Jazz in Poland

Improvised Freedom

by Igor Pietraszewski (Author)
©2014 Monographs 157 Pages
Series: Jazz under State Socialism, Volume 2


This book studies the different roles that jazz played in Poland in the course of the 20th century, from its implementation in the 1920s, through World War II to the Third Polish Republic. The author, sociologist and jazz musician, depicts how jazz was forbidden under Stalin, accepted and even supported in the Polish People’s Republic and then welcomed in the open market of the Third Republic. The discussion of jazz in this work covers several levels: political, symbolic, cultural, and economic. The main point of the presented analysis are changes within jazz music itself, within the community of jazz musicians and relations between the field of jazz and the field of politics.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Chapter I The world of jazz in the light of Pierre Bourdieu’s theory
  • The habitus
  • The capital
  • The field
  • Chapter II Evolution of the field of jazz in Poland
  • Before World War II
  • War occupation 1939-1945
  • 1945-1948
  • 1948-1956
  • 1956-1970
  • 1970-1981
  • 1981-1989
  • After the year 1989
  • Chapter III Habitus of the jazzman
  • Chapter IV The modern audience of jazz
  • Socio-demographic profile
  • The ways of “entering jazz” and the audience’s preferences
  • Typology of jazz listeners
  • Participation in the field of jazz
  • Summary
  • Final Conclusions
  • List of tables
  • Index
  • Bibliography


The communist system, even during its waning years, had an ambition of controlling as many aspects of its citizens’ lives as possible. The power was therefore exercised in three ways: economically (command economy), politically (the party-state that eliminated political competition), and culturally (through the mechanisms of preventive censorship and the attempts to cultivate a single cultural form: socialist realism).

Economically the state controlled the “means of production,” to use Marxist parlance, and there was not much people could do once private businesses were either eliminated or pushed to margins of the economic life. Politically, challenging the power of the party-state was extremely risky and only a few decided to engage in dissident activities. The only domain whereby opposition could have been formulated and even expressed, particularly if criticism was carefully veiled by metaphors or concealed in Aesopian fables, was culture. As a result, people were well versed in interpreting cultural productions as expressions of freedom and critiques of the oppressive system, even if there was no explicit intention to challenge the system on the part of the artists. Music had a special role in this “hidden” criticism, as it is not difficult to endow an instrumental piece with a meaning. All one needs is imagination. And that was never in short supply under communism.

Jazz was particularly suitable to serve as a conduit of “hidden” rebellion. Its very form is rebellious. It is after all an epitome of freedom, as improvisation is right at its center. Additionally, after 1956, Poland was gradually becoming the freest of the communist countries. The rulers simply did not have enough resources to control all aspects of social and private life; arguably some of them did not want to be too strict. There was the Catholic Church, never completely subjugated. And than there were cabarets, theatres, clubs… And many of these clubs were full of music and the music of choice was often jazz. This musical form literally exploded in Poland in the late 1950s and managed to preserve its popularity until the beginning of the eighties.

There existed, however, a peculiar paradox. Jazz managed to acquire a status of rebellious, free music, and yet jazz musicians enjoyed the benefits of state sponsorship. Where was the line between rebellion and subservience?

Pietraszewski offers interesting answer this question. In the process he writes also a history of jazz music in Poland, going back to the interwar period (1918-39) and analyzing the situation of jazz musicians after the fall of communism, when they had to learn very quickly how to survive under the market conditions.← 9 | 10 →

Art has tremendous influence on the whole array of phenomena of central interest to sociology, ranging from providing legitimacy to power arrangements and sustaining social order to the formation of social and individual identities. But the study of art in the social sciences is difficult. It is not easy to translate research problems into variables. The researcher needs to focus on three dimensions of social reality: “objective” that is necessary to generate “hard data,” say, on the institutional forms of artistic production; subjective, related to the meaning the actors attach to the world; and aesthetic that is necessary to grasp the unique character of the world of art. All three kinds are used in this pioneering study that, theoretically, is based on the categories developed by Pierre Bourdieu, particularly his concept of the artistic field. The data is collected by using a mix of methods: historical institutionalism is employed to reconstruct the history of the “field of jazz” in Poland, participant observation provides deep insight into the musicians’ subjective reality (the author is a musician himself), in-depth interviews with several stars of Polish jazz, and a short survey.

