He began the musical education cycle by studying piano and violin in elementary school, and finished with a diploma from the State Higher School of Music in Cracow in the trumpet class. He began playing in the late 1950s on Krakow’s jazz scene. Joachim Ernst Berendt wrote about him that he was the first trumpet player in Europe to play free. – In 1962, together with double bassist Jacek Ostaszewski, pianist Adam Makowicz and drummer Victor Perelmutter, he founded the Jazz Darings, considered one of the first free-jazz bands in Europe.
A year later, the trumpeter was invited to join by Krzysztof Komeda the pianist and composer. Stanko played in his legendary quintet for four years, participated in the recording of the masterpiece of European jazz – the album Astigmatic (1965).
In 1968 he completed the lineup – Janusz Stefanski on drums, Bronislaw Suchanek on double bass, Janusz Muniak on tenor saxophone and Zbigniew Seifert on alto saxophone, which he soon replaced with violin.Stanko divided the quintet’s output into three periods:
The first, composed, is associated with Music for K, Stanko’s publishing debut as leader, which became a permanent part of the canon of Polish jazz records.
The second stage is woodwind music – free jazz, the least known period in the quintet’s history despite the fact that it lasted continuously for more than three years.
The third final stage is associated with the release of the band’s next and final album – the iconic Purple Sun album. It was with this lineup in the early 1970s at the head of his own band, Tomasz Stanko Quintet, that he entered the forefront of free jazz and appeared at major European festivals.
This position was cemented by subsequent projects: Unit with Adam Makowicz and the quartet led with Edward Vesala, a group with which he began working with the ECM label in 1975. The album „Balladyna,” released at the time, became a legend on both sides of the Atlantic. In the 1980s, Stanko played in Cecil Taylo ra’s orchestras, and led the bands C.O.C.X. and Freelectronic, to which he introduced reggae, latino, electronic and rap music inspirations.
The 1990s marked the beginning of Stanko’s return to the jazz top and the next phase of his collaboration with the ECM label. His new quartet with Bobo Stenson, Anders Jormin and Tony Oxley was hailed as the best jazz group of the decade – a rare top rating for the album „Leosia” in the Penguin Jazz Guide. Released in 1997, the album „Litany”. which introduced the world to the music of Krzysztof Komeda became his first worldwide bestseller. With the albums „Soul of Things” and „Suspended Night” recorded with a young Polish quartet at the beginning of the new century, Stanko broke through to the American market, where he has been touring regularly ever since. In 2002, he became the first winner of the European Jazz Prize awarded in Vienna; two years later, he was awarded a high state decoration in Poland, the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Rebirth of Poland.
As a leader, he has released more than 40 albums, and has also written music for numerous films and theatrical productions.
For years, he has regularly appeared in the top ten trumpeters of the prestigious annual survey of the American magazine Down Beat. The same poll also honored him as a composer. As a leader, he has released more than 40 albums, and has also written music for many films and theatrical productions.
Since 2008, he has been dividing his life between Warsaw and New York. It was in his new apartment in Manhatanine that the album „Dark Eyes,” which he recorded in 2009 with the Scandinavian Quintet, was composed. His current projects also include ensembles with New York musicians Lee Konitz and Craig Taborn, among others.
In 2010, the artist’s autobiography, „Desperado,” was published in Poland and became a bestseller. In 2011, the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest complex of museums and educational and research centers, released the six-disc compilation „Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology,” which closes with Tomasz Stanko’s piece, „Suspended Night Variation VIII,” singling him out as one of the few Europeans to do so. In the same year, President Bronislaw Komorowski awarded Tomasz Stanko with the Commander’s Cross with Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta.
The year 2013 begins with the release of the album „Wisława”. Like his youthful idol Miles Davis, Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko has a gift for putting together great bands, and this one, formed in the jazz capital of the world, promises a lot. Thomas Morgan and Gerald Cleaver are one of the most alert bass/drums sections in contemporary improvised music, and Cuban pianist David Virelles, inspired by ritual music as well as Thelonious Monk and Andrew Hill, seems particularly well disposed to the swollen darkness and refined horror of Stanko’s free ballads. In fast tempos, it’s as if all four are entering new territory, with very exciting results. Stanko’s new compositions from this double album were also inspired by the poetry of Wislawa Symborska, a Polish poet, essayist and Nobel Prize winner who died in 2012. As Stanko writes in the album’s booklet, „I owe a lot of ideas and inspiration to reading Wislawa Szymborska’s words. As Stanko writes in the album’s booklet, „I owe a lot of ideas and inspiration to reading Wislawa Szymborska’s words. Encounters with her and interplay with her poetry gave impetus also to this music, which I would like to respectfully dedicate to her memory.”
The year 2014 begins for Stanko with awards. On January 14, he receives the Passport of Polityka as a creator of culture.
On the same day, in Paris, the Jazz Academy – l’Académie du jazz – under the chairmanship of François Lacharme, awards him the Prix du Musicien Européen – the European Musician of the Year Award – for his current achievements and lifetime achievement. A day later, he also receives one of three honorary awards given by the ‚Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik’ (PdSK), an independent association of more than 140 music journalists from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Also in 2014, at the invitation of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews POLIN in Warsaw, Tomasz Stanko wrote „Polin Suite.” Recorded with Tomasz Stanko (tp) and Kush Abadey (dr), Ravi Coltrane (ts, ss), Dezron Douglas (b), David Virelles (p), and premiered at the opening ceremony of the museum’s permanent exhibition.
Four years after the groundbreaking „Wisława” album, years of intense touring and work on new music, Tomasz Stanko’s New York Quartet has returned with another masterful recording, „December Avenue.” Ever the consummate „bandleader,” Stanko encourages rousing improvisation to shine around the trumpeter’s characteristically melancholy and soulful themes, and for all musicians to have their say. Newcomer Reuben Rogers – who hails from the Virgin Islands and is perhaps best known for his work with Charles Lloyd – is a wonderful new addition to the band, establishing a deep rapport with Cuban pianist David Virelles and Detroit-based drummer Gerald Cleaver.
Tomasz Stanko passed away in the summer of 2018, just after his 76th birthday. He was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in the spring of this year. Earlier this year, he managed to play a mini tour with his European lineup, a concert at the NFM in Wroclaw with symphonic arrangements of his compositions, such as „Wislawa,” „April Story,” „Faces”.and at the Centennial Gala of S