Leading jazz pianist Najponk is one of the Czech music scene’s few artists able to harness their poetic prowess to narrate “stories” that are accessible to the broader public, not just to jazz aficionados. He draws directly from classical jazz roots, which is able to present free of excessive experimentation, with distinction and crystalline clarity. Najponk’s music excels in its ingenuity, virtuosity, enthusiasm, and its light-fingered yet sophisticated phrasing. He has the reputation of a player with an inexhaustible catalogue of music, which has abundant room for standards, contemporary jazz works, instrumental arrangements of pop-music hits, and, significantly, compositions of his own.
Najponk (*1972), whose real name is Jan Knop, has Ukrainian roots on his mother’s side. In 1995 he earned First Place at an international contest of jazz pianists in Ostrava; he was later invited to participate in the Czech Radio project Tribute to Thelonious Monk. His trio was repeatedly voted band of the year, for the first time in 1998 in a poll of the Czech Jazz Society. His career has brought him alongside a plethora of excellent musicians, such as Janusz Muniak, Dave Liebman, Jaromír Honzák, George Mraz, Greg Hutchinson, or Ondřej Pivec. With the last two of those, he recorded It’s About Time, which won a Czech Angel for Best Jazz Album of 2010. His other award-winning recordings include the solo album Going It Alone (Jazz Recording of 1999 in a poll by Harmonie), or Just About Love (Angel Award, 2001). His newest record What’s Next from November 2018 was made in collaboration with the Swedish double bassist Hans Backenroth and the Czech drummer Jiří Slavíček.
Najponk performs alone and in trio all over the world. Jazz musicians and fans of the genre also know him as a great collector of jazz compositions and recordings, and he is considered one of the best Czech experts on jazz – which is not all that surprising seeing that he taught the history of jazz at one time. As a musician, he is making his own mark in the books as a “thrilling inspirer” who “combines the freshness of Oscar Peterson with the eccentric perfection of Thelonius Monk and the classical touch of Wynton Kelly and Red Garland.”