journey. And then, suddenly tuning back in to the beggining, repeating softly the main melody and smoothly transitioning to the next piece. Ingebrigt takes a step back and gives Fredrik a space for a knockout saxophone-solo with lengthened, fragile phrases, which, as a free-improv prelude, open our ears for their own version of a very well-known jazz standard, Donna Lee. As Fredrik states later, it was a very free take on this composition. Fredrik adds clarinet later on with some truly beautiful phrases. In the last part of this track, he grabs saxophone again, and they both awaken a pure free-jazz spirit, giving it all out, the rage and the passion. We get to experience a dialogue between a raw, vibrant bass, and inquiring sax, which prove us all again that they understand each other perfectly. At the end of the first two tracks, audience rewarded musicians with cheerful applause, and if you listen carefully, you might catch there my Dad, Ingebrigt and Fredrik calling each other’s names out in a very funny appreciation gesture.

-Ok, Ingebrigt, what now? asked Fredrik before the third take. – I don’t know.. Would you like a ballad? Ingebrigt directed a question to my Dad and he answered without hesitation – A ballad? Yeah, sure!. That being approved, Fredrik took a clarinet, Ingo grabbed a bow, and they played for us a heart-breaking, and eventually also kind of unsettling ballad. It grabbs your body, touches the heart, and goes straight to your soul and move it in the directions you never knew before. That was a very special version of another jazz standard – Body and Soul.

And we’ve hit the last piece of the evening already, which was also the only request I made beforehand. Lonely Woman by Ornette Coleman, which my Father adores. He even has a broad collection of different versions, played by his favourite musicians from all around the world. This version from our duo joined my Dad’s collection as a number 23. And such Lonely Woman you haven’t heard before, I can guarantee you that. They began with a free-improv introduction (in 00:33 you can hear my Dad whispering to me: Lonely Woman? to make sure that he guessed it right), slowly builidng up the tension, to eventually hear the saxophone reverberating the main theme, which is so well-graved in jazz lovers’ hearts, giving you goose bumps from head to toes. And that one bass-solo from Ingebrigt, the one you will never forget, when he seems to forget about the composition, or he just grabs it and make it his.

They left us with an open ending, the performance was short, but somehow very fullfilling. When the last applause echoed, I wanted to shout: We want more!, but something stopped me. The concert was over and our souls were completed. What a fantastic experience and gift. I truly felt like it was my birthday as well that night.

After the concert it was not the end of gifts and surprises. We had one more. About one week before the celebration, my cousin, Matylda came up with amazing idea – Why don’t we ask different musicians to send short birthday wishes so we can make a video of it? Believe it or not, but two days before I jumped on a plane to Poland, I had planned amazing gigs in Oslo with, guess who – my Dad’s favourite musicians! It was Chris Abrahams from the Necks and Kamasi Washington who was touring with Miles Mosley! And I only had one mission – go to the gig, enjoy and record birthday wishes from musicians afterwards. My Dad met Miles after a concert at Porgy and Bess one year ago, and I showed him a picture of them. Miles started to laugh and asked me – This is your Dad?! I remember this guy! And then we laughed together and recorded fantastic brithday wishes. See how did it go with Miles and plenty of other wonderful musicians HERE.

After watching the video, singing Happy Birthday at the top of our voices, hugs and many questions to the artists, we’ve headed back to the house. There was even more music, an endless sea of white wine for some of us, and long talks about life, family and love unitl 5 a.m. in the morning. Ingebrigt had a very (very) early flight on Sunday, and we were supposed to head back to the airprot around 5 am. My Dad, Ingo and Fredrik and I we decided that there is no point in going to sleep, so we stayed up until the departure.

The next day we’ve had the one last task to be done. The owners of the winery, Ania and Leszek, are also organizing annualy a small music festival at the winery, De Sas Music Festival. They have a tradition to ask musicians, who played there and contributed to this place, to plant their own grape as a small remembrance of their visit. Of course they also asked our artists. Before departure, Fredrik planted a grape for him and Ingebrigt with a bit of help from my Dad and my little sister, Telimena. A couple of weeks later, the grape was marked with a beatiful tag with musicians’ names.

“Winery of masters”

I can proudly say that this was my very first successful booking. I can also admit that after this event, the idea for a new direction for No Earplugs was born. From that time, it was not only a blog, but also gradually establishing booking agency. I won’t even dare to summarize this magical event, because it is only the beginning. Who wants to book our very special duo for their anniversary? You know what to do 🙂 Hit me up!

Ingebrigt Håker Flaten – acoustic bass
Fredrik Ljungkvist – saxophone, clarinet

The Family:
Marcin Witkowski (Wschodnie Triady) – Birthday Boy,
Magda Nowak – The Wife, who also had a wig the whole weekend and almost gave the artists a heart attack, when she took it off in front of them at midnight,
Telimena Witkowska – The Little Sister, almost stuck her whole head in Fredrik’s saxophone,
Malwina Witkowska (No Earplugs) – The Booking Agent, Head of Logistics, transport, photos; managed this whole event sober,
Hieronim Witkowski – The Big Brother, transport, stage production,
Berenika Witkowska  – The Big Sister, stage production,
Matylda Weiss – Cousin, recorded this beautiful concert and was very stressed about distortions when Fredrik reached the highest tone levels,
Klara Weiss – Cousin, Camera operator, stage production
Dorota Witkowska – Aunt, photos
Hanna Witkowska – a.k.a. Grandma Hanna, every musician wants to raise a glass with her; a legend has it that she drank Ingebrigt and Fredrik under the table at this event.

Ania and Leszek Zuber – Lovely owners of the winery Winnica De Sas

Music (and family) is the healing force of the universe

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