The world within arm’s reach
– a conversation with Beata Pater

Adam Dobrzyński: Is it possible to have three homelands?

Beata Pater: Poland, Japan and the United States, or California, are my homelands – places that have brought and bring me joy, as well as sadness. All of these places are important to me; in each of them there are colors, tastes, smells and people – that’s it… people. In the time when I departed to Japan, that country seemed very distant from Poland and, indeed, that’s the way it was. I was cast onto deep waters, as it turned out that I’m really different. I was always different, but in Japan my differentness was impossible to conceal.

I thought… I’m starting life anew, but the basis is learning Japanese, and on the other hand there was music, which has no borders. Music helped me, to a large degree, in my entire Japanese journey, which lasted a whole ten years. That was a very rewarding time in Japan – musically, as well as economically. It was a radiant Japan, that lived twenty-four hours a day, and was smiling and optimistic. That was when my first Japanese solo album “Session” came to be.

Adam Dobrzyński: So, undoubtedly, in your eyes a lot of changes have taken place in Japan.

Beata Pater: Today’s Japan is a little different, now it’s less radiant and optimistic. Sometimes even less Japanese, as it’s becoming more and more Western. Young people don’t want to live in traditional homes with tatamis (floor mats, adds Beata – A.D.) anymore, or eat a traditional breakfast of rice, fish or miso soup. Now dwellings have chairs and tables. Buttered toast made with the whitest bread is eaten for breakfast, washed down with astronomical quantities of coffee. Green tea is beginning to fade away. Little streets filled with traditional yatais are disappearing, and Spanish tapas are showing up, or Italian cafes where wine is served. Customs are changing, the cuisine is changing, and it’s a new generation now.

Getting back to taste, colors, people and differences… I’ll talk about the similarities. Our Polish pork cutlet is the Japanese tonkatsu, served on rice with finely chopped cabbage and sweetish soy sauce. Pierogies are gyoza, served with a salty or spicy-sour sauce. Buckwheat porridge in a different setting is soba macaroni, served with sauces or in soup. A thick form of crepes is nearly okonomiyaki. Chicken broth with noodles is something like ramen. Everything is based on the umami tastes, meaning salty, sweet, sour and bitter. In Polish cuisine it’s similar, although of course in Japanese cuisine we find algae, bamboo, lotus, and various kinds of seafood or raw fish. Day to day, though, it’s a ham sandwich with lettuce and mayonnaise. Potato salad is popular too, and that’s still a very Polish dish.

Osechi is made for the New Year, or oshiogatsu, which are like hors-d’oeuvres, and each one has a meaning – something like our Easter basket.

These are baby sardines – shirasu – they’re usually served over rice… or by themselves on grated dakon, or radish, with a little soy sauce and a bit of yuzu, which is something between lemon and lime – very aromatic, with a beautiful smell.

From the left, the yellow is uni, or sea urchin – these black, spiked balls that live on the bottom of the ocean; next is hotate, or scallops and next I think is awabi, which in English is abalone… Further on is tuna, but from the chūtoro belly section, and next is kampachi, or amberjack – I don’t know how to translate it into Polish, maybe one of the readers can. Next is ika squid and last, in the very front, is tai snapper… pieces of raw fish served like this are sashimi, which is eaten with some soy sauce added, along with wasabi, which is something similar to our horseradish; those are cucumbers around it, and the little pile in front is that wasabi – those decorations are algae, but they’re meant to be eaten.

Adam Dobrzyński: And how is it with smells…?

Beata Pater: Smells… I think the most commonly perceptible smell is that of dashi, or the base for chicken broth, although in Japan a fish base is normally used. The next smell is that of yakitori, or grilled chicken – these little pieces, in various forms, on sticks, like little shish kebabs. Those are probably the two main smells that float through the air.

Colors, or the four seasons of the year. Just like in Poland’s golden autumn, in Japan there are beautiful reddish yellow maples. In the spring there are blooming cherry, plum and apple trees. The summer is green, sunny, tropically humid, sticky and muggy. Winter appears more in the northern regions of Japan, on Hokkaido or in the northern part of Honshu, and then it’s white, beautiful and cold.

People everywhere are the same – in other words, varied. Hospitality – just like other traits, that we aren’t necessarily proud of in Poland – appear there as well. In Japan it isn’t customary to invite people to one’s home and if it’s done, it’s in exceptional circumstances. Other than that, the Japanese are very musical. I think the karaoke era did a lot of good – everyone sings there, and if they haven’t sung yet, then they will sing (smiles – A.D.). That’s also why audiences are very attentive during concerts, listen carefully, applaud, and that’s really nice. I like performing in Japan – my last Japanese tour, at the turn of 2016 and this year, was a winter tour, truly winter, to the point that it was even snowing in Tokyo and Nagoya. That was a special event, because they hadn’t seen snow in that region for 30 years.

Adam Dobrzyński: What’s it like, performing in Japan?

Beata Pater: In Japan my concert tours are usually comprised of 10 to 12 shows in Tokyo, Yokohama, Chiba, Nagoya, and Sendai. Sometimes these are big stages, and sometimes small clubs, always with good sound systems. I try to perform in Japan at least once a year. The last tour was also the premiere of my new album “Fire Dance”.

Adam Dobrzyński: Precisely – your youngest musical musical child. A fantastic record.

Beata Pater: It’s an album made up of eleven original compositions, in which I sing without words, but with a lot of vocal parts, intricate harmonies and an interesting combination of rhythms. Everyone will surely discern various styles and ethnic roots in it – there’s jazz there, as well as funk, R&B, a lot of colors, dynamics, nostalgia and energy.

