Jazz interview with jazz pianist Bojan Marjanovic. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Bojan Marjanovic: – I was born and grew up in Valjevo, a small town in west Serbia. Since my father is a drummer, I have been involved in music from my early childhood. Even though, there were always some musical instruments at my home, my parents have never tried to persuade me to start learning one of them until I showed the interest to do that myself. After couple of years, I became interested in playing electronic keyboards and started learning music by ears as a completely self-taught. Later, my father found some of his bandmates to teach me different music genres, but none of them did not teach me on a permanent basis, but only occasionally. It took three years until I attended the first classical piano recital at the age of fifteen. After that concert, I decided to start learning classical piano at a local music school. Very soon, teachers discovered that I possess the absolute pitch and then, I understood why I could play a lot of music by ears. Even though I was growing up by studying classical piano, I was being involved in jazz and other genres by learning music through intensive listening and transcribing my favorite recordings.
JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?
BM: – Studying and playing classical music have influenced my approach to piano sound. Years of exploring classical pianism led me to developing different physical strategies in making various timbres on the instrument. Finally, I am now able to apply that knowledge in playing some other genres.
JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?
BM: – When it comes to the rhythm and harmony, I do not really comprehend them exclusively within a context of jazz. If one is limited only to jazz, there is a danger of being “in the box” regarding creativity in playing and composing. I would rather say that musician’s knowledge of harmony and rhythm should encompass much more than the principles and concepts that are only the characteristics of jazz. I have always been interested in exploring and analyzing different genres by trying to discover composer’s way of thinking, so I always try to transcribe, analyze and to listen different kind of music. It works well not only for developing my playing skills, but also as a good source of inspiration for composing and playing with some fresh ideas.
JBN: – How do you keep stray, or random, musical influences from diverting you from what you’re doing?
BM: – I believe that my “own voice” in music is a sublimated experience of previously accumulated music knowledge, information, training, influences and inspiration. All these parameters are filtered by personal taste and music intuition. I also think that everybody has to go through three very well-known stages of musical development: Imitation – Assimilation – Innovation. The last one could be also called “musical identity.” These stages also imply the development of “musical craftsmanship” and learning “rules” and concepts. Finally, when it comes to the moment of creativity, I am trying to forget everything and to trust my ears, as well as to follow my “gut feeling.”
JBN: – How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
BM: – There are some routines I usually do before concerts and recording sessions in order to avoid being out of concentration on the stage. I simply try to avoid all unnecessary activities on these days by trying to keep myself mentally alert for the music I play, rehearsing and practicing.
JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2022: HÜM – Don´t Take It so Personally, how it was formed and what you are working on today.
BM: – The things I love about this record are related to the composing process. Most of the music I have composed for the album has been created very spontaneously in terms of getting of the ideas, but it took a relatively long time to organize these ideas into compositions and to arrange them for piano trio. All in all, I am a person who mostly enjoys the process, much more than the result itself.
Now, I am working on some bookings for the trio, but I also compose a new music. Very often, I am engaged in several projects simultaneously, so I always prioritize the project that happens first.
JBN: – How did you select the musicians who play on the album?
BM: – I met both Magnus and Bjørnar during my studies at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo. We had been collaborating on several projects before we started with “HÜM.” I am lucky to have two great musicians who are both interested in rehearsing a new music in the process of its making.
JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
BM: – I believe that both are necessary, and they both serve to supplement each other. If one is missing then, the music becomes two-dimensional. Even though the term “soul” could be sometimes inexplicable, it is an obligatory intuitive element of every musician.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?
BM: – Of course! I think that the two-way relationship you talk about is the actual reason why people still attend live concerts. Without that, people could just listen to the records at home by not going anywhere.
JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?
BM: – I would like to share the experience from our recent studio session with HÜM. We played through all tunes not more than three times each. During every new take, we were tending to make it more and more technically perfect compared to the previous one, and we got it. Finally, when we had to decide which takes we shall keep for the final mix, there were mostly the first takes because of the freshness of ideas and the spontaneity of the interplay, regardless of some imperfections.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?
BM: – It is a tricky question. Also, I am acquainted with the issue since I deal with teaching classical and jazz piano in Norway. Tradition is important because almost all today’s music is grounded somewhere. On the other hand, very interesting things happen right now, especially at the European jazz scene. So, I think that the new music should be offered to the young people just to pay their attention. Good music is contagious and it operates as a virus so, there is no problem afterwards.
JBN: – John Coltrane once said that music was his spirit. How do you perceive the spirit and the meaning of life?
BM: – Dealing with music or any other art is a spiritual activity and playing or composing music at a high level requires an extremely huge spiritual engagement. So, it is not only the matter of training ourselves to be like that. It is rather finding the path we should go and finding the sense of living with our music.
JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?
BM: – It would be today’s music industry and the way how digital platforms work. In spite of the privilege of making everything immediately available, they have significantly destroyed artists’ incomes.
JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?
BM: – In addition to my favorite classical musicians and pianists, I enjoy some big names of the European jazz scene such as Kristjan Randalu, Maciej Obara, Gwilym Simcock, Enrico Rava etc.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
BM: – There are many messages in any music, for sure. The initial idea of composition for me is always a picture/emotion/event that I have in my mind. The composing process is then mostly about molding the music in order to make it credible for the certain picture that I have imagined. I cannot comprehend how a listener percepts my music, but if the listener’s perception is so close to mine, it is great. If it is different, it is also great because if shows me that my music offers much space for different interpretations. So, I am happy anyway. I am not sure that every piece I wrote is characterized by light or optimism, since the greatest ideas actually comes from “The dark side of the Moon.”
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine: where and why would you really want to go?
BM: – I would like to go a couple of the years to the past, of course. I cannot say I enjoy today’s world with a hectic everyday life and the people with highly reduced social skills.
JBN: – So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself…
BM: – Which musical artist do you really enjoy listening?
JBN: – David Helbock, Kenny Garrett, Dave Holland, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette …
JBN: – At the bottom line, what are your expectations from our interview?
BM: – First of all, I would like to thank you for this opportunity. It is a great way of promotion for the band HÜM and me, as well as the great chance for us to be heard by many people all over the world.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan