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Interview: Damjan Krajacic

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Q: When did you start playing the flute? Did your family already know you had an interest in music?

A: I was a bit late coming to the flute, at 19. My main instrument was electric bass, and I dabbled into classical guitar and piano a bit prior to that. Once I entered college, I was part of the jazz ensemble (on bass). Flutist Danilo Lozano was teaching it, and I fell in love with the percussive qualities of the flute in a Latin jazz setting. I felt like I had no choice but to switch to flute. My father is a musician as well and they were aware of my growing obsession with music in high school, which at the time was playing electric bass in a band.

Q; Growing up, what artists had the biggest impact on you, creatively speaking?

A: I feel like we never really stop growing up, so things are still evolving for me, but in the early days I would say the grunge, rock, pop scene had the strongest influence - Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Pearl Jam, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jamiroquai, etc. Very little jazz at that time until reaching college. Then I really got into various jazz artists - Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Yusef Lateef, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Dave Valentin, Rolando Lozano.

Q: Your father was also a musician. What did he do and was he an influence on you?

A: Yes, my father is a classical guitarist and a guitar teacher. I think hearing guitar music influenced me as much as any other music. I especially loved the Spanish and South American composers - Heitor Villa-Lobos, Isaac Albéniz, and Francisco Tárrega. Their compositions were special because of the rhythmic and harmonic characteristics of the music and emotional depth. They were also composed for the guitar rather than transcribed for guitar, so they fit the instrument and its particularities, which is to me really important in composition.

Q: When did you realize that music was going to be an integral part of your adult life?

A: I think I always felt art in general was going to be a part of my life; in other words, I primarily felt as an artist and then as a musician. I still feel that way - an artist has a need to express their thoughts, emotions, and visions, regardless of the medium. Even though I focused on music intensely during high school, I think only in college I truly felt that music was going to remain my focus.

Q: Where did you grow up, and what effect did that have on your evolution as an artist?

A: I grew up in Zagreb, Croatia. I would say that I had a beautiful childhood, surrounded by real friends and loving family but also unfortunately mixed with several years of war that was taking place in Croatia and nearby Bosnia at the time. Zagreb was relatively spared during the war, but the atmosphere we were living in made us think about life, death, peace, love, and the complexities of human life. These subjects remain in my music.

Q: You studied music at California State University. What did you learn there?

A: I received my Masters in Music at Cal State L.A., with a focus on Afro-Latin Music. This is a program led by now a dear friend and pianist Paul De Castro. I was very fortunate to have Danilo Lozano and James Newton be my teachers during my couple years there. They are both absolute masters in their own idioms, Charanga/Latin jazz and jazz respectively. It is like having two strong, tall pillars to hold on to and absorb from. The focus of the study was Cuban and Brazilian music and the particularities of different styles, rhythms, and sensibilities. I also worked on developing my own compositions, obviously getting influenced by what I was learning.

Q: How would you describe the jazz scene in your native Croatia?

A: Croatian jazz scene is nowadays somewhat modest. There is definitely a pool of people who appreciate jazz and a good number of talented young jazz musicians (and some true masters like Matija Dedic), but I cannot say that a scene truly exists. Jazz in Croatia suffered a large blow recently with the death of vibraphonist Bosko Petrovic, who was the heart and soul of Croatian jazz.

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