Bojan Z: Stranger Sounds

Ian Patterson By

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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 is....pay 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.

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.

AAJ: It's the same the whole world over.

BZ: Yeah, but the thing is they end up by being ignorant. But anyhow I discovered some Polish musicians, a pianist. Well, there are things happening, there are things happening. So before being able to vote as an informed man I first have to inform myself and I don't think I know everything that is going on in Europe. I would really have to think about it much more than just spit out a name. I don't have a name that pops in my mind.

AAJ: Talking about Polish musicians, do you know Tomasz Stanko's pianist?

BZ: Makita Thomas, no, Michiavic something. [Marcin Wasilewski]. Yeah. Yeah. There are definitely guys who have things to say and simply doing their shit and doing it good. But I cannot answer this question—I could have somebody who recently blew my mind and tell you but I don't.

AAJ: Fair enough. Anybody watching you playing would have no doubt that the piano is a percussion instrument. Did you ever play drums or did you ever want to play drums?

BZ: I am definitely, how do you say it, a frustrated drummer, or not frustrated, in French we say garcon manqué. You know drummer manqué. I could have been, and I was playing drums in rock bands and I'm listening to drums very much and this is really a very important instrument for the music I imagine. So, yeah, that's one of the reasons I go for guys like Ben Perowsky and Ari Hoenig you know and Nasheet Waits, because they just push me to play over my own limit.

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