The album originated quite a while ago in my mind, and matured like wine. It all started with a photograph of a sculpture in the form of a circle made up of 16 elements, laying on the cracked and sun-dried ground in California’s Joshua Tree National Park. That was my first inspiration – that nothingness, light, shadows, roughness, and at the same time a kind of magic, that attracts with its peace and warmth. And that was the way I depicted the music, in conversations with my musical collaborator Alex Dawson, the composer who transferred it all onto paper. Sometimes he surprised me with his solutions, at times I would change something, saying “but it’s me who’ll be singing this, not you” – and, as is the case sometimes, we didn’t always have the same visions, yet in the end eleven new compositions came about from it.

I don’t have a particular favorite piece – all of them are important, have their place and make up a certain whole. My premise was not emphasizing any particular musical or ethnic style. I wanted the music to be a coherent tale, or journey, without words – full of emotions and inspiration for others, to perceive and process for themselves. My voice was meant to fulfill the role of instruments narrating the melody, the leading voice which appears throughout the entire piece. At times there are as many as sixteen vocal parts, and I didn’t use any electronic effects, harmonizers, etc. The recording itself was pretty interesting harmonically, as singing in minor seconds required a good bit of concentration in terms of intonation. The entire album is mixed without using a lot of compressors, or that “in front” sound of today, with the thought of issuing “Fire Dance” in the newly resurgent form of a vinyl record.

Fantastic American musicians play with me on the album, a kind of California-New York mixture. On soprano sax is Sam Newsom, who I met in Japan when he was playing with Terence Blanchard’s group. Later Sam came to my concert at Birdland, in New York, and that was the beginning of our long-lived acquaintance and cooperation. Tenor sax is played by saxophonist Anton Schwarz. Anton and I got to know each other a pretty long time ago, at concerts we did together in San Francisco, but this is the first time Anton has played with me on a record. On baritone sax is Aaron Lington – and as a point of interest, I can mention that Aaron flew into San Francisco to record the album, directly from Los Angeles and straight off of the red carpet, still wearing his bow tie, and with the Grammy award he’d just received. All of us in the studio were impressed, and there was a pleasant vibe of success in the air.

Bass guitar, as well as upright bass, were played by the versatile and talented Aaron Germain, who also took part in recordings for the album “Red”. Aaron and I also have a long musical history in San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley. Electric piano is played by Scott Collard, a pianist from Sacramento whom I’ve known for quite a while. On drums is Allan Hall, who is a veteran drummer from San Francisco, along with Bryan Rice – also from the Bay Area – on percussion instruments.

Adam Dobrzyński: As far as I’m concerned, this is your best album…

Beata Pater: Is this my best album? “Fire Dance” got four stars and a great review from the well-known critic Bob Protzman, in the highly repected American magazine Down Beat. The album has received high ratings and a lot of very good reviews from important critics, jazz and not only… which you can read about on my website, www.beatapater.com, where you can also listen to the whole album.

“Fire Dance” is being played constantly by the most important radio stations, throughout the entire US. I know that it’s also getting its time on European radio stations, as well as Polish Radio’s Channel One.

Adam Dobrzyński: That’s right – on my show, “Evenings with Channel One”. When are you coming to Poland?

Beata Pater: I hope that I’ll be able to come to Poland for concerts, and I’ll be able to present “Fire Dance” then. My first Polish tour – and hopefully not my last – was in September of 2015, when I was presenting my album “Golden Lady”. I think I’ll need to gather some energy, in order to deal with planning for the challenge of another Polish tour. Currently, I’m working on a new solo album, my ninth now. I just returned from Cambria, California, where the string parts were recorded – and I’ll reveal that one of the tunes was written by a former Polish composer!!!

Adam Dobrzyński: Where is your favorite place in the world? Do you have one?

Beata Pater: Where is my favorite place in the world? There probably isn’t one, but I’ll say something very controversial – it’s the same everywhere. Of course, living is more comfortable when the sun is shining and the sky is blue… but after a while, you want a little rain, clouds, greyness and coolness. No place is ideal, but what’s important is for that place to be safe. I’m talking about external safety, as well as the internal sort, meaning a feeling of safety and peace, in which we can realize ourselves.

Adam Dobrzyński: Then let’s talk about your current place, too… America. How is it for you?

Beata Pater: I’ve been living in California for twenty years. Of course, I’ve been in various states, and even crossed the entire USA by car, from Florida to California, but I wouldn’t venture to say that I know America, or what it’s really like. Just California is so varied, from southern, through central, all the way up to northern. I’ve been to all kinds of places, even ones that don’t appear on a regular map. The nature is so varied, amazing; vineyards, beautiful lakes, the ocean, national parks with giant Sequoia trees, canyons, waterfalls, and various kinds of cactus. Here where I live, there are a lot of citrus trees, and in the spring a wonderful smell of jasmine permeates the entire valley. Date palms grow in the orchards, with probably the sweetest dates I’ve ever eaten, hummingbirds peek into the windows, birds begin to sing at four in the morning, and continue their operatic expositions all day long. I think I still need to see a lot, to be able to say that I know California, but I can say without hesitation that it’s beautiful.

Adam Dobrzyński: What kind of woman is Beata Pater in 2017?

Beata Pater: She’s a person of a world without borders.

Adam Dobrzyński: Many thanks.

Beata Pater: Thanks for the conversation – all my best, and lots of sunlight to everyone.

Originaly published on May 28, 2017 on Ale Muzyka by Adam Dobrzyński. Translation from Polish to English by Karol White