Bojan Z: Stranger Sounds

Ian Patterson By

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AAJ: When you were growing up what rock bands were you listening to?

BZ: Everything. It started with the Beatles, and I still think it was a very lucky day for me when I received Revolver—I was six years old and it's interesting because the role of their music at my tender age was really opening the windows and getting pictures of elsewhere. Not that my childhood was oppressed in Belgrade, it was a very happy childhood and everything, but that just put the perspective. And no wonder when I was eleven I went to Coventry Spa to study English and ended up traveling all over Britain and really this is my first love country because of their music. Through them of course I developed in all directions. Actually I realized that I have quite a good knowledge of rock music in general. I was listening to everybody from The Allman Brothers Band to Yes. I had also albums by Rick Wakeman and things like this. I was into keyboards and keyboard players and into rock and I was going for it all the way.

AAJ: My musician mate last night at the concert said to me: "I bet you Bojan has Hunky Dory by [David] Bowie, which has Rick Wakeman on piano.

BZ:I had it. That's the one where he's flying or something, a blue cover. I don't know where they've gone all those LPs—somewhere. I was really listening to all of it, I was listening to the Sex Pistols, like, all the way. It was in '79 that I was in London—Supertramp had just done Breakfast in America, The Police had the second album, Regatta de Blanc, so it was a perfect vibe, a London vibe that I could feel when I was there at 11 years old. I was already five years into rock. Yeah, that's why underlying this side of my musical education I ended up knowing quickly that I would not be a classical pianist.

AAJ: Although I think it's clear to anybody that you have a classical style in your playing.

BZ:I had training of course but what you hear mostly is the way I'm listening to this music, and I'm still listening to this music. I don't need to spend hours in front of the written notes. I'm used to learning music by ear not by reading it on paper so that's what you hear. Certainly I made a profit [benefited] out of years—I started when I was five, so you know by the age of ten I did have the basic things about the instrument in my fingers. But I discovered how to practice by myself when I finished music school when I was seventeen. By myself I sat down, so once school was over I could really deal with it myself and find the importance of it for me.

Yeah, so for me the rock side is very important. And it's not like a sin from the childhood—far from that because quite a lot of jazz musicians keep an eye on their rock period and that's where Ben Perowsky just blew my mind when I heard the way he's playing with a rock band, and the way he approaches it is exactly the same as when he's playing duets with Sylvie Courvoisier, you know, completely improvised music. For him it's exactly the same thing. And when you listen to him play this beat, for example on Xenophonia we play two tunes which have more of a rock feel, "Ashes to Ashes," by David Bowie, and the second one is a real slow blues, but like a rock blues. The sound he's got, the way he's playing the music is just amazing. He's not going to do it because he has to earn more money playing this, no. He's into this music body and soul. Actually for me it's the same thing—I still listen to everything that can move me, you know. I was into "Buttons" when I was fifteen years old so now I'm not going to say ":Buttons, oh no!"

AAJ: It's formative, isn't it?

BZ: Yeah, and I like continuing to inform myself about machine skills and recording engines and things like this—it's very helpful. So that's my knowledge of rock music. I was listening to everything I could get my hands on.

AAJ: How many languages can you speak?

BZ: Fluently, three, and I can express myself a little in Italian but this is more because of the proximity and love I have for their language and this country. On the other hand, my problem is the house where I will have complots [conspiracies] behind my back in Dutch, so I am about to try and learn some Dutch in order to understand.

AAJ: I guessed you had three minimum and I imagined you had bits and pieces of a couple more—do you think there's a correlation, a relationship between an ability to learn and absorb spoken language and an ability to absorb musical idioms?

BZ: Of course. For me, what is music if it's not a language? I've got two sons from my first marriage; both of them are interested in music. The first one even has some other talents which I discovered when he was six—that he's got perfect pitch. Mine is not perfect. By practicing music for quite some years already I can guess the note. But the funny thing is looking at them and giving them some education about music and helping them achieve it—the only idea I had about it was I wanted them to understand music as a language. Then they do with it whatever they want but I couldn't permit them to end up not understanding music as a language. And the way it happened made it clear to me that music is a language. Now where are the frontiers of this language and where does it go in another country? Depends on so many things. But it definitely has something to do with ability to speak other languages. The wish to do it is the thing.

