Organizing the two U.S. tours was by far the most difficult challenge I have faced during my 9 years working with the Atom String Quartet.
Living in Europe, we are used to flying to a neighboring country and just taking a suitcase, instrument, and ID card. Most importantly, concert organizers in Europe cover travel costs, so we don't have to worry about travel funds. Touring in Europe is easy and comfortable for the band. For me as a manager, organizing the tour is simpler. The situation is completely different than that of the United States, which is a very complicated and costly process. To perform legally in the U.S., you have to obtain a special work visa—a process that must be started well before scheduled departure. This very visa (which was valid until February 2020) allowed us to visit this fascinating country twice.
Our first concert tour in the United States (in March 2019) was only possible thanks to Grażyna Auguścik - an outstanding jazz singer who has been living in the States for years. She invited us to concerts in Chicago and took care of the formalities.
Although the Adam Mickiewicz Institute covered some of the costs, we had to raise the remaining funds ourselves. We applied to the Polish Culture Around the World program and received money to partially cover the travel cost to the USA (American tour organizers usually do not cover them). The musicians had to cover the rest of their flights—both international and domestic. When planning a U.S. tour, you have to remember that it is a huge country and that the concert venues have to be well laid out logistically to minimize flights. We had a visa, we had invitations to the first Chicago concerts - and we wanted to make the most of our time in the USA. The only question was how to promote the concerts—are we a Polish band debuting in the American market?
In our case, the contacts of our violinist - Mateusz Smoczyński, were of great help. He worked for several years with the American group - Turtle Island Quartet. Through the recommendations of the people he met during that time, we were able to reach club managers and concert organizers and arrange concerts.
Some people played a huge role in this process and are, and I can say it now—our friends. They are Poles who have lived in the States for years who are not professional agents. They selflessly helped promote Polish musicians, not only by arranging concerts but also by hosting them in their homes.
Their names have already been mentioned in this conversation. I would also like to thank Leszek Strzelecki (thanks to whom we performed in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and in Clark, N.J.), Szymon Woźniczka (concerts in Madison, W.I.), Kasia Litak for the concerts in Minneapolis, and Łukasz Pawlikowski, thanks to whom we performed at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Only one of the 8 shows on the 2019 tour was organized in a Polish community center—highlighting Atom’s ability to reach audiences beyond the Polish diaspora. During their stay in San Francisco, the musicians met Robert Friedman - an American agent who heard our music for the first time at the Jazzahead! Festival in Bremen, Germany in 2018. He came to our concert and enjoyed the band's music so much, he offered to be Atom’s agent in the States. Thanks to his efforts during our second tour in January 2020, the Atom String Quartet performed across the United States, including in San Francisco, at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, and at the famous Dizzy's Club—Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York. Working with an agent who knows the regional market is invaluable, and it definitely makes it easier to reach concert organizers, especially in more established venues.
At the moment, I can say that we are in quite a comfortable position: having both an agent and such wonderful friends, well-worn paths, and organizational logistics, work on the next tour will be much easier. We want to come back to the States as soon as the pandemic situation allows and arrange a new visa as soon as possible. Many musicians believe that the times when Polish musicians came back from America with suitcases full of money are long gone. It's hard to disagree - the pay rates for concerts in the U.S. are much lower than in Europe. Yet touring the United States—the birthplace of jazz—as jazz musicians is both an honor and a great adventure!
About the author:
Magdalena Todynek-Jabłońska is a graduate of the Institute of Musicology at the University of Warsaw. Since 2012 she has been the manager of Atom String Quartet - she organizes the concert life of the ensemble and promotes and cooperates with international agencies. Since 2008 she has been associated with Sinfonia Varsovia, where she produces cultural events. In the 2013 and 2014 seasons, she co-created the "Supersonic Journeys" series of concerts for children at the W. Lutosławski Concert Studio of Polish Radio. In 2015, she served at the Press Office of the 17th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. She conducts workshops with young artists on how to professionally prepare for the music profession. She lives and works in Warsaw.
All photographs: Archive of the Atom String Quartet. With permission. Collage: MPMS.
Report about Atom's concert in the Twin City 2019
Interview with the musicians about Atom's US tours