Makowicz-Medyna-Dingler Jazz Ensemble and promotion of a novel by prof. Alex Motyl

A book signing and a jazz concert 

In May, the Polish and Slavic Center’s Gallery hosted a book signing featuring a Polish-language publication of a novel by Alexander Motyl, a professor from Rutgers University. The event was accompanied by a jazz concert by a phenomenal Makowicz-Medyna-Dingler Jazz Ensemble.

A year and a half before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Alexander Motyl wrote a novel about a fictitious leader of Russia Vladimir Pitun who invades Estonia to allegedly protect the Russian-speaking minority in this country. He intends to follow up with an attack on Latvia and Lithuania, but Russia’s marginalized ethnic groups, one by one, stand up against the invader. The imperium is engulfed in civil war and terrorism, and its leader disappears with no trace. Two vacationing journalists, Steven Smith and Pippa Tumblethwaite, stumble upon him in a casino in Nice. Hoping to follow in Lenin’s triumphant footsteps, Pitun decides to return to Russia by train and invites the journalists to accompany him as his chroniclers. After several adventures, bizarre encounters, and intrigues en route, Smith and Tumblethwaite finally arrive in St. Petersburg, where they witness Pitun’s last stand.

“Pitun’s Last Stand: An Entertainment about the Fall of Russia” is a spy novel that can be classified as “political fiction”. It is full of intrigue, plot twists, and a good sense of humor. The Polish translation of the book was recently published by Insignis under the title “Ostatnia Stacja Pituna: Przewrotna Powieść Szpiegowska o Upadku Rosji”.

I always thought that Putin had aggressive thoughts and sooner or later he would be invading some country. The candidates were usually Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, and Ukraine. But I believed he would not be crazy enough to invade Ukraine, because it is too big, too many consequences, not an easy military undertaking. I was persuaded that in order to humiliate NATO Putin would more likely than not expand to Estonia. It is a small country, easy to conquer. The novel focuses on this theoretical invasion of Estonia. In the book, the Estonians fight back and don’t lose. But I won’t say more,” said Alexander Motyl during the book signing event at the Polish and Slavic Center.

It is not his first novel about Pitun, a fictitious leader of Russia. However, Alexander Moty is most known for his academic work. He is a professor of political science at Rutgers University. An internationally renowned expert in the field of Russia, Ukraine, Soviet Union, Nationalism, Revolution, War, and human rights. He is the author of numerous books and articles; a media expert, and a commentator. 

During the evening at the PSC, prof. Motyl received the Medal of the 75th Anniversary of Jan Karski Mission. In its citation, Jan Karski Society said that the medal is in recognition of Motyl’s “consistent defining of the political system in Putin’s Russia in an analogy to Hitler’s fascism,” as well as his “ruthless exposing of the truth about the criminal character of Russian totalitarianism and its dictator.”

“I considered Putin one of the most abhorrent and evil political leaders of the 21st century. I criticize him in my academic research, press articles, and on my blog,” said prof. Motyl in his speech after receiving the award.

Prof. Motyl is a New Yorker who was born into a family of Ukrainian immigrants. He also has a Polish background. His maternal grandmother came from Poland. “I have always had a strong connection with Poland. I remember my mother singing Polish songs, and my father would read Polish books at the kitchen table. From childhood, I remember beautiful stamps on the letters from our Polish relatives and friends who settled in Gliwice and Katowice […]. My first visit to Poland was in the winter of 1976. I admired Poles for their courage and the love of freedom”, said prof. Motyl.

The book signing and awards ceremony was followed by a concert by a renowned Makowicz-Medyna-Dingler Jazz Ensemble composed of Polish American musicians: Adam Makowicz (piano) and Krzysztof Medyna (saxophone), as well as an American bass player Jeff Dingler. “It is a rare occasion to be able to listen to such well-known and magnificent musicians in our neighborhood,” said one of the participants of the concert made available by the PSC.

Adam Makowicz, is a New York-based Polish-American pianist and composer. He performs jazz and classical piano pieces, as well as his own compositions. Besides playing solo, he has worked with such musicians as Earl Hines, Ben Webster, Phil Woods, and Jack DeJohnette, as well as with the National Symphony of Washington DC, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of London, the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, and other major orchestras, performing at most prestigious concert halls in the Americas and in Europe. His technical skills as a jazz pianist have been compared to that of Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, and Erroll Garner, among others. He was named the “Best jazz pianist” by the readers of Jazz Forum magazine and was awarded a gold medal for his contribution to the arts. In December 2022 the Academy of Art in Szczecin, Poland awarded Adam with the honorary degree “doctor honoris causa”.

Krzysztof Medyna comes from a family of musicians. He has performed in Poland, Scandinavia, and the U.S. Together with pianist Andrzej Winnicki, he founded a group Breakwater. At the 1979 Jazz and Odra Jazz Festival in Wroclaw, Breakwater won the award for Best Group, and Krzysztof won the award for best solo instrumentalist. Since moving to the U.S. in 1982, he has played with such musicians as Greg Maker, Fukushi Tainaka, Jeremy Pelt, Rodney Holmes, Nasheet Waits, Scott Colley, and Drew Gress, among others.

Jeff Dingler is a bass player and composer. His bass work has seen him included in a variety of settings covering a wide range of genres of music. From straight-ahead jazz with The Nelson Riddle Orchestra to Macedonian rhythms with Brad Shepik’s Balkan Peppers, all the way to Ethiopian folk styles of The Addis Acoustic Project. Jeff’s recent album “In Transit” has received acclaim worldwide for blending straight-ahead jazz and Ethiopian folk music. 

Photos: Wojtek Kubik i Aleksandra Słabisz