AAJ: In the concert in Siem Reap you cited Don Cherry as an influence. Piano players apart, what other musicians like Don Cherry have had a big influence on you?

BZ: Oh Miles Davis certainly. It's not very original I know, but heck! If I didn't say it I would be lying. I'm still listening to....the way he generates music with the guys that are around as well, that's one of the very strong points of his artistry. But the way he's playing trumpet, the sound he had, this is really happening you know. Ah, so many of them you know. I still listen to all the major...Charlie Haden. I was studying double bass for four years too for the classical thing, so I do have a double bass, which is another thing which helps me playing with bass players.

AAJ : When you're solo you are a bit of a one-man band. The percussion thing, particularly the rhythm of your piano playing—you're the drummer, the bassist as well as the pianist .

BZ: Well, that's Me, Myself and I which I told you about. No, but it is because I do think and I imagine bass, I imagine drums, I imagine harmonies. Well, but that's an important thing you know. Important? It's an interesting thing—I studied with Clare Fischer who's supposed to be the most sophisticated harmonicist, harmony-wise pianist living on this planet, because Bill Evans and the others are not here anymore. Which is true, and I do hear all these things, but very often, and especially when I play solo I emphasize the rhythmic and line—wise things and I like actually the African color of these non-African instruments, if you see what I mean—the lyric side of it too.

Actually, in my McCoy Tyner period I was very touched by the way he made this instrument sound like a Kora—I don't know if he was aware of it himself but he certainly did it. For me the most African sound of the piano were on Randy Weston and McCoy Tyner's records, and he's got this percussive thing that afterwards Chick Corea took and in his own way made out of it something else. But I was listening to him quite a lot. I'm still juggling you know, everything I hear. You know I bought this video in Tokyo of Bill Evans and it's funny to see this man. He was definitely a freak! You know, his broken teeth...

AAJ: He was smacked up though for a lot of years.

BZ: Oh he was smacked up yeah, in this video he is. And then of course there is the thing where he sat down and played a melody with just one finger and you are like oooooh! [speechless]. You know, touched by some grace of course. Why do I tell you this? Because I remember when I was studying all these guys, it was really like corresponding to my teenage spirit while I was looking to Red Garland he was the God, the rest was shit. Then boom! I was switched to Wynton Kelly. Wynton Kelly was God! etc etc. etc. I was treating all of them and nowadays I'm still listening to them and Alfred Brendel, you know on the classical side.

I just love hearing all these different things piano-wise, just on the one hand to remember the lost colors of this instrument because there is a tendency nowadays growing into a certain pattern of piano playing that most of the pianist are using and they just forget about these things for example, Errol Garner or Earl Hines and guys like this, the way they were using this instrument—so all these colors are a bit left aside. So, Duke Ellington is one of my favorite piano players because he's the one I like listening to at almost any moment of the day, so fresh and so mysterious and his attitude so...hip! If you ever get your hands on Music is my Mistress there is one thing that left me breathless and it was at the end of the book, there is a list of the tunes that he composed, I mean, I really felt like, little, and lost in the woods. And you're looking at the titles and it's like Ohhh! My goodness! What a production! Quantity and quality.

AAJ: He was a very special case though.

BZ: He's one of the special cases but hey, better listen to special cases like this because they kick my ass and everybody needs it every now and then.

AAJ: Are you familiar with a pianist, Jan Johansson?

BZ: No?

AAJ: He's a...dead. He was Swedish and nobody knows the guy...

BZ: Ok! It's possible that it was this guy that Esbjorn Svenson mentioned at some concert that they were dedicating a tune—it was in the Sarajevo Festival. That's where I saw Esbjorn with the trio, where I was playing the first part of the evening and he was playing afterwards, and he was speaking about this guy, dedicating a tune, and I think it was this name. So who is the guy?

AAJ : Jan Johansson. I was curious if you are familiar with him because he sounds like nobody else. He's Swedish who, loosely speaking, you could call a jazz pianist—solo stuff by and large, but not dissimilar to yourself—he has the folkloric side which sweeps, infuses right the way through everything he plays. Beautiful, quite minimalist. The version you did of "Ashes to Ashes" in Siem Reap—I could see him, if he were alive today, doing something like that.

BZ: That I really look forward to hearing.

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