Urbaniak, Michal, avant-garde jazz violinist, tenor saxophonist, bandleader; b. Warsaw, Poland, Jan. 22,1943. He began to play violin at age six and studied at the Academy of Music in Warsaw, where he also took up alto saxophone. In the early 1960s he worked in a number of Polish jazz bands, initially Dixieland style troupes, before moving on to bop bands with Zbignew Namyslowski, AndrzejTrzaskowski, and Krzysztof Komeda. In August of 1962 with Namyzlowski, Urbaniak made his first trip to the U.S. In 1965 he moved to Scandinavia with Ursula Dudziak, who later became his wife. They toured throughout Europe for several years and returned to Poland in 1969. He formed Constellation with Dudziak, Adam Makowicz, Czeslaw Bartkowski, and Pawel Jarzebski (later Roman Dylag). When Urbaniak won a scholarship to Berklee Coll. of Music in Boston in the early 1970s, he moved to the States. Settling in N.Y. in 1974, he founded Fusion, a band that incorporated elements of Polish folk music, the melodies and rhythms informed by his classical training, and his knowledge of avant-garde jazz composition. Fusion signed to Columbia Records and toured steadily throughout the States and occasionally Europe. They performed and recorded until 1977, and made some compelling albums that blended Dudziak’s singing and vocal effects, Polish folk melodies, and irregular meters. He worked and recorded with Larry Cory ell and Dudziak in the 1980s, and led his own bands. He also did sessions with Archie Shepp and performed at the first Kuwait jazz festival in 1998.
Urbaniak won the Grand Prix for Best Soloist at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1971, among other honors. He plays a customized five-string violin, violin synthesizer and violectra (an electronic bowed string instrument an octave lower than a violin), and most famously the lyricon, an electronic saxophone-like instrument which is linked to a synthesizer. He has been a leader in introducing electronics into jazz music.
Constellation in Concert (1973) Super Constellation (1973); Fusion (1975); Fusion III (1975); Tribute to Komeda (1976); Heritage (1977); Urbaniak (1977); Music for Violin and Jazz Quartet (1980). Folk Songs: Children’s Melodies (1981); Cinemode (1988); Songbird (1990); Manhattan Man (1992).
—Music Master/Lewis Porter