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Bojan Z: Stranger Sounds

By Published: July 31, 2006

AAJ: Yeah, I think you did somewhere in the middle of that. You've been a fairly regular player at the Sarajevo Jazz Fest, three or four times and you're playing there again this November with your trio. I wanted to ask you what it felt like playing there for the first time after the war and could you tell us a little about the jazz festival itself?

BZ: Look, Sarajevo never had a jazz festival before. Most of the big Yugoslav towns, there was a wave of jazz festivals which was around the month of October, Ljubljana, Zagreb, Belgrade, Novi Sad and Skopje, but Sarajevo was never on this run of musicians passing through Yugoslavia, which is the reason for my surprise after talking with Vlatko Stefanovski who's an Estonian guitarist who plays on one of my records and he told me:

"Where were you last month? I played in Sarajevo."

I said: "Where did you play in Sarajevo?" They started doing concerts in'97 just after finally the bombs stopped falling on this town.

He said: "Oh, a jazz festival."

I said: "Jazz festival in Sarajevo?"

I mean this was like impossible to imagine. The war had just stopped, this was a ruined town and suddenly there's a jazz festival! So which purpose is it? Is it a Muslim jazz festival? [laughs] Is it sponsored by Saudi Arabia or what? Well no. There was a young guy, born in 1972 or something. He got out of the ashes and started a jazz festival and he was dealing with venues and whatever player he could. He found this Steinway that was in an army house. It had holes in its side.

So I contacted the guy, we met in France at some jazz festival meeting and I couldn't not like this guy. He told me: "Look, I have no money really but would you like to come here and be honored as much as you can?". So I said of course, I'm dreaming about it. So that's what happened. I went there and I played a solo concert in this army house on this Steinway with holes and... it was a very emotional moment you know, because of course I had most of my family from Sarajevo. I was born in Belgrade and my parents live in Belgrade, but most of my brothers they were there. Then I went back with a trio with Karim Ziad and Julien Lourau, which was a bass-less trio which I play with sometimes, and I went back when Transpacifik was recorded with Ben Perowsky and Remi Vignolo.

Actually the thing is that since my name is Bosnian, Zulfikarpasic comes from Pasha Zulfika, so for those who put some importance on this if they look at my name they see I'm Bosnian but born in Slovenia so that's why I'm Yugoslavian—even my name is a mixture..."improbable, as they say in French. So the funny thing is he told me when he was in Sarajevo it's like: "Who is this Bojan Z? You are playing in Sarajevo, it should be B. Zulfikarpasic." Why am I telling you this? Because he represented me for the Hans Koller prize for years as a Bosnian. You know I don't care. He thinks I'm Bosnian, great, because I am still all of it. So for four years he was representing me and two years I was the second and last year I won first prize which is really a good thing because 15,000 euros is one of the rare, only one nowadays where the prize is cash. Let's be honest, it's very good to have a prize with money. So I won it as a Bosnian.

AAJ: I wanted to ask you about the European prize—not only about winning it, but going back to the 2002 edition the jury stated that they had noticed, and I quote: "signs of stagnation in American jazz. You've been to America, you've played with American musicians, I wondered if you agreed with that?

BZ: The role of music in American society has been stagnating for quite some time. If I buy Down Beat or those magazines that are supposed to be the hippest of the hip, well, they are everything but hip. They are right-wing, conservative, speaking about this music in exactly the same way. Not a word about all this bullshit of George Bush, this shame of humanity that they have over there—let's start in the right way. Not a word about American musicians who are walking around with peace flags and signs saying that they don't agree with what is going on there.

AAJ: They get censored.

BZ:Of course. So this is not the frame of mind that I'm interested in at all. Now, all records that have nothing to do with the frame of mind of most of the musicians that I'm playing with or the guys that I like, like Jim Hall. [Bassist] Scott Colley told me a few years ago that before each set in the Village Vanguard Jim Hall would take a mike and say something, you know, good old man, decent, jazz guitar legend and saying things like: "I'm listening to so many different styles of music and find myself still discovering things. Recently I bought a record of the Dixie Chicks. It's amazing what they do. And the people die laughing. And then: "Seriously, I am not used to living in a fascist regime." This at the Village Vanguard. But you'll never hear a word about it in any of those "jazz newspapers, but what you will see is "My Favourite Things' questionnaires to Kenny Barron. It's like an interview:

Q: Which is your favourite watch?

Kenny Barron: Well, I have a Rolex...

Q: "What's your favourite color?

Can you imagine this? Toshiko Akiyoshi and Lew Tabackin!

Q: What is your favourite wine?

A: Oh, Chateau Ikan, 1929—they never let you down.

They are serious! You guys are serious, one bottle is $6,000! You know this glamour thing. Fuck! That's my opinion about this to be honest. So the social treatment of this music is not really corresponding to what it's supposed to bear as energy.

Besides that then you have the thing that middle class gigs are non-existent. You know most of us, we live from the gigs which are financially speaking from $1,000 to $10,000 range, you know it depends where you are, smaller or bigger hall, bigger venue. You know I'm speaking about bands, band price. And this doesn't exist; they have from zero to $1,000, which a band with this! And then you have these tremendous numbers of thousands of dollars from $10,000 on for Sonny Rollins and Keith Jarrett and people like this.

So this has completely killed the economy that the music can generate. That's what I think. If you're a lucky shot like Jason Moran who on the one hand is covered by the media and on the other hand he's got gigs and everything then it's OK, but tons and tons of guys, most are refugees in European countries, that's where they get their production labels and things like this. So, this is one side of the coin. The reverse side of the coin is if you find yourself in front of saxophonist Joe Lovano, he is going to blow your mind! You're going to get scared. So that's the other side of the coin, music artistry, the giants that are still alive and kicking. That's not just a legend, it is true. It's happening. Once they go for something they go for it all the way and they do it in this serious, very serious way.

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