A Star of the Polish Jazz Scene Returns

Aga ZaryanMateusz Stankiewicz/AF Photo Aga Zaryan, a multi-platinum jazz singer from Poland, will make a pair of rare New York concert appearances this weekend, including one in the East Village Sunday.

Aga Zaryan is performing at Joe’s Pub for her second concert in the East Village, a neighborhood she calls “the heart of Manhattan.”

“I love that area, just taking walks around there,” said Ms. Zaryan, 35. “It’s a fascinating place.”

The multi-platinum singer, one of Poland’s top, contemporary jazz musicians, last performed there in 2007 in front of an audience filled with Americans and Poles, many of whom live in the East Village. She’s back for another concert on Sunday.

“I like so many clubs in New York, but this one is so interesting because it’s not just about music; you have all different kinds of people coming in,” she said. “You have musicians that play different styles of music. It’s a very open place for creative musicians. I enjoyed performing there.” Tonight, she’s also performing at The Kosciuszko Foundation, a Polish cultural organization on the Upper East Side.

Ms. Zaryan, who was born and lives in Warsaw, feels at home when the audience is filled with Poles, many of whom live in the neighborhood. “I’ve been visiting New York a few times, and I’ve made a group of Polish friends that I try to meet with every time I’m there,” she said. “They always come and support me when I play, which is really great.”

Aga ZaryanAga Zaryan, here in a recording studio, will perform at Joe’s Pub Sunday.

Alex Storozynski, president of The Kosciuszko Foundation, called Ms. Zaryan “not only a modern jazz singer whose bright singing is accessible to jazz and pop fans, she’s also an incredible Polish patriot. She sang about Polish resistance movements during World War II and was able to make this period accessible to young people. She’s a growing star in Poland.”

During her two concerts, she’ll be performing pieces in English and Polish from her past five albums, and testing out new material from her upcoming album, “A Book of Luminous Things.” On the album, she sings poems by one of her favorite Polish poets, the Nobel Prize winner, Czesław Miłosz. At the concerts, she’ll be accompanied by her pianist, Michał Tokaj.

Poetry, she believes, brings her music to life. “Why poetry? I’m a singer. Words have power. I’m a storyteller. I’m not a vocalist that only improvises,” she said. “This is very powerful when you have great musicians who can improvise, and lyrics with words that have real meaning.”

On her 2007 album, “Beauty is Dying,” she sings poems written mostly by Polish women involved in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, a Polish struggle to liberate Warsaw from Nazi Germany. “This one is a very emotional album for me. I was born and raised in Warsaw, and my grandparents took part in the Uprising,” she said. Her professional last name, Zaryan, is derived from the name of her grandfather, Jan Zaranski, who had a piece of a German bullet in his elbow from the Uprising until he died in 1985. For the album, she received the Fryderyk Award – the Polish equivalent of the Grammy – for Best Poetic Album of the Year.

Her latest English-language album, “Looking Walking Being,” released by Blue Note Records last year – she’s the first Polish artist on the label – includes a track called “February Evening in New York.”

Aga ZaryanMs. Zaryan, with guitarist David Doruska, during a concert in Warsaw last year.

“I was always fascinated by New York. I went there when I was 21, and it was just the beginning of my musical journey and my fascination with jazz,” she said. In 2006, after wrapping her second album, “Picking Up the Pieces,” she decided to take some of her earnings from the recordings, and spend a few months in New York.

“I saved some money, and I wanted to have this New York experience and spend four months there,” she said. “I didn’t know anyone, so I found this little Polish lady in Jamaica, Queens, who rented me a room for $350 a month. It would take me hours to get from Jamaica to my favorite club, the Village Vanguard, to listen to jazz. I would also go to Rockwood Music Hall and Mo Pitkin’s, where I performed a couple of times.”

She’s performed in Turkey, Israel, and Norway, but said that she is always drawn back to New York. “What I love about New York is that I’m making friends with jazz musicians that come from all around the world. New York has the most incredible musicians,” she said. “It can be very hard to make a living on jazz in New York. But the city is so magnetic that people want to be there and get the experience of playing with the best musicians. There are no limits and it’s an open-minded place to be.”

Wojtek Bielecki, a Polish percussionist who lives in New York, and is a friend of Ms. Zaryan, said in Polish, “The jazz scene is very good in Poland right now. We have a lot of great, young jazz musicians, and Aga is one of the best, new Polish vocalists.”

Aga ZaryanMateusz Stankiewicz/AF Photo Ms. Zaryan once spent four months living in New York, travelling frequently from her base in Queens to the Village Vanguard, one of her favorite haunts.