The musical artist and pianist with a characteristic temperament discusses the home-grown jazz scene and the original folk music, commerciality and quality, talent and artistic courage, as he records his seventh album
In the majority of interviews and texts written about you, it is emphasized that you are an “artist dedicated to quality”, as opposed to commercial music. Why does the maxim that quality cannot be commercial still stand, when there are so many examples from practice proving the contrary?
The way things are set up today, the music business is managed by people who have nothing to do with music. That’s the main glitch. They see music as they would see any other project. So, we have made-up bands, projects and some hits that last a week… Why? Because some research showed that kids today love a certain sound, with a certain aesthetics, so the combination is bound to bring in the cash. That’s mass production. This swerves so far away from quality, art, creativity – and these, for me, are the basic reasons why I make music. Therefore, I cannot find my place in the context of making music based on these erroneous principles.
On the other hand, it doesn’t mean that music that has been crafted from the vision, creativity and creative need can’t become popular and thus commercial. Sadly, a systemic mass lobotomy had been performed long ago, and kids today cannot recognize this dishonesty in music, except if their parents, or someone else from the side, provides guidance and introduces them to some different sound. Only once there’s a wider choice, the listeners get the chance to pick quality.
You are the exact opposite of these people, who make music even though they have nothing to do with it, that you mentioned. In addition to University education, you were brought up in a family made up from the greats of music art, Zafir and Senka Hadžimanov, but also Bisera Veletanlić. How much of a musical impact did they leave on you?
All three are great professionals, they were made for music and art. Of course, this was not enough. No one makes it on talent alone. There is a whole range of criteria that have to be met for someone to become a musician. The person needs to be hard-working, dedicated, brave, uncompromising, professional… they were all that. I grew up with them, so I learned from them, both when I wanted to and when I didn’t want to. When I did decide I wanted to, I learned for real. In the end, it turns out that this is one set up it would be difficult to botch.
At the beginning, I made a difference between what my parents were and what I wanted to be, so I just built on what I got from them. I always persevered in what I wanted, even against their advice sometimes. It is great that my music is different from theirs, so the burden I would have had to bear if I had chosen the same musical direction was absent.
It seems that jazz is slowly making a comeback, together with wine. How would you describe the Serbian jazz scene?
Jazz festival is good and strong, which is great. There are many young, fantastic musicians, which is also great. As for the material and the potential representatives of that scene, the situation is phenomenal. There must be about twenty young musicians who sound a hundred times better than we sounded when we were kids, but we are still deficient in real jazz clubs, where they could show off their skills on a regular basis.
In the nineties, there were about a dozen true jazz clubs, which had a true jazz program. I suppose it was also the struggle of those who opposed everything that was going on at the time. Cultural elevation was a rebellion. In the worst of times, we played in Belgrade the most. Now it is more of a light performance, to go with some wine, in the guise of light instrumental music derived from jazz.
You use the elements of folklore from these parts in your creative work. What do you find the most inspiring in the sounds of the Balkans?
The love for the spirit of the Balkans came to me when I was in America. I had to be physically removed from this space to come to understand the beauty and the wealth of our sound. A lot of apples and oranges get mixed here. Usually, the only sound associated with this region is the sound of trumpet orchestras. On the other hand, from Vardar to Triglav, in Bulgaria and in Romania, there are such original folk sounds that would knock you out of your socks. The wealth of inspiration is enormous, but I don’t quote it. I don’t play traditional songs in a modern way. I use these sounds as inspiration and pass them through filters of my own.
You are presently working on a new album?
We are just in the process of mixing the album, the seventh album. I am very pleased with the sound of it. We have some new aspirations and new concepts in our sound, with the band. The album is coming under MoonJune Records label, same as the last album “Alive”, which was a huge success.
The music of a people depends, first and foremost, from the temperament of this people. What is it in the Balcanic character that is so special?
There’s passion, humanity, warmth, hospitality, sociability… then there are wonderful human traits, which are either forgotten in the West, or were never pushed to the forefront. It seems to me we are not doing enough to preserve them, that these advantages and values that we have are being displaced by some things that are not so good.
In conversation with: Miljana Nešković