Organizers of the annual Buffalo Music Awards may want to consider renaming its Saxophonist of the Year award the Jack Prybylski Award – in November 2010, Prybylski (pronounced Purr-bill-ski) took home the top honor for the 11th time. "Even though it's on a regional scale, it's very flattering to be nominated by your peers," Prybylski says. And although musicians nominated artists, the general public selected winners.
"It's equally as flattering that general public thinks enough of you to vote," Prybylski adds.It's not just western New York state that's hip to Prybylski's charms on the sax. Thanks to his latest solo CD, Out of the Box (Innervision), the contemporary jazz world worldwide is perking up, too. The CD is Prybylski's third and strongest CD yet, and is produced by the award-winning team of Rob DeBoer and Tony Grace of the groundbreaking jazz-chill duo Four80East."
Contemporary jazz is getting kind of mundane with the same artists putting out same overall sound, so I thought I'd break the mold a bit," Prybylski says. "As a new guy on the block, I also needed to do something to stand out. I'm attracted to Rob and Tony's music. It's fresh, innovative, a little edgy – not the polyester pants, white loafer type of sound." The result is a CD that spotlights Prybylski's rock and soul background, a little grit meshing with infectious melodies with a touch of European dance vibe.
Although Prybylski wrote most of the music on his first two CDs, he let DeBoer and Grace write or co-write five of Out of the Box's 10 tracks, enabling him to do what he does best: just play his sax. Those five songs include two that have received plenty of airplay, "Ice Cream" and "Down to It." Some adventurous radio stations have even picked up Prybylski's versions of Duran Duran's "Save a Prayer" and Rod Stewart's seminal "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy." "Everybody does Motown covers, which I love, but I just wanted to be a little different with my rock covers," Prybylski says. "The Rod Stewart song started as a joke at a show in Reno. Two kids came up to me and asked if I was Rod Stewart (Prybylski's blond-streaked hair is shaggy and spiky). They wanted my autograph. They said, 'Do we know any of your songs,' ha ha." Inspired by the boys – hey, why not? – Prybylski started playing "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" live and enjoyed it so much he put his dance-oriented version on Out of the Box.
Prybylski's music story starts in second grade in a Buffalo suburb when his parents, who didn't particularly want loud drums in the house, urged him to try something else. Prybylski picked the sax because – true story – it had the letter "X" in it. "My dad was an aerospace engineer and I saw a lot of terms with 'X' in it, like formulas. So I thought the sax was cool." Prybylski took to the alto (he now plays four types of sax) and would play saxophone through high school while taking music lessons and performing in local bar bands. "They all had horn sections, and I grew up with Chicago, Earth, Wind and Fire, and Blood, Sweat and Tears." Prybylski's father, meanwhile, also exposed him to jazz and big-band music while Prybylski discovered his jazz-saxophone idols: David Sanborn, Tom Scott and Joe Farrell. "They were my spiritual leaders and advisors," he says. "I was one step away from having their pictures with candles surrounding them."
Prybylski attended the University at Buffalo (SUNY-Buffalo), earning a bachelor's degree in music performance and bachelor's and master's degrees in music education. He studied with renowned jazz players David Leibman, Tim Price, David Schaivone and Buffalo Philharmonic bass clarinetist/saxophonist Edward Yadzinski. After college, Prybylski began teaching music in public schools, something he's done ever since. He's currently a music instructor for the University at Buffalo Marching Band.Before beginning his solo career, Prybylski recorded seven albums with a local Buffalo institution, Them Jazzbeards. The eclectic band still plays on the East Coast and is known in some movie-cult circles for its work on the 1995 flick Shadow Creature. "There's bad acting all over the place, but it's kind of neat to say I'm on a movie soundtrack," he says. "I hear the movie's a cult hit in the Orient." In addition to providing great music for bad movies, Them Jazzbeards – which plays mostly original material – compelled Prybylski to embark on his solo career. "I saw everyone enjoying the band's music, and I had mine which is 180 degrees from Them Jazzbeards. I just wanted to put my music out there and see what happened."
Prybylski's 2001 debut, Soho Strut, produced the Internet radio single "Mandalay Bay." Smoothjazz.com President Sandy Shore hailed the CD as "Filling in the cracks between modern jazz and smooth jazz ... Soho Strut is packed full with great compositions, sophisticated arrangements, creative improvisation and stellar musicianship."
Window Shopping, released in 2006, employed the talents of acclaimed contemporary jazz guitarist and producer Ken Navarro. Smooth Jazz News magazine named it one of the Top 10 CDs of the year, and Window Shopping would also find favor on several other year-end lists.
Today, Prybylski has his sights on a holiday CD – which he says might incorporate songs from his Polish/Russian background – and tour dates the spring and summer of 2011. "I absolutely love playing live," he says. "I love interacting with the crowd and feeding off their energy. I go into the audience and may end up on a table, who knows? If I can touch somebody in a positive way, I'm happy being a musician and entertainer. That's what it's all about."
Bio by Brian Soergel