Aga Zaryan (born Agnieszka Skrzypek January 17, 1976) is an internationally recognized jazz vocalist of the new generation.
Though (in jazz terms) young, her tone and delivery carry the hallmarks of classical jazz for a modern audience and as such is part of a new wave of Polish jazz artists recognised on the international scene. She is known for her distinctive style and intimate approach to singing, with a characteristic lightness of phrasing and warm, slightly matte-toned voice. Her performances are reminiscent of such female jazz vocalists as Shirley Horn, Carmen McRae and Joni Mitchell. This year Aga Zaryan was signed to Blue Note records to join such names as such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Dianne Reeves, she is also the first Polish artist ever to release albums on Blue Note Records.
Zaryan has been successful in integrating ambitious artistic goals with popular appeal, recording eight albums to date, all of which have earned gold, platinum or multi-platinum status. In 2008 she was honored with the Polish recording industry's most prestigious prize - the Fryderyk Award. She was nominated for the title of Woman of The Year 2008 by Gazeta Wyborcza, one of Poland's most widely circulated newspapers. Aga was also named Jazz Vocalist of The Year in the European Jazz Forum's yearly Jazz Top readers' poll consecutively from 2007 through 2013. She has an active performance and recording schedule.
Zaryan was born in Warsaw, Poland. From early on she traveled widely throughout Europe with her parents (her father being a classical pianist, and her mother an English language educator and author) spending part of her childhood and primary school education in Manchester, UK. In addition to classical works, both of Zaryan's parents shared a passion for the music of Stevie Wonder, Weather Report, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley, The Beatles, and various other popular artists. This provided Zaryan with the exposure to a wide range of contemporary music, from an early age.
After returning to Poland from the UK she became involved in playing tennis competitively, and went on to win the Warsaw Tennis Championship at the age of 14.
Whilst still in her teens, she developed a passion for music and theatre. After hearing the music of Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis, Zaryan decided to become a jazz vocalist. She studied voice at the Fryderyk Chopin Public Secondary School of Music, and attended the Post-Secondary Jazz Studies Program there, graduating with honors. Zaryan was awarded scholarships to attend international Jazz workshops on two occasions: the Stanford Jazz Workshop and Jazz Camp West, both in the United States, where she was able to further develop her vocal skills.
In 2002, Zaryan's debut album My Lullaby – recorded with a group that included Tomasz Szukalski, Darek Oleszkiewicz, Michał Tokaj and Łukasz Żyta - was released. This collection of jazz standards, sung with the backing of a jazz quartet in original and personal interpretations, brought her critical acclaim as one of Poland’s premier vocal talents. In 2006, Zaryan performed at the JVC Jazz Festival in Warsaw, opening for Branford Marsalis, an occasion which enabled her to introduce herself to a wider audience as a great performer and sophisticated jazz vocalist.
Since that time, Zaryan has appeared in clubs and at festivals in Poland, England, the USA, Germany, Israel, the Czech Republic, Sweden, France, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Turkey, Portugal, Russia and Iceland.
In 2006 the premiere of Picking Up the Pieces took place – an album recorded in Los Angeles with a first-rate international line-up of musicians: Larry Koonse (guitar), Munyungo Jackson (percussion), Nolan Shaheed (cornet) and Dariusz Oleszkiewicz (double-bass).
Picking Up the Pieces is composed of a set of eleven songs that tell stories of women; illustrating emotional and spiritual situations encountered in their lives.
The album was well-received critically and enjoyed commercial success, becoming a Bestseller which achieved double platinum status. With the release of Picking Up The Pieces, Aga Zaryan established herself, not only as one of Poland's premiere jazz vocalists, but also as an artist of international standing.
In early 2007, Zaryan was in the United States for a series of concerts with her American line-up, appearing in jazz venues such as Joe's Pub in New York City and Blues Alley in Washington D.C. The concerts were enthusiastically received by the public, with critics across the ocean taking notice of Aga's talent.
Beauty Is Dying, recorded in the summer of 2007, was Aga Zaryan's first album on which she sings in Polish. On it she is backed by a jazz piano trio, enhanced by a 17-piece string section with harp and oboe. The album contains nine works by Polish poets, depicting scenes of Warsaw at the time of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, selected and sung by Zaryan to original music composed and arranged by pianist Michał Tokaj. It has been described as lyrical and pulsing with emotion, the delicate string section and laid-back jazz trio melding perfectly with Zaryan's singing.
"A river of people – a sea of listeners" (trans."Rzeka Ludzi - Morze Glow")
On August 4 of that year, a one-of-a-kind concert took place at the Warsaw Uprising Museum in Liberty Park, where Aga Zaryan performed the material from “Beauty is Dying” with the full lineup of musicians who took part in its recording. The concert was broadcast live on Polish Public TV and Radio, and attendance was so high that traffic in the immediate vicinity of the venue was gridlocked for hours, as a vast and steady river of people converged on the park. The culmination of the event saw over seven thousand people listening to Zaryan's performance in concentrated silence. The concert was as somewhat of a sociological phenomenon, in that the audience spanned four generations, with first-hand witnesses to the events it honored in attendance, as well as their great-grandchildren.
Beauty Is Dying was followed with appearances in prestigious concert halls and venues throughout Europe. Later in 2008, Zaryan was accorded the Polish recording industry's highest honors - The Fryderyk Award - for "Beauty is Dying", as the year's the Best Poetic Album.
"Live at Palladium"
This double-CD/DVD album is a recording of one of the concerts that took place at Warsaw's Palladium Club during Aga Zaryan's 2008 concert tour, on which she was joined by musicians who flew in from Los Angeles for the occasion. Aga opted for a somewhat atypical and rather delicate-sounding combination of instruments for the project: guitar, double bass, and percussion. The personnel were guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz, and Darryl Jackson on various percussion instruments.
The main body of the repertoire was composed of songs from the albums “Picking Up the Pieces” and “My Lullaby”, some of them with completely new arrangements that took shape over the course of the tour. The album is recognized as having truly captured the exceptional mood of these concerts, and highlights Zaryan's fluid ease in performance. Several of the pieces are sung as duets, to the accompaniment of just double bass.
The album was welcomed as quintessential jazz and a commercial success, earning triple platinum status.
March 2010 sees the release of her latest album Looking Walking Being as a Blue Note artist.
|Year||Album details||Peak chart positions||Certifications|
Picking Up the Pieces
Looking Walking Being
A Book of Luminous Things
Remembering Nina & Abbey
|Year||Album details||Peak chart positions||Certifications|
Live at the Palladium
Awards and nominations
- Best Polish Female Jazz Vocalist, Jazz Forum's Readers Awards in 2007,2008,2009,2010,2011,2012, and 2013
- Best Poetic Album, Fryderyk Award for Księga Olśnień, 2011
- Best Poetic Album, Fryderyk Award for Beauty is Dying, 2008
- 50 Most Important Ladies of the Capital 2008, Życie Warszawy (Warsaw press)
- Best New Artist, Mateusz Award, Polskie Radio Program III award for Picking up the Pieces 2007
- Second Prize, 1998 International Jazz Vocalists' Competition, Zamość, PL
- Woman of the Year 2008, Gazeta Wyborcza magazine (Wysokie Obcasy)
- Wdechy, 2007, Co Jest Grane (Whats going on) magazine's Warsaw cultural awards
- Best Polish Jazz Vocalist, Jazz Forum's Reader's Awards, 2004 and 2005
- Best Jazz Album, My Lullaby, (as Agnieszka Skrzypek), Fryderyk, 2002
- Full Artist Discography