Conscious conscience: Martin Palczewski
A budding musician’s exploration of himself and his artistry
Since he was 5 years old, Martin Palczewski has been growing into his artistry on his own, without the help of his parents, older siblings or a musical mentor.
Playing music was a creative and emotional outlet for Palczewski, in a way nothing else was.
Music has been the most prominent mentor he has had. From playing piano, saxophone, guitar and bass to writing and singing his own songs, Palczewski has learned about himself through his music.
“I feel as if everyone has different sides to themselves,” Palczewski said. “[There’s] the ‘me’ in public, the ‘me’ in private and the person I am always, the one I can’t hide.”
Making music, he said, has helped him differentiate between these aspects of himself.
His music has forced him to confront his problems.
Growing up, Palczewski spent most of his time alone – his parents were always working and his older brothers were absent.
But Palczewski’s grandfather, who helped raise him, encouraged him to be motivated in all that he does.
He told Palczewski, “Nothing is handed to you, but everything is within your reach.”
Palczewski has taken this advice to heart – he has performed at Buffalo’s Tralf Music Hall and the Town Ballroom and aspires to make a living from live shows.
Palczewski, now a junior English major, is a man who will be the first to tell anyone: He has the heart of a musician.
When his fingers first hit a keyboard as a child, there was never a doubt music was his calling – his truest love.
A man of music
At age 5, all Palczewski needed to be happy was that keyboard. He imagined playing for crowds while he jammed in his empty living room.
It wasn’t until a middle school piano concert when he played “Für Elise” that Palczewski experienced his first taste of performing for a live audience.
But it didn’t go too well.
“‘Für Elise,’ the only piano song I ever memorized, I bombed. I messed up the middle. I always mess up the middle,” Palczewski said.
For Palczewski, that terrible first performance served as inspiration to do better, and pushed him to try something else – his now-favorite instrument: the saxophone. He picked up the instrument and found it to be a more comfortable fit than playing piano.
Palczewski has a natural aptitude for music and an affinity for the sax, according to his jazz teacher at St. Francis High School, Craig Fattey.
“He auditioned for and made our school jazz ensemble, where he became a real leader and featured soloist,” Fattey said. “Marty continued to work hard and progress rapidly moving from alto sax, to baritone, then tenor.”
In high school, his aplomb on the saxophone brought him success.
He became the leading saxophonist of his high school jazz band, “The Jazz Messengers.”
Then, he led the band to win a high school jazz competition at the Tralf, where he got a chance to perform with jazz legend Bobby Militello, one of the members in the world-renowned Dave Brubeck Quartet.
“I am most proud of my saxophone achievements,” he said. “I never would have known I would have gotten to play at the Tralf Music Hall and won a competition.”
But Palczewski is hesitant to brag about his accomplishments because ego, he said, is something that must be overcome in order to mature as a musician.
Ego aside, he was one of the most important members of his high school jazz band.
Ted Katra, one of the musicians who played in “The Jazz Messengers” with Palczewski, recalls his tutelage under Palczewski with a feeling of nostalgia.
“[Palczewski] and I would practice together every day,” Katra said. “He was a mentor to me, and one of the main reasons I loved playing as much as I did in high school.”
Katra didn’t continue playing after high school but said if it weren’t for Palczewski, he wouldn’t have been a musician at all.
“Playing with him every day, I noticed how good he was,” Katra said. “I would try to piggyback off his style. But he had a particular flair, and people could pick his sound out from a crowd.”
Katra said Palczewski was best at saxophone when he was improvising.
Improvisation is why Palczewski said he was so drawn to the free-flowing, expressive style of hip-hop.
“I think jazz influenced my rap the most,” Palczewski said. “In rap, tone and melody play a bigger role than most people recognize in hip-hop. I learned in jazz how you articulate every phrase and note, how loud and soft it is and when you cut the note off – how important that can be. I tried to incorporate this into my hip-hop.”
He first started rapping after watching people like 50 Cent and Paul Wall’s music videos on MTV.
“I figured anyone who was throwing around cash like that and had girls was doing something right,” Palczewski said.
As he grew up, however, Palczewski said he became torn between his love for sax and his growing love for hip-hop.
“Rap was a lens that opened up a whole side of myself that I didn’t know was there,” Palczewski said. “A dark side of me was opened by hip-hop. I don’t know if rap does that for everyone, but it was interesting because the more I came into contact with this dark side of myself, the more I came into contact with the best parts of myself as well.”
