In the evening these days the Old City resounds with jazz from club after club.
So it?s hard to believe that not so long ago, during Stalin?s time, this music was forbidden in Poland. The authorities banned it on grounds that ?it was created by the imperialists.?
Banned it may have been, but it was still played. It went underground, with fans relishing not only the music but also the notion of jazz as a symbol of opposition to the political system.
It is impossible to give a precise date for the beginning of Polish jazz. What is known is that some bands existed before World War II in Krakow and other cities.
After the war the Communists outlawed jazz. But some Poles loved the music so much that they played it in apartments, cellars and other places.
When Josef Stalin died in 1953, everything changed. The music flourished to the point that jazz festivals were organized, some of which are still around today. Two of them are the Jazz Jamboree in Warsaw and the Zaduszki Jazzowe in Krakow.
A few jazz bands with charismatic personalities had a big influence on Polish jazz. They included: Jerzy ?Dudus? Matuszkiewicz?s Music Lovers; the Sextet of Krzysztof Komeda, who is famous for the music in Roman Polanski?s film ?Rosemary?s Baby;? and Jan Ptaszyn Wroblewski?s Jazz Believers.
Janusz Muniak, a well-known saxophonist and owner of the U Muniaka Jazz Club, said one reason the music became more and more popular during the Stalin era was because it was forbidden.
Listening to jazz was not only a way of enjoying yourself but also of feeding the rebelliousness in your soul and expressing your desire to be free.
It was very much a part of student culture. Jarek Smietana, one of the top jazz guitar players in Europe, said nearly every dormitory had its own jazz group. There were also student clubs.
These live concerts were really important in popularizing jazz, Muniak said, because jazz records were difficult to find in the former Soviet Union ? since officials banned them.
Now Krakow is full of jazz clubs like U Muniaka.
Since its opening in 1992, many famous jazz musicians have dropped in to play at the club. That?s why going there can be exhilarating. You never know who might come.
Like many jazz clubs in Krakow, U Muniaka is in a cellar. The Florianska Street establishment is small and full of atmosphere.
You can hear live jazz every day. Muniak himself plays several nights, often with young artists.
Many of the newcomers are from neighboring Katowice, whose Academy of Music has a terrific jazz program, one that dates to 1968.
?It?s good that Katowice is so close to Krakow,? Muniak said. ?Thanks to this lots of very talented youngsters feel at home in Krakow. These are artists with whom we can really enjoy playing with.?
Most jazz clubs are in the center of Krakow. In some places on Market Square, clubs are actually adjacent to each other. That is the case with the Harris Jazz Piano Bar and the Jazz Club of Piwnica Pod Baranami (The Cellar Under the Rams).
Harris offers regular jazz on Saturdays and blues jam sessions on Thursdays and Fridays.
Although its Jazz Club is only five months old, Piwnica Pod Baranami has been around for decades as a venue for music, performing arts, painting and sculpture.
The club is named for a jazz establishment in the 1950s where such top musicians as Krzysztof Komeda and Jan ?Ptaszyn? Wroblewski got their starts.
The old Jazz Club was known for all-night jam sessions and people dancing to swing rhythms.
Although its club is new, Piwnica has sponsored a Summer Jazz Festival since 1996. It has drawn so many top musicians, and has been so popular, that it is considered Krakow?s top music festival.
Every year the festival offers about 50 concerts featuring musicians from Poland and abroad. Each year since 2001, festival organizers have presented an award known as the Jazzowy Baranek to a musician who has been a pioneer in Krakow?s jazz scene.
This year?s festival starts July 7. It will run for four weeks.
Another intriguing jazz venue is Jazz Club Kornet. Not far from Rynek Glowny on al. Krasinskiego, it is a throwback to the legendary Helikon, Krakow?s first club.
The Old Metropolitan Band offers its own brand of Dixieland every Wednesday and Friday. From its beginning decades ago, in 1968, it has captivated audiences.
It plays Dixieland favorites straight from New Orleans and its own compositions, which are a melding of jazz and Polish highlander music.
Where to go to hear good jazz:
U Muniaka Jazz Club
ul. Florianska 3
Harris Piano Jazz Bar
Rynek Glowny 28
Jazz Club of Piwnica Pod Baranami
Rynek Glowny 24
Jazz Club Kornet
al. Krasinskiego 19
U Louisa Club
Rynek Glowny 13
Art. Club Cieplarnia
ul. Bracka 15
Piec Art Club
ul. Szewska 12
ul. Sw Jana 15
ul. Florianska 26
Kamienna Jazz Club
ul. Kamienna 17