“A potent cosmopolitan cocktail,” wrote Cathleen McGuigan in Newsweek, Basia “sings a brand of jazzy Brazilian-flavored blend that could melt ice.” Born and raised in Poland, Basia—who lives in London, and writes and records in English—shows influences of samba, Brazilian bossa nova, and American soul in her music. “Such creative poaching,” though, commented Andrew Abrahams in People, “has left her with her own unmistakable style.” Basia flaunts a “rich, freewheeling voice” and “stylish urbanity,” according to McGuigan; hers “is music for grown-ups, but it’s not too smooth—no one could sit still through its irresistible bossa nova beat.” Basia’s solo albums, Time and Tide and London Warsaw New York, have been hits on both contemporary jazz and pop listings in the United States and Europe, and the singer holds the distinction of being the first Pole to appear on U.S. top-forty charts.
Basia grew up in the southern Polish industrial city of Jaworzno, where her parents ran an ice cream enterprise. She was influenced early by recordings of various American artists. “I was hungry for everything,” she told Abrahams. Among her favorites was Aretha Franklin’s Greatest Hits. She also listened to Stevie Wonder, Carole King, James Taylor, Pink Floyd, and King Crimson. At 15 Basia won a national talent contest and joined an all-girl group named Alibabki, which toured Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union for two years. At the age of 18 she made her way to Warsaw, where she joined a group that came to the attention of an agent, who signed them to perform at Polish-American centers in the United States. In 1980 Basia sang pop music—in both Polish and English—at the Polonia club in Chicago, and frequented the city’s blues and jazz establishments. The singer was homesick for Poland, however, and in 1981 moved to London to be nearer her family.
In England Basia met keyboardist Danny White and worked briefly with a jazz-funk group, Bronze, before joining Matt Bianco, a pop trio that sported a smooth jazz style, classy designer suits, and a name contrived to give the group an Italian feel. Matt Bianco was very popular throughout Europe and Basia was able to further develop her samba style while with the group. Her love affair with the bossa nova and samba came from her admiration for Brazilian singer Astrud Gilberto, who provided vocals on the original recording of “The Girl from Ipanema.” Basia told Abrahams that she particularly liked Gilberto’s “very light feel.” In fact, Basia’s “Astrud” pays tribute to the singer’s influence: “One-note samba will never be the same,” the song goes.
Basia longed for more autonomy, however, than she found with Matt Bianco and in 1985 she and White
Full name, Basia (pronounced “Ba-sha”) Trzetrzelewska; born c. 1959, in Poland; daughter of Stanislaw and Kazia (owners of an ice cream business). Education: Attended the university in Krakow, Poland, studied physics.
Performed with music group Alibabki, c. 1974-76, touring Soviet Union and Eastern Europe; performed with a pop group in Chicago, 1979; moved to London, 1981; singer with group Bronze; singer with group Matt Bianco, c. 1981-85; solo artist, 1985—.
Awards: Platinum record for Time and Tide; gold record for London Warsaw New York.
Addresses: Home— London, England. Publicity agent—Man Seifert, 1 Chelsea Manor Studios, Flood St., London SW3 5SR, England. Record company —Epic Records, P.O. Box 4450, New York, N.Y. 10101-4450.
broke away to do their own music. “All I had to do was record my parts in the studio and look pretty onstage,” she told Abrahams about her role with the band. “I even had to get permission to wear a certain kind of shirt or dress.” Basia and White began to collaborate on songs that would eventually comprise her 1986 debut solo album Time and Tide.
A contributor to Melody Maker called the release a “cool, classy concoction of Latin, funk and jazz rhythms,” while other reviewers similarly praised it as one of the year’s most stylish releases. Two songs, “Promises” and “New Day for You,” were number-one hits on the adult contemporary charts, while the title track was a top pop single. On the strength of the album—which turned platinum in 1989—Basia and her band, led by White, embarked on a successful 22-city tour of the United States.
In 1989 Basia released a second album, London Warsaw New York, which contained a collection of jazz-influenced pop songs. That effort turned gold and generated two new hits, “Cruising for Bruising” and “Until You Come Back to Me,” a remake of Aretha Franklin’s 1973 hit. “Overall, popular music doesn’t get much better than this,” wrote a contributor to Stereo Review. He added: “As before, Basia and White have collaborated as writers and arrangers, coming up with a delightful group of original compositions. Basia performs the vocals in styles ranging from the pensive to the teasing, but she is always irresistible…. The melodies flow naturally yet evolve into all sorts of unexpected shapes.” Basia explained the message behind the songs on London Warsaw New York: “All the songs on this album share a common theme. People have the same hearts, the same needs and desires. They all want to love and be loved, wherever they live, be it Europe, America, or Asia.”
While some critics have dubbed Basia a jazz artist, she disagrees: “I’m a pop singer, not a jazz singer,” she told Angie Danieli in Melody Maker. “I like elements of Fifties jazz which I put into my music because I feel comfortable with them, but it’s a million miles away from [legendary jazz singers] Sarah Vaughan or Ella Fitzgerald. I could never be in the same league as them.” Some have compared Basia to the singer Sade, but, as talent agent Muff Winwood commented to Janice C. Simpson in Time, “Sade has a more soulful, laid-back style…. Basia is much more vibrant and up front.”
In interviews Basia has been quick to comment about being close to her Polish heritage. “Did you ever meet a Polish person who wasn’t emotional?” she was quoted by Abrahams. “Chopin? The Pope? We start talking about our country or our mothers, and all of a sudden everyone’s crying!” She enjoys her success outside of her native country, yet one day hopes to return to Poland—where she also enjoys a large popular following. “I miss the passion of Poland,” she told Abrahams. “If something is wrong, the British won’t tell you what it is…. I know I’m doing well now, but when I stop someday and I’m old, I will go back to Poland. There’s no superficial politeness there. They tell you exactly what they feel.”
Time and Tide (includes “Promises,” “Run for Cover,” “Time and Tide,” “New Day for You,” “Astrud,” and “Miles Away”), Epic/Columbia, 1986.
London Warsaw New York (includes “Cruising for Bruising,” “Best Friends,” and “Until You Come Back to Me”), Epic/Columbia, 1986.
Also appeared on several recordings with group Matt Bianco under WEA label, including the album Whose Side Are You On, and sang lead on the hit single “Half a Minute.” Released video collection A New Day, CBS, 1990.
BMI: Music World, winter 1989.
Glamour, June 1990.
Jazziz, April/May 1990.
Los Angeles Times, February 11, 1990.
Melody Maker, December 13, 1986; July 4, 1987; July 18, 1987; February 6, 1988.
Newsweek, August 22, 1988.
People, January 30, 1989.
Stereo Review, June 1990.
Time, April 23, 1990.
—Michael E. Mueller
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