VOJISLAV PANTIĆ: JAZZ FACE
Monday, 11th November 2019
CCNS, Club “Tribina mladih”, 7pm
VOJISLAV PANTIĆ: JAZZ FACE
(Publisher “Dallas Records”, Belgrade, 2019)
Participants: Vojislav Pantić, Anđelko Maletić, Petar Janjatović and Petar Peca Popović
Moderator: Vitomir Simurdić
The Faces of Freedom and Wonder
When Petar Janjatović called me in the summer of 2017 with a suggestion to publish a book of jazz interviews, I realised that the time of my long avoidance was over. I have different priorities? I still haven’t got an interview with this and that hotshot? I have no time to download them? I don’t have good photos? I don’t have a publisher? At least the latter – and the most important factor – no longer presented an excuse for sweeping things under the carpet. So let’s get down to business!
The first interview, as luck would have it, I did with a face who was truly my greatest idol at that time in March 1987 – John Mayall. Not only was I crazy about British blues and had most of his records in my collection, but I led a blues band where I played the keyboards and sang a little, just like him, I even had a beard without a moustache to look like him. So, Mayall had a mini Yugoslav tour that spring, Ljubljana-Čakovec-Belgrade, and I set off for Ljubljana immediately, so that I would have enough time to persuade him to give me an interview. During the press conference in a Ljubljana hotel, after posing a couple of “right questions”, I succeeded in arranging an interview after the Čakovec concert with the tour manager Laszlo Hegedus (later a great rock impresario). Siniša Bosanac, who was the host of a blues show on the local Croatian radio just like I hosted a blues show on Radio Belgrade 202, kept me company and asked a couple of questions. I took the entire transcript to Vlada Bajac in the Rock magazine where I had an unpleasant surprise: “We will publish it, but it has to be cut shorter”.
As much it upset me – How does Bajac fail to see that John Mayall was the greatest? – that much it helped me understand a good editor’s job. Even if this interview had been God-knows-how interesting, it was unwise to open the door that much for some kid right away. I’m immensely grateful to him today: over the following three years’ time, he let me in on the secrets of the journalists’ trade like a truly great boss; he challenged me, got mad at me, and praised me, enabling me to gradually gain the needed writing experience and master different skills – from reviews and essays to interviews.
The second great interview temptation came only three and a half months later and almost ended up in a disaster. At the North Sea Jazz Festival in The Hague for the first time, I wanted to get to some other great faces, among whom happened to be the Icebreaker Albert Collins. I found him after the concert in the backstage, we did the interview, greeted each other, and once I was outside I decided to check out the recording only to hear Balašević singing from the tape – I had forgotten to press rec! Well, I hope Collins is still there, I thought to myself – I went back with some cock-and-bull story that my recorder was to blame, and he just showed me to the place where I had been sitting and told me: “No sweat, we’ll do it again.”
Before the Yugoslav break-down I had not interviewed many jazzmen, but, nevertheless, among the few was Pat Matheny (another one of my favourites!), which is the oldest interview in this book. At that time, I didn’t pay too much attention to keeping the recordings, so the first part of the interview is lost. Only later did I start archiving with more care, so I listened to the interviews again now. The best illustration of how important this is was the interview with Scofield: at the time I spoke with him I didn’t know a number of names or some records he mentioned. Now I corrected the mistakes from the first transcript, which made me truly happy – each newly discovered word was celebrated as a gold medal!
The book Jazz Faces contains 46 interviews published in the period between 1991 and 2015, for the needs of the TV series Jazz Face (Jazz Faces, RTS), the programme Uvozni interview (Interview Imported, Radio Pančevo), the column Jazz skice (Jazz Sketches, Politika’s Culture Supplement), or other media. Some interviews (those that were published in printed media only) have never been published in their integral versions, and some have never been published at all, such as the interviews with Enrico Rava in Perugia and Novi Sad. I tried to avoid overwhelming with biographical data in the introductory texts, as they are, after all, easily available in the internet age.
The selection was a challenge, and it is hard to say what tipped the scales to choose the artists I have chosen. I have up on some of them at the last moment (I hope there will be a chance for a sequel – what do you think about that, Editor?), and some I rediscovered while rummaging for others: “Look, this is not bad – I could put it in.” Ana Popović is one of the faces who does not fit the title of the book directly, but she studied jazz, and later flirted with it. Medeski Martin & Wood is the only band. The faces appear in the order of their birthdays, so MMW comes at the end, as the band was formed in 1991 which makes it younger than the rest of the book protagonists. There is another criterion – I wanted to cover as long a period as possible, from the artists born in the Jazz Age (the 1930s), to those who were still at school in the 20th century.
The original idea was to have one or two photos alongside each face. For this purpose I contacted my dear friends from all over the world, my companions from the jazz pilgrimages, and they showered me with so many great photographs (“here you are, pick what you want”) that I had to change my plan. As it was, since at first there were no photographs of Elvin Jones and Airto Moreira at all, I thought I would have to give them up completely – however, the negatives were found after several nights of going through boxes by Tim Motion, who managed to develop them and send them in time for prepress. A piece of trivia is that Airto’s photos are from the first jazz festival abroad that I have ever visited – from Nice 1985, perhaps from the same concert I had seen? – as well as that the book contains a photo from the first big concert I have ever seen, Weather Report from 1980.
