|A LUCKY MAN (PORTRAIT
OF DAINIUS PULAUSKAS)
Jurate KUCINSKAITE (Lithuania in the World, No.5 , 2002)
|"To make music," is all a
remarkable jazz player has ever wanted to do
The keyboardist, composer and bandleader Dainius Pulauskas is today one of the country's most prominent jazz artists. Although he entered the jazz scene at the unusually late age of 30, the 42-year-old musician is now the leader of one of the country's most distinguished jazz bands. He continues to win international recognition by outperforming his real and his spiritual teachers.
He combines many roles: piano virtuoso and creator of electronic sounds on the synthesizer; leader of a famous sextet and an introvert soloist; a composer with his own distinct style and a member of various jazz bands.
Pulauskas has received various awards. In 1998 he won the Bravo for Best Jazz Musician in Lithuania; and in 1999, the Grand Prix at Parnu, Estonia, for his arrangement of the famous Lennon/McCartney song "Yesterday", performed by his sextet and the vocalist Neda. In 2000 he was awarded the Grand Prix at the Birstonas Jazz Festival, a sort of Oscar for his contribution to Lithuanian jazz.
In the autumn of 2001 his sextet received the Golden Disc of the Musician's Union of Lithuania as one of the country's most important groups. Over the last six years, the sextet, which plays exclusively music written by its leader, has won overwhelming approval from concert and festival audiences, not only in Lithuania but also in other countries in Europe, and even India and China.
When someone calls him a lucky man, Pulauskas does not get annoyed. Even though he works very hard and very methodically, he admits that for him circumstances have been truly fortunate.
A TOY CHOIR
He was born into a family of music-loving parents, and not in the concrete jungle of some big city but in the small town of Vievis.
"We talked about music in our family all the time," Dainius recalls. His mother was a choir leader and his father was head of the Department of Culture for the Trakai district. The future pianist attended concerts and song festivals from an early age.
Besides the musical activities of his parents, he was also exposed to other kinds of influence. He has preserved warm memories of his grandparents' homestead in the Merkine district in the Dzukija region, where he used to spend his summers. At night his grandfather and his aunt would play duets for violin and guitar. When he grew older, he also joined in.
There were no children of his age in the village, so he had to either socialise with grown-ups or play alone. He started creating games. Empty bottles from his grandmother's medicine cupboard became the "choir members" that he would put into a toy lorry and take on tour.
"I even built a stage for them. I would arrange the choir in rows, the men separate from the women, and the concert would begin."
At the age of eight, Dainius started playing the piano and the violin at music school. For a child of such extraordinary talent, it was hardly much more than a game. Later, he went on to study the piano at the Vilnius Conservatoire, with the very clear aim of becoming a classical musician.
At the beginning he was hesitant about letting jazz into his life. His first exposure to it occurred when he was already studying at the Conservatoire.
The 15-year-old pianist, who prior to that had been used to listening only to rock and pop music (besides what he learnt at school), heard Coltrane for the first time. He was not grabbed by the music at the beginning. "I felt strange, I couldn't understand what was happening," he recalls.
Despite this initial scepticism, he agreed to join a student big band made up of his friends. Some of them are now well known, including the saxophonist Vytautas Labutis, who is now a member of the Pulauskas Sextet.
"The leader of our big band always chose very clear and simple pieces," Pulauskas says. "By playing relatively simple music, I could master more complicated pieces. It was then that I started listening to jazz, though it was not very serious. My development as a jazz musician didn't begin at the Conservatoire or at the Academy of Music."
Pulauskas has liked improvising ever since his childhood. He would play classical melodies, such as Bach, keeping to the structure of Bach's theme and harmony. As a classical piano student at the Academy of Music, he started playing improvisations; and in 1980 he was the winner of a student piano improvisation competition.
However, he did not appear on the jazz scene until a decade later. Fate gave him the chance to pursue a rather different career. In 1981, soon after graduating from the Conservatoire, he was invited to join the legendary pop music orchestra Oktava.
In the next few years he toured the world, including several African countries, Cuba, Spain and the USA. In 1987 they even appeared at the Pori Jazz Festival in Finland. The orchestra worked hard, sometimes giving as many as 30 concerts a month.
