Born in 1980 and raised in Poland, the seeds of a huge love for music were planted early on for singer and composer Sylwia Bialas.
At the age of seven, she sang to an audience for the first time, sharing a music festival stage with professional musicians – the early beginnings of an unwavering pathway to a heartfelt and fulfilling career. Listening to blues, jazz and prog rock LPs in her formative years (rather than children’s songs!), she enjoyed discovering new types of music, memorising and singing the instrumental solos she encountered, as well as experimenting with sounds and learning to play a diversity of instruments. Supported by her parents, Sylwia’s enthusiasm and hunger for self expression developed in other creative directions, too, taking in painting, writing, poetry, photography and cooking – all passions which still excite today.
Increasingly, it was music which took priority as Sylwia’s teenage years became filled with the adventure of singing in various blues, rock, soul, funk and jazz bands. Studying at international jazz workshops in Chodziez and Pulawy, she discovered new directions in jazz, learning from great musical teachers including Bogdan Holownia (piano), Kazimierz Jonkisz (drums), Cornelia Giese (vocals), Artur Dutkiewicz (piano) and Joe Lee Willson (vocals), as well as attending the legendary jazz history classes of Henryk Holinski. With its roots in the folklore of her homeland, plus a history of social rebellion and a move towards freedom of expression, Polish jazz became exciting and fertile ground for Sylwia, thus confirming music as her natural life path.
Vocal technique lessons began at the jazz workshop in Pulawy where Sylwia met German-resident UK singer, writer and inspirational coach Naomi Isaacs; and years later, Sylwia reflected that this interaction with Naomi inspired her to become a dedicated voice coach herself. She discovered that the human voice would be the most honest, personal and intense tool of her expression, the directness, vulnerability and clarity of this ‘instrument’ fascinating and motivating her to develop and experiment with its possibilities.
In 1999, Sylwia’s musical education was elevated at the Wrocławska Szkoła Jazzu i Muzyki Rozrywkowej Zbigniewa Czwojdy; and though initially planning to train as a vocalist, she ended up studying drums with the great Polish jazz-rock drummer Zbigniew Lewandowski. During her time in Wroclaw, Sylwia worked with many bands and projects on the local scene. After two years of mastering rhythm, Sylwia moved to Germany to study jazz vocals, digital music production and musical education at the Music University in Würzburg. It was here, through the spirit and support found in composition classes with Professor Chris Beier and free jazz ensemble work with Bill Elgard, that her own compositional identity began to flourish. And in 2003, Sylwia recorded Raju Moj Raju – a soundtrack to art-documentary movie Paradies auf Erden (Paradise on Earth) by German director and cinematographer Hans Madej.
During her six years’ study in Würzburg, Sylwia co-founded and collaborated with many bands, such as the Prisma quintet; Sub P; Clyde’s Delight; Trio Dienda with Gerhard Schäffer (sax, flute) and Marco Netzbandt (piano); Spaceship; Trio Soundscapes with Hans-Peter Salentin and Stefan Schmolck; Trio Lounge; Crystal Cruise, Wood & Soul; The Shin (Georgia). She sang with several big bands and became involved in music theatre projects, including Markus Czygan’s Lucifer’s Matches. She also participated in many ensemble workshops such as the International Band Workshop in Trier, where she first met respected British singer and lyricist Norma Winstone (whose contribution to the development of the European vocal jazz became a subject of Sylwia’s diploma work).
In 2007, legendary Italian-born percussionist and composer Andrea Centazzo (Los Angeles, USA) invited Sylwia to appear on his trio album Voyagers (Ictus Records, LA) which also featured German trumpeter and flugelhornist Hans Peter Salentin. A year later, she collaborated with German film composer Anette Focks, recording a soundtrack to fantasy movie Krabat, directed by Marco Kreuzpainter (GER), for 20th Century Fox, USA. Sylwia also finished her studies in 2008, soon becoming an active freelance musician, singer, lyricist, composer and music educator in Würzburg, whilst also extending her educational work to speech-coaching workshops at the University of Würzburg, where she still teaches.
2010 saw a collaboration with native American flute player Peter Phippen. Sylwia recorded vocals on two tracks of his album Summerland, which was nominated for the Native American Music Award. Around that time she founded the SB Quartet, featuring Italian drummer Michele Salgarello, German pianist Marco Netzbandt and German double bass player Wolfgang Kriener, with whom she recorded an album of her original compositions and lyrics – The Forest of Mists. And Sylwia also co-founded, with South American guitarist Ernesto Cortazar Lara, the Plexus Quartet featuring Michele Salgarello (drums) and Cristiano Da Ross (double bass).
Multinational project CEA Ensemble was founded by Sylwia in 2012, which featured Antonio Zambrini (piano, arrangements), Jesper Bodilsen (double bass), Tore Johansen (trumpet, flugelhorn), Jörg Brinkmann (violoncello) and Michele Salgarello (drums). The sextet recorded an album – Sketches of Aurora – at the Rainbow Studio in Oslo, and a follow-up release is planned for 2016. In June 2012, Sylwia met London-resident Israeli drummer/composer Asaf Sirkis at the Jazzahead conference in Bremen, prompting Asaf to feature her vocals on a track from his 2013 trio album Shepherd’s Stories.