For Palczewski, his biggest criticism of rap is its apparent superficiality in dealing with topics such as drug use, mental illness and misogyny.
“I think hip-hop can do it better than that,” Palczewski said. “The medium is so powerful it can send any type of message. And so, you can get into lean [codeine] and partying and girls and you can also get into heartbreak and life and death.”
Behind the scenes
Palczewski’s mother, who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and manic depression, works as a civil servant, and his father, who works up to 80 hours a week at a steel mill, were both extremely busy when Palczewski was a child.
Palczewski said this was difficult for him, because at times, it was only him.
“I’ve spent more time alone than with my family since birth – but I still spend more time with my family than other people I know,” he said.
Palczewski was alone a lot as a child; his stepbrothers were grown and were never around. He said this was a source for familial unrest.
“My brothers were just stories to me, apart from infrequent visits,” he said.
He said his brothers had their own set of problems, from drinking to gang activity.
“It formed me over my life – you can’t grow up thinking your brothers are badasses, but then try to do what they do,” Palczewski said. “They won’t be there when you are getting chased by the police.”
Early on, Palczewski had a hard time finding someone to look up to.
“I got told a lot of stories about my family from every angle and direction. I have countless aunts and uncles who are millionaires, but I’ve never met them,” Palczewski said.
Despite his disparate home life, Palczewski firmly believes his family is the most important thing.
His grandparents helped raise him while his parents were working.
Palczewski said his relationships with his grandparents are two of the strongest relationships he has - especially his grandfather, who he said is one of the most inspirational, formative men he has ever met.
“My grandfather has done a lot,” Palczewski said. “He has gotten 181 college credits just because he wanted to learn. He has been in the Marines, been a part of the Lackawanna and Santa Anna police forces. He started the Our Lady of Victory Youth Home [on Martin Road]. He taught me damn near everything I know about living.”
Palczewski has tried to emulate his grandfather’s motivation and sense of ethics, and said he thinks about the lessons his grandfather has taught him every day.
Now 22, Palczewski has gotten a taste of performing live, from playing at the Tralf, his high school’s homecoming and a slew of impromptu performances at his friends’ parties.
But he knows this is only the beginning.
Still torn between hip-hop and sax, Palczewski can only say “music is a guide.”
He wants to continue playing saxophone, but also wants to pursue a career performing as a rapper.
“My dream is to start a private business and make music for myself or make enough music to perform live and have an income off of it,” Palczewski said.
He recognizes the difficulty of this venture.
“Every musician, in my opinion, that has gone on to make a difference has dedicated his or her life to [music]. But you still have to make money to survive,” Palczewski said.
But he refuses to let time or money get in the way of his dreams.
He has paid to record his music in GCR Studios in Buffalo over a series of five separate studio sessions.
Brad Lauchert, the audio engineer, has worked with Palczewski on each of these occasions.
Lauchert, who has worked with hundreds of musicians, said the aspiring rapper is more open-minded than most rappers his age.
“As far as his music goes, [Palczewski ] raps about very serious subject matter, which is almost hidden among the light-hearted atmosphere he gives off,” Lauchert said. “He tends to be very conscious as a rapper when a lot of people just talk about clubs and girls and stuff. That’s just not his style.”
Palczewski’s style is centered on enlightenment and open-mindedness. He refuses to cater to mainstream rap’s infatuation with drugs, sex and money – Palczewski’s message is deeper than that.
While Palczewski actively tries to find his own voice in a world full of re-appropriation, he said, now, the struggle has been to distinguish between his musical identity and his “real-life self.”
He embodies this struggle, performing as his rap alter-ego “Conscious Conscience” in his song “Battery.”
“He looks to tomorrow awake and in dreams / But nothing’s ever as simple as it seems,” he raps.
His best friend since kindergarten, Jared Parylo, a graduate student at UB studying urban planning and architecture, can speak to Palczewski’s artistic vision.
“In music, popular artists simulate what they believe to be good, based on other popular musicians. This simulation lacks originality and creativity,” Parylo said. “Marty is conscious of this; most aren’t. His consciousness and self-awareness makes his music relevant to me.”
For Palczewski, exploration is the name of the game.
“Music can articulate and embody and emulate everything in existence, one way or another,” Palczewski said. “From song to song, your [artistic] voice doesn’t change as quickly as you do.”
Brian Windschitl is an arts editors and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org