Since the '70s, Emil Viklicky has been among the top acoustic jazz pianists in the Czech Republic. Viklicky isn't very well-known in the United States, but in European jazz circles, he has commanded a…
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Emil Viklicky Biography

by Alex Henderson

Since the '70s, Emil Viklicky has been among the top acoustic jazz pianists in the Czech Republic. Viklicky isn't very well-known in the United States, but in European jazz circles, he has commanded a great deal of respect and admiration. One of the reasons why Viklicky isn't better known in the U.S. is the fact that most of his albums have not come out on American labels -- like so many European jazz artists, he has recorded most of his LPs and CDs for European labels. Consequently, jazz fans in countries like Sweden, France, Belgium, and Italy have had an easier time finding his releases than jazz fans in New York, Chicago, or San Francisco. But that doesn't erase the fact that Viklicky is a fine musician/composer who is hard-swinging yet lyrical and melodic. A versatile, open-minded player, Viklicky can be contemplative and impressionistic when he feels like it -- or, he can be exuberant and festive.

Viklicky was born in Olomouc, Czech Republic on November 23, 1948. Back then, the Czech Republic was still called Czechoslovakia and -- like the rest of Eastern Europe -- had a centralized, Soviet-style communist government. When Viklicky was growing up, Americans referred to the pianist's country as "behind the Iron Curtain." But despite communism's well-deserved reputation for being oppressive and anti-American, the country had a jazz scene and, over the years, gave us first-class players like bassist George Mraz (who Viklicky has worked with on more than one occasion). Viklicky entered college in the late '60s, and in 1971, he graduated from Palacky University with a degree in mathematics. Even though Viklicky was living in a communist country, his situation was one that so many American artists could relate to -- despite showing serious promise as a musician, he studied something practical and sensible (as opposed to creative) in college. But studying mathematics didn't prevent Viklicky from practicing and studying jazz piano night and day, and in 1974 (the year he turned 26), the improviser won a prize for best soloist at the Czechoslovak Amateur Jazz Festival. It was also in 1974 that he joined the late Czech jazzman Karel Velebny's SHQ Ensemble. Then, in 1977, Viklicky was awarded a scholarship by Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music; during his temporary stay in Boston, he studied with trumpeter Herb Pomeroy at Berklee. Since then, he has built a sizable catalog. In the '80s, his European releases included The Window (Okno) and the Door (Dvere), which united Viklicky's group with guitarist Bill Frisell; 1981's Together, an album of duets with fellow pianist James Williams; and 1988's Homage to Joan Miro -- all of those albums originally came out on the Supraphon label. Then, in the '90s, Viklicky's CDs included 1990's Beyond the Mountains on Supraphon, 1991's 'Round Midnight on Arta, 1995's Food of Love on Melantrich, 1995's Lacrimosa (which was the soundtrack of the Czech film Ma Je Pomsta) on Popron, 1996's Homage to Josip Plecnik on Lotos, 1997's UV Drive on Arta, 1998's Duets on Lotos, and 1998's Neuro on Gallup Music. In 2001, the veteran pianist was featured extensively on George Mraz's superb Milestone/Fantasy release Morava, which boasts an adventurous blend of jazz and traditional Moravian folk. During his long career, Viklicky has witnessed a lot of political changes in the Czech Republic. He has long since moved back to that country, and in a post-communist Czech Republic, he served as president of the Czech Jazz Society from 1991-1995. It was in 1994 that Viklicky started playing with Ad lib Moravia, an ensemble that, like the musicians on Mraz's Morava, blends jazz and Moravian folk. In 2002, the Arta label released Viklicky's 01, a live trio date that was recorded the previous year.

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