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European Jazz Conference 2017

Ian Patterson By

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In a linear narrative, Bojan Z recounted his formative years growing up in the capital of the former Yugoslavia in the bosom of a musical family. Cousins and friends coming by every other evening for dinner and a subsequent sing-song, created a social environment in which music was a natural form of communication. His interest in the piano stirred when he was three years old and his formal, classical studies began at five.

The classical studies and the gift of The Beatle's Revolver (Parlophone, 1966) on Bojan Z's sixth or seventh birthday would both significantly influence the course of his life. Importantly, many of his friends played music, owned guitars and amps, which lent itself to the "constant feeling that I was doing was very normal, not something special."

Rock and progressive rock provided the templates for the first bands Bojan Z played in but it was a summer camp in Istria—at the age of fourteen—led by Boško Petrović that proved a major turning point. "The doors of the jazz world opened to me." For the next few year in Belgrade Bojan Z immersed himself in bebop and the language of Wynton Kelly, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea.

In 1986, Bojan Z received a scholarship to study music in a summer camp in Michigan, USA. This was another eye-opener for the then sixteen-year-old, as he found that the other students "were relaxed around what is and what isn't jazz." Bojan Z was offered an extended scholarship but had to return to Yugoslavia to do his compulsory military service. After two months of regular army training Bojan Z was given the position of Chief of the Army Band. They band played every night in Mostar and its primary goal was "to make people sing, dance drink and cry."

Just before embarking on his military service, Bojan Z became the pianist for the Belgrade Radio Big Band, which was considered as the pinacle for a jazz musician in his country. The search for other mountains to climb—plus the fact that he'd met the French woman who was to become his wife, at the jazz summer camp at Istria —took him to France.

There, he quickly found like-minded musicians. "We know everything about jazz, what happened before, but what shall we do now?" The question, acknowledged Bojan Z, is one that arises anew from generation to generation. "The purpose was to find your own voice." Thus, Bojan Z began experimenting with Balkans folk music and jazz, though as Balkans folk music is not written for the piano he began studying ornamentation typical of the clarinet.

The rest, as the saying goes, is history. With musicians such a Julien Lourau, Henri Texier and Michel Portal, Bojan Z has made his way, step by step, to the forefront of contemporary European jazz. As a leader, he first recorded in 1993, and led his first major tour, in Ireland, around the same time. Bojan Z thanked Brian Carson—sat in the audience—of Belfast music promotion company Moving On Music for giving him this opportunity, and concluded by thanking sincerely everyone in the auditorium who had helped him along the various stages of his career.

Unbeknown to Bojan Z, the man responsible for the scholarship that had taken the pianist to Michigan some thirty years previously—Mike Mazur, a legendary Yugoslavian jazz journalist who ran a jazz radio program for fifty three years—was also sitting in the auditorium. Their subsequent introduction was, amazingly, and in a fitting coda, the first time that Bojan Z had ever met this important benefactor. What if...?

Parrel Working Groups

A large chunk of day three of the EJC 2017 revolved around a dozen working groups, split either side of lunch. These sessions, broken down into very specific categories, covered various projects and ongoing concerns of the EJN.

With audience development a buzzword of festivals these days, particularly given the ageing and still predominantly white male demographic of many festivals, workshops on Jazz and Young People, Social Inclusion, and Gender Balance in Music reflected these concerns. It was of note that the working group on Gender Balance, led by Ros Rigby (EJN President and Festival Producer of Gateshead International Jazz Festival), proposed a manifesto on gender balance for the EJN.

In the morning session there was a working group specifically for presenters, managers and agents, and another on the use of video and live streaming for audience engagement led by Nigel Slee of Jazz North (UK). At the EJC 2016 in Wroclaw, Poland, the suggestion arose to record all the working groups and make them available on-line at the EJN website—a sound motion given the impossibility, even with the greatest will in the world, of being in six places at once. The ease of high-quality recording on bog-standard phones these days means that there is no obvious barrier to this idea, yet to be implemented.

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