This brief but exciting collaboration inspired Sylwia and Asaf to co-lead their current band – the Sirkis Bialas International Quartet – choosing to work with favourite musicians and friends Patrick Bettison (UK/USA) on bass and chromatic harmonica, Frank Harrison (UK) on piano & keyboards (and also including Scottish 6-string bassist Kevin Glasgow). Acclaimed debut album Come To Me was launched at the London EFG Jazz Festival in 2014, and the band continues to delight audiences as they tour extensively.
In 2015, Sylwia moved to London to develop her creative projects.
Sylwia’s style of composition, vocalisation and improvisation is strongly influenced by her origins in Polish folklore, with its nostalgic, lyrical character and depth. She frequently writes and sings Polish lyrics to her compositions and also creates poetic lyrics to instrumental tunes from other artists. She is heavily influenced by the ECM style, and especially the music of Bill Evans, John Taylor, Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, Keith Jarrett, Peter Erskine, Pat Metheny, Palle Danielsson, Bobo Stenson and Esbjörn Svensson, as well as Nordic folk and the music of Chopin.
Listening to and analysing all kinds of genres, and studying the way in which instrumentalists use their instruments to phrase and shape their music, has focused Sylwia’s distinctive approach – that of an integral member of an ensemble, rather than soloist. She explains:
“I truly feel no need to take the central spot on stage (as a singer is often expected to). I am tremendously fulfilled in being part of the band, contributing to its sound, adding different colours, sharing the joy of interacting and taking risks together. There’s no greater satisfaction for me than to stand ‘inside the band’, listening to the sound created by my fellow musicians at its source, and not behind my back. I feel very happy and thankful that both audience and critics recognise and accept my personal approach.
"It is so rewarding to meet, work and enjoy playing music with musicians that inspire me, providing that feeling of unity, and a beautiful reason to laugh and create magic as if it is the most natural thing on earth. What also makes me smile is how voraciously they enjoy the healthy, varied food that I cook whilst we’re touring!”
In addition, Sylwia’s passion for sound engineering and photography has manifested itself in the precision and detail invested in her album releases:
"As every musician recording their own music knows, creating an album is very personal – it feels much like one’s own ‘baby’. It begins, of course, with an idea… followed by composing, rehearsing, arranging, recording, editing, mixing, producing, mastering, designing the CD cover, and culminates in playing and developing it live, and fine-tuning the sound at the gig. The whole process is a combination of hard work, emotion and joy – which can sometimes be frustrating, yet is ultimately thrilling. Sometimes, bringing your passion, hopes and efforts to fruition can become a ‘heavy birth’. But I wouldn’t want it any other way. I want to experience all of it and not miss a thing!"
Sylwia Bialas has collaborated with many fine musicians, including: Andrea Centazzo (It/USA), Asaf Sirkis (Isr/UK), Peter Phippen (USA), Jeffrey Chin (USA), Hans-Peter Salentin (Ger), Michael Wollny (Ger), Adrian Mears (Austral), Tim Garland (UK), Ivo Neame (UK), `The Shin’ (Georgia), Hubert Winter (Ger), Frank Harrison (UK), Antonio Zambrini (It), Russ Spiegel (USA), John Turville (UK), Roine Sangenberg (Swe), Jesper Bodilsen (Den), Michele Salgarello (It), Gilad Atzmon (UK), Pat Bettison (UK/USA), Yaron Stavi(ISR), Zbigniew Lewandowski(Pol), Tore Johansen (Nor), and more...
BIOGRAPHY (SHORT) + EPK
Sylwia Bialas’ flexible, constantly evolving timbre and her instrumental approach to improvisation produces a unique vocal style – an adaptable, interactive and unique musical instrument. Her distinctive phrasing and techniques fashion soulful sung lyrics as well as the most atmospheric vocalise, all touched by the styles of ECM and ethno-music, and strongly influenced by eastern culture:
“Music is my precious way of sharing – with the musicians I’m honoured and happy to work with, and also the audience...“
Sylwia has collaborated with many fine musicians, including:
Andrea Centazzo (IT/USA), Asaf Sirkis (ISR/UK), Peter Phippen (USA), Hans-Peter Salentin (GER), Michael Wollny (GER), Adrian Mears (AUSTRAL), Tim Garland (UK), Ivo Neame (UK) ’The Shin" (GEORGIA), Hubert Winter (GER), Frank Harrison (UK), Antonio Zambrini (IT), Russ Spiegel (USA), Roine Sangenberg (SWE), Jesper Bodilsen (DEN), Michele Salgarello (IT), Gilad Atzmon (UK), Pat Bettison (USA), Yaron Stavi(ISR), Zbigniew Lewandowski(POL) and more...
Sylwia Bialas has also been creator and member of various international music and art projects, as well as a number of diverse bands touring in Germany, Poland, Italy, Scandinavia and the UK.
Krabat (20th Century Fox)
Paradies auf Erden (German Art TV)
2006 Prisma Quintet, PRISMA, INDEPENDENTLC05422
2007 Anette Focks, Komponiert in Deutschland (soundtrack),
2007 Hans Madej, Das Paradies auf Erden (Movie Soundtrack),
Kick Film in co production with ZDF/ARTE
2007 Visions and Voices (Sampler)
2007 Andrea Centazzo`s Voyagers, ICTUS RECORDS, L.A.
2008 KRABAT, movie sundtrack (20th Century Fox)
2010 Peter Phippen, Summerland, Portionmusic Records
2014 Asaf Sirkis, Shepherd Stories, Track 3: TravellerSBPT003
2015 SB Quartet, The Forest of Mists, Stonedbird Productions
2016 CEA Ensemble, Sketches of Aurora, comes soon...