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Bojan Z: Stranger Sounds

Ian Patterson By

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AAJ: You perform a lot of solo concerts and yet you've recorded only one solo album, which was very highly acclaimed. Why not more solo albums?

BZ: Nobody's pushing me to. Myself, I'm not pushing myself either. I have to start hearing some new things. It's coming slowly. The thing is I have a strange point of comparison about productivity. I was doing my first CD, it was in New York. We did it in Seer Sound Studios in New York. The day after Dave Douglas, the trumpet player, was doing his first CD. Now we're 13 years later and you compare my discography with Dave Douglas and it's like, where's the problem here? It's on his side or it's on my side, or it's two different ways of functioning. I think he's made fifteen or sixteen albums under his name while I'm now on six. So I think I'm more diesel than benzene. It's just that I don't make records if I don't hear something that is worth putting down.

AAJ: Is playing solo the context that you most enjoy?

BZ: No, it's really a complimentary activity. It's not more it's not less. The only drag is when on a tour or traveling. Most of the guys that I'm playing with are my friends too, which isn't necessary but I like hanging out with the guys discovering things together. That's why I could never go on a six-month solo tour. They are very, very hard. So it's totally complimentary. The way this music is dealt with when I'm alone is different than when there are three of us. But it's the same quest. But the more I do it the more I feel the idea that I've heard from the mouth of so many musicians, that I'm not the one who is producing this, it's there and so I'd better be in good shape to pass it through me, through the instrument. With a trio we are trying to get the three of us on the same level, to communicate the same music, which is not the case when I'm with my own trio [solo] which is Me, Myself and I.

AAJ: For me your music is very visual, almost cinematic. For example, the song "CD Rom, during the really fast runs, and my friend afterwards told me exactly the same thing, we could imagine the Roma people gathering up their CDs because the police are coming and then legging it away.

Bojan ZBZ: That's great! [laughs] That's exactly it! These guys are speedy, OK? Music-wise I think that the thing that you will never hear from these guys is play a straight note [imitates a warbling run of gypsy notes]—it's coming from India, that's where the link is very clear. Have you seen the movie Latcho Drom? It's a very good movie. It's a documentary a bit more cinema-adapted by Tony Gatliff who's a French gypsy, manouche director. It's speaking about the story of the gypsy, all the way from India to Galicia, Spain., Norway. So that's a tip for you if you have time to see this movie. But that's a very good image! They're very speedy!

AAJ: Do you have images running through your mind when you're playing, for example on that song or "Don't Buy Ivory Anymore"—do you have elephants going through your mind like a story?

BZ: I'm not thinking about where I will go shopping with all this money I'm going to earn from tonight by playing this song, you know. [laughs]

AAJ: Or the girl in the third row...

BZ: You know the joke, it's a funny one. A manager of a band in order to know how to deal with his band he took a medium, you know a voyaume, the guy who can read the thoughts. The keyboard player is thinking: "My God! What am I doing here? I could be earning so much money working in the studio and doing this film music. What am I doing here?" The clarinetist is thinking: "I'm the best. I'm just the best." The drummer is like: "Ok, the blonde in the second row, I'll have her tonight." It comes to the bassist and it's: "E E, GG, CC..." [laughs]

AAJ: I remember an interview of yours some years ago in which you were reminiscing, you were remembering about the time when you were the second best jazz pianist in Yugoslavia but then you said that there were only two of you. Now that you are the undisputed number one Yugoslavian jazz pianist, are there still only two?

BZ: No, there are others, but it was a very generous move that I did which was I moved from there and freed the space. There are musicians. There are piano players, but the problem with the piano players precisely, which hasn't changed, on the contrary, is that the new guys commit the mistake that they will have to pay for a long time which is they accept playing on claviolas and electronic pianos, not electric—that's completely different, a Fender Rhodes is a mechanical machine, but you know synthesizers with a pre-recorded piano sound.

AAJ: So you can't become a good pianist...

BZ: ....if you don't have an instrument. And once you give club owners the idea that this works perfectly, you just plug it in, no mike, no fuss, then you have it for ten years to come at least to try to convince somebody that he should get a decent piano. So the problem is that there are no pianos in the clubs and for me that's very significant. So there are piano players but it's going to be very hard for them to develop their artistry by playing shitty keyboards. That's for sure.

AAJ: What's the state of Balkan jazz these days? Is it healthy? Yugoslavian jazz, whatever...

BZ: It's hard to speak... you know there are so many efforts made by all of them there to separate from each other—so they're almost getting aggressive if you say "Yugoslavia. Croat, Serb, whatever—but the thing is I still feel it's my own—"they can't take that away from me. And the funny thing is that wherever I play they always say: "He's ours." So, ah, what was the question?

AAJ: Is there a thriving, healthy jazz scene in the different components of the ex-Yugoslavia?

BZ: I wouldn't say that. There are musicians, there are guys who are making efforts, making things happen. It is always a constant effort. Thinking even of what I saw here [Bangkok] yesterday, it's the same thing—look at this town, look at how many people are living here and still this completely mistaken idea of jazz, so either it's smooth jazz or it's not. This title, "smooth jazz, never made it in France, it's pejorative. Whoever uses it in his record shop he'd better move into some supermarket.

Here, when they say jazz it actually means smooth jazz.. The thing is in France there was this fighting for the stature of artists really for years and years, maybe it's so French, I don't know but the result is quite visible concerning the number of festivals, the number of venues, the quality of the pianos, the way that things are dealt with, the money you earn when you play. Well, that's one of the consequences of all those guys fighting for it for 35 years or more. And I had the luck of playing with guys like Henri Texier and Michel Portal who started this thing and they are the ones who explained to me how things are going there. Did I answer your question?

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.

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