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Bojan Z: Stranger Sounds

By Published: July 31, 2006

AAJ: At the recent 10th Annual Jazz Awards there, Sonny Rollins came out as best musician of the year, best tenor of the year, Wayne Shorter's was the best small combo. I think his combo is magic...

BZ: But the last record isn't. I love the combo, I opened the London Jazz Festival for them, it was the Royal Festival Hall, which was amazing! I loved this band, I loved everything they did. I bought the record [Beyond the Sound Barrier (Verve, 2005)] straight away but I was listening to it and truly found there was something hermetic going on with this recording But that's my opinion.

AAJ: Getting back to this question of whether or not American jazz has somehow stagnated, the winners of this poll, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Sam Rivers, Phil Woods, Jim Hall, Paul Motian, Andrew Hill, nominees like Roy Haynes, Lee Konitz, Toots Thielemans, well, Toots is Belgian, all these guys are in their 70s and 80s. I still think they're producing a lot of good music, but do you think that this comment by the jury for the European jazz award.....

Bojan ZBZ: No. No. Definitely not. The funny thing about the difference of these two planets is that...I can give you an example. With this prize nobody will have heard about me in America. Now whose fault is it? Is it mine? I'm playing sometimes a hundred and fifty concerts a year, I'm doing fine, don't worry about me, maybe better get some rest. Yeah, recording for a French label, that is my main distributor but of course they propose every now and then my records to the American distribution to produce it there to lower the costs of distribution etc. So OK, some people think that I am, whatever that means, best European Jazz Musician, that's one of the things that, you know, Europe, it's very simple—jazz musicians wouldn't be able to make a living out of it if there wasn't Europe. It's as clear as that. It's not some fixed idea I'm defending, it is a reality. I know it by playing with American musicians. I know what they ask, what they can ask, and what they can have here. With anybody, with guys like me. But believe me the day that I will go there and eventually be paid, well, that is going to be very funny.

But there is a big gap of information even amongst musicians. I talked with Chick Corea—he's supposed to be an informed man, well he's not. He doesn't know what's going on really in Europe, which is funny because we are filling up the halls and we are keeping up and forming their public. You know they come here [Europe] and they see all these young guys listening to them: "Wow! Great, young audience! Yeah, because most musicians year round are doing workshops, telling these kids to listen to them, making them discover this music, really defending in some way this cause and so yeah, then they have these people filling up the halls too. And in the meantime, sometimes, that's the funny thing happening now that we are filling up the halls more than they are, besides all this prestige thing, so that sometimes the thing that can happen if you are ignorant about what is going on and there is a big dose of ignorance in the American audience in general, in jazz fans and the jazz media—there is still this blockade, concerning musicians from, I don't know, elsewhere than the United States. That's just the way it is.

AAJ: I keep reading and hearing from American jazz musicians—[guitarist John] Scofield is the most recent one I've heard—complaining that they can't make a living in America and that's why they all come over to Europe for the festival season in the summer. Does that make sense to you? Because it doesn't make sense to me—I look at every sizeable town in America and it has a jazz festival.

Z: That goes with what I told you about this middle class span of prices for jazz gigs. He's supposed to be doing fine but he's touring Europe all the time. And Bill Stewart and Steve Swallow, they go in a trio. Steve Swallow is seventy years old or something, or he looks old. He's got a certain age, and you know he's still touring all over the place. Paul Motian just stopped 'cause he's 74 so he doesn't want to travel anymore. I wonder about their health insurance and things like this, if they have it. So yeah, I guess one of the reasons that they continue is of course when you are made for this that is what you are doing on this earth and you do it till the day you die. In the meantime it is good if you are not obliged to do it. So I would believe what Sco said is true.

AAJ: If you were on the jury for the European Jazz Prize of 2006, who would you vote for? And you can't vote for yourself!

BZ: I wouldn't vote for myself, that's for sure.

AAJ: Who for you are the most exciting and interesting musicians that you are familiar with?

BZ: I don't know because I'm still discovering. You know I just made a tour to Poland and it's a funny thing—Slavic brothers? Hell no! There's a big difference between Slavs from the north and Slavs from the south. But the funny thing was that the guy from the jury of the prize—there were Polish guys too—and the guy I met was like "I was very surprised to see that a completely unknown musician won this prize. Well him too, he better get off America, you know. The Polish, they view Europe as eventually the way of reaching America, but they are so much into America that this is quite strange.

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