Pulauskas started his jazz career by joining a quartet led by the trombonist Skirmantas Sasnauskas. A year later, in 1992, a performance by the Sasnauskas Quartet and a folk ensemble won the Grand Prix at the Birstonas Jazz Festival. This way, Pulauskas gained much experience in jazz. Even now he calls Sasnauskas his most important teacher.
The members of the group changed frequently, and therefore he got to known many performers, including future members of his sextet. After playing for five years with Sasnauskas, he started thinking about starting his own group. In 1996 at the Birstonas Jazz Festival, the country's most important jazz event, he made his debut as leader of a sextet.
It is an exceptional line-up. These young, ambitious, hard-working and talented musicians share artistic goals, which are perfectly expressed in their leader's compositions. The enthusiasm of the younger ones (Valerijus Ramoska on bass, Vladislav Borkovski on the trumpet, and Linas Buda on drums) combines with the experience of the old-timers (the saxophonists Rimantas Brazaitis and Vytautas Labutis, and the percussionist Arkady Gotesman).
Their very first performance was a surprise to the audience: they demonstrated exceptional professionalism and maturity. They decided to play fusion, a style that was rarely heard in Lithuania, and thus filled a clear gap in the Lithuanian jazz scene.
The Pulauskas Sextet was an overnight success, and became one of the most talked-about jazz groups in record time. No more than a year later, in 1997, it recorded its first album, with the title "Penetration", and joined the country's jazz elite.
The following year, the group appeared at the Jazz Festival in Salzau, Germany, the beginning of a series of successful appearances at foreign jazz events. The sextet has now recorded three albums and toured extensively in Europe and even China (in 1999 they participated in the International Jazz Festival in Beijing) and India (at the famous Jazz Yatra festival in 2001).
In some miraculous way, Pulauskas has not only managed to keep the sextet together with his enthusiasm, and not with subsidies, but has also managed to persuade it to play his own compositions, which, according to the Finnish critic Risto Haapsam, are a powerful pulse in modern jazz.
The style of the band is based on a good choice and combination of timbres, which helps to create an eloquent musical space, a certain type of fusion. Pulauskas' music is, to some extent, a continuation of the traditions of the Zawinul Syndicate or Weather Report, along with contemporary jazz, jazz-rock and meditative music, with exotic oriental elements, Latino expression, African rhythms and urban accords, and the use of pure, almost academic forms.
Although Pulauskas has never studied composition, he is one of the most important jazz composers in Lithuania today, a composer of extraordinary talent, with an original and intriguing way of thinking.
"When I work I follow my inner feelings and sounds. Music is inside me. I need an idea, a motif or a rhythm, which usually comes when I play for myself. Very often everything starts from just one small germ. The process of finishing the piece, however, is very long. I have to rethink everything many times over in order to make it as close to perfection as possible. Maybe this is due to a lack of confidence. Nevertheless, I have to check everything hundreds of times, like a bookkeeper, and play the new piece first for myself in order to be sure that it is ready. Only then do I show it to my musicians."
"Moods", his first solo album, came out in 2000, although it had been recorded three years earlier, even before the sextet's first album. Everything in the album, from the idea to its release, was done by Pulauskas. The cosmopolitan and restrained style of the music, the skilful technique, the sense of form and awareness of the development possibilities, the links both to Bach's polyphony and the impressionistic style of Debussy and Ravel reflect his academic background.
"I studied academic music for sixteen years. I played a lot and enjoyed it very much, and it shows," Pulauskas says. He thinks that a knowledge of electronic keyboard instruments gives even more freedom in creating new tonal colours.
Although he is known as the leader of a sextet, as a keyboardist and as a composer, he sometimes joins other groups too. He has played in Jazz 4 and Septet, led by Leonid Shinkarenko, and the Lithuanian Radio and Television Big Band. He has also worked with the saxophonists Petras Vysniauskas, Danielius Praspaliauskis and Liudas MockŻnas, and played duets with the trumpeter Valerijus Ramoska (with whom he recorded a CD called "Parallel Lines").
In addition, he is a recognised soloist who participated at the International Piano Stars Festival Liepaja '99 in Latvia, and the International Jazz Piano Festival in Prague in 2001. In 2002 he played solo at the Birstonas Jazz Festival.
"Lucky? Maybe some people would call me that. I can't complain. My biggest piece of luck is that I've always been able to do what I wanted, to make music."
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