Jan Kubik
Professor and Chair
Department of Political Science
Rutgers University ← 10 | 11 →


For years, I have observed the world of jazz in Poland from various perspectives. I had the pleasure of meeting people who shaped its inner landscape and the opportunity to witness the changes in this community which were not necessarily noticed by musicians themselves. Moreover, I participated in the public sector located overlap of the two fields: that of politics and power (limited patronage by municipal institutions) and that of art, whose agents depended on the former for grants to pay their activity.

The world of jazz constitutes a multidimensional reality not only for researchers but also, and perhaps above all, for agents involved in its creation, functioning and reproduction. That world looks different from the perspective of musicians and from the perspective of organizers of concerts and festivals, functionaries of the Polish Jazz Association, or the City Council Culture Commission responsible for holding and funding artistic events.

Personal experiences in these two fields provided me with the opportunity to explore in greater depth the complexity and multi-dimensionality of issues connected with the world of art. The effect of this exploration was a body of valuable, assorted information concerning the life, attitudes, views, ideas and daily chores of the studied community. Moreover, the collected data enabled me to define the organizational problems and mechanisms of raising financial resources necessary for the community to exist and persist.

The problems facing a scholar who wants to study the world of art result from the necessity to combine two entirely different perspectives: scientific and aesthetic ones. On the one hand, his task is to coin operative definitions, produce, codify, categorize and systematize data, as well as to conceptualize sometimes difficult to define artistic phenomena into measurable variables. On the other, it is the perspective of individuals acting within a given field that should be considered, the so-called humanistic coefficient, to say nothing of specific aesthetic values unique for the realm under study.

For such an exhaustive approach and with many theoretical paradigms available, the theory by Pierre Bourdieu seemed most suitable to cope with the task, all the more, that some of its elements were used by the author himself in the analyses of the field of art in the way not to be neglected in the present work. To be more precise, within such a “soft” category like jazz music, the above mentioned nuanced theory made it possible to better understand and explain the studied issues. Bourdieu’s concepts are particularly useful when the object of analysis includes processes and alterations that occur in the world of art for sev ← 11 | 12 → eral generations. The above is connected with the processes of social reproduction, particularly stressed in Bourdieu’s works.

The transformations of the jazz community in Poland, which took place in certain periods of its history, contributed to the formation of some ideology and attitudes towards this ideology presented by agents acting in the field of jazz and affected their identity. Therefore, an appropriate theoretical tool was indispensable in order to capture the specificity of these changes over time. Bourdieu’s theory enabled a grasp of crucial sociological notions of changeable tastes and ideology: significant elements of individual and collective identity of subsequent generations of agents in the field of jazz and their role in legitimization of social order.

Using Bourdieu’s theory, analytical categories possess a double status – they are both theoretical and empirical in their nature and, at least to some degree, they are “flexible in their scope”: the reality is “fluid” thus they should be alike.

In studying long lasting periods, it is necessary to apply primary and secondary information sources and, if possible, obtain information from agents in the field, in this case from members of the jazz community. Therefore, not only was some secondary historical information used here (an approach of historical sociology), but also some relevant data were collected through participant observation, conversations, interviews, or questionnaire surveys, that is the methodology and research techniques traditionally applied in both qualitative and quantitative sociological studies.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (January)
Stalinismus Jazz im Sozialismus Polnischer Jazz Jazzinstitutionen Polnische Volksrepublik
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 157 pp., 23 tables

Biographical notes

Igor Pietraszewski (Author)

Igor Pietraszewski, PhD, is an assistant professor at the Institute of Sociology at the University of Wrocław (Poland). His main research interest is the sociology of culture, art, music and memory. He is also a saxophonist, a member of the Polish Jazz Association and of the Artistic Board of the Jazz on the Odra Festival.


Title: Jazz in Poland
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159 pages