Why is Sonny Rollins on the cover, even though he is not in the book? The book being entitled Jazz Face, it is clear that we could not put a trumpet or a saxophone, but a real face of jazz on the cover. But, although it is only natural to have one’s favourites among the heroes of this book (which the reader might recognise?), it would not be proper to single out just one, even a few of them, and there was no place for all forty-six. That’s why Rollins. As someone I had an opportunity to see at the famous Belgrade concert in 1980 when the guard at Dom Sindikata turned the power off, but that year, Weather Report was quite enough for the fifteen-year-old me. As someone whose music I fell in love with when I heard his “Mona Lisa”, and then went on to buy everything I could get my hands on. As someone who developed his art on tradition, but eventually played with Ornette Coleman. And, finally, as someone whose waltzing around Riccardo Drigo’s “Serenade” in the typical prolonged improvisation manner brought unstoppable tears to my eyes during the first fifteen minutes of the concert when I finally got to see him in Perugia in 2003. So, I thought to myself then – that is the essence of jazz.
Introductions to the interviews bring pieces of memories on spending time in the company of jazz faces, circumstances of the interviews, and some anecdotes. Besides that, there are many more situations I remember, with a smile or, much less often, with bitterness. Here are some more examples.
1997 – The Hague. The PR manager of Universal pushes me into doing an interview with their up-and-coming star Diana Kroll. I accept it out of good manners, and then I keep wondering if the interview will be short enough to allow me to get an autograph from Eric Clapton who is sitting at the next table having drinks with a friend. I did manage to get the autograph, but I never again managed to get even close to Kroll.
2001 – Nice. At the swimming pool on the roof of Radisson Hotel, D.D. Bridgewater is having an extravagant press conference. Most of the local colleagues have lined the microphones in front of her and are waiting for the questions to fall from the skies. At a moment, D. D. sees me: “Hey, we know each other!” “Sure, we did an interview five years ago in Belgrade.” “I’m glad to see you, come after the concert to the backstage and tell me in detail how we sounded.”
2000 – Vienna. I have prepared for the interview with Wynton Marsalis as if I was to take a jazz history exam, devised long questions out of respect for his eloquence and stellar status in the jazz community. But instead of an inspiring conversation, the questions only brought a “yes” and “no” alternation from the trumpet player, as if he had not been there at all. Such experiences can be counted on one hand.
Interview is fun, but a hard form of music journalism. Talking with jazz greats and those who were on the road to becoming ones, I was privileged to meet them in person and later made friends with many of them. Jazz community is small: musicians, journalists, photographers, promoters and the audience are all part of the same being, who recognise each other by the music they like, conversations they have, drinks they share, food they enjoy. A jazz musician and a jazz journalist invest their joint energy to best place the music of freedom and wonders, as Charles Lloyd put it.
The work process is not simple in any segments. In order to do an interview with someone, you need to learn a lot about that person, listen to a lot of music, see a concert or two. Then, especially if you have no previous acquaintance with that person, you need to tread carefully with your interview, choose the questions to motivate them, avoid commonplaces, feel if they are comfortable or not. What eventually comes is a painstaking transcribing (I’m very slow with it), summarising and shaping for the purpose of the media publishing the interview.
But there is no greater joy than when an acquaintance calls you and says they have decided to listen to someone’s music after reading the interview, or that they came to a concert because they had seen an interview on television. Or when someone suggests to you to exhibit your texts on the walls of a jazz club. Or when Peca Popović – who is the reason why I went to hear Clapton in Pionir Hall on that day of 10th October 1979 instead of watching the triumphant national football team in Valencia – writes a review about that for the newspapers.
I owe my gratitude to: the artists who have inspired me with their great music to fall in love with jazz; my first editors Raša Petrović, Steva Markićević and Vladislav Bajac, as well as a number of later ones, with my apologies for submitting my articles at the last possible moment or being late for shows; the entire team around TV show Jazz Face; the team of the Belgrade and Pančevo jazz festivals; festival promoters and media attaches who have made the interviews from the book possible.
I owe special gratitude to reviewers, Vojislav Simić, Milan Vlajčić and Vesna Roganović; translator Ivan Andonov, Melina Nikolić and Jasna Veselinović-Petrović (my sis!) for their help with transcripts in the time pressure moments; all the photographers who have embedded their mastery in the pages of this book; Pera Janjatović for his friendship, great trust and patience; the best technical editor in the world Ilija Milošević; my parents, Juga and Zorka, and my Dunja, a sweet little pumpkin who loves Ornette Coleman a lot.
About the book …
Over 50 interviews, with more than 40 people featured in the book pushes the boundaries of conventional journalism for many reasons. Authentic, documentary, eloquent and keen dialogues present not only exciting (self)portraits of the unusual, brilliant “faces”, but a unique dossier of all their creative “madnesses”, a gold mine of encyclopaedic data for any future history or theory of jazz. (…) Sometimes neither perfect knowledge of a biography (…), nor wise questions are enough to inspire the vibe permeating the real journalist sessions. Our author, mathematician by education, jazzman by vocation, manages that. Sometimes aided by what we call a gift, serendipity, dedication. Or, indeed some alchemy he is the only master of. – Vesna Roganović
Its comprehensiveness, thoroughness and knowledgeable approach, make the book Jazz Face a pearl among the rare books in the world’s non-fiction dedicated to this “most important movement in the 20th century music” (Igor Strafinski). It offers a clear overview of the recent era, all the way to the present time. An extensive series of portraits-interviews with a remarkably good critical evaluation includes the best among innovative musicians (…) Pantić’s interviews come across consistently as authentic and knowledgeable. After each of the brilliant portraits, this reader immediately gets a desire to listen to these musicians. (…) They are not only jazz faces, but the Face of Jazz! This Face contains a thousand harmonies, which is in the essence of jazz and fascination with its luxurious unpredictability. – Milan Vlajčić
Since Voja is not a professional musician, he can let go and make judgements about jazz outside of academic borders. However, by listening to a huge number of musicians – many more than any of us have heard in our careers – he has acquired a feel for what is good in music, intuitively assessing the values he will choose to show to his audience. This is a trait by which Voja reminds me of Willis Conover, the legendary host of the Voice of America’s Jazz Hour. Conover too had no music education, yet he managed to inspire millions of people all over the world to listen to and fall in love with this music, with his actions and proper attitude to jazz. – Vojislav “Bubiša” Simić
Jazz musicians are such a sort that they never lack creativity. Courageously and daringly, they know how to transform an ordinary moment into magic to remember. Voja is a dogged hunter for these kinds of miracles. Poetic justice wanted him to work for the Belgrade weekly that had sixty years ago published the opinion of its authoritarian music critic: “Jazz as music of an unworthy sort inspires the lowest animalistic feelings in its listeners.” For such texts, musicians and listeners had their trousers cut, and were called traitors. Today, we are proud of jazz pioneers who made it possible for a strong scene to be established, top-class musicians to get educated, refined audiences to be formed, and who have also been flamekeepers such as Mr Pantić. (…) It is no small art to write about a great art.
A mathematician, jazz critic and promoter, Vojislav Pantić was born in 1965 in Belgrade, where he went to High School of Mathematics and Music High School “Dr Vojislav Vučković” at the piano department. He graduated from Faculty of Mathematics in Belgrade, where he also defended his Master theses in Geometry entitled Tessellations on Torus. He works at the High School of Mathematics in Belgrade.
From 1983 to 2011, he worked for Radio Belgrade 202 (shows Linija za džez i bluz, Sav taj džez and Indeksovo radio pozorište), and from 1997 to 2003 for Radio Pančevo as well (Voz za džunglu and Uvozni intervju). Today, he is active on Radio Belgrade 2, as the author of the programme Jazz scena and a music critic, as a jazz representative of RTS in the European Broadcasting Union.
He was engaged at the RTS 3 programme from 1995 to 2003. At the same station he started an authorial serial Jazz Face in 1999, which was later rerun on other RTS programmes. A total of 150 episodes of the serial were broadcast, in the form of interviews with jazz artists. Pantić was the first music editor of TV Politika and he has collaborated with NTV Studio B and TV Pančevo.
He has published his articles on music in over thirty printed media, among which are Politika, Naša Borba, Vreme, NIN, Novi reporter, Evropljanin, TV Novosti, Rock, Pop-rock, Jazz, Vreme zabave, XZ, Student, Status, Novi zvuk, Gradina, Etnoumlje. Since 2009 he has been the author of the weekly column Džez skice for the Politika’s culture supplement.
He has reported from the major European jazz events (North Sea Jazz Festival, Jazz A Vienne, Umbria Jazz, Jazzfestival Saalfelden, Heineken Jazzaldia, Pori Jazz…), usually as the only accredited journalist from SFRY, SRY or Serbia. He has made over two hundred interviews with the world and domestic jazz greats.
He is the author of eighty entries in the Lexicon SOVA (2012), as well as essays on Jazz in Serbia and Balkan Jazz in the encyclopaedia Muzika (Music, 2015). He is the editor of the monograph “20 Years of Pančevo Jazz Festival” (2018) and the author of the brochures Belgrade Jazz Festival 1971-2017 (2018). He has also prepared exhibitions Jazz Sketches (2015, a selection of printed texts) and Jazz in Belgrade (2019).
Pantić has been engaged in promotional work since 1985, as an Artistic Director of the Belgrade Jazz Festival (2005-2013), Pančevo Jazz Festival (2014-2018, he is currently an expert consultant for this event) and the Belgrade Blues Days (1988), among other things. In 2018 he was re-elected to the position of the Artistic Director of the Belgrade Jazz Festival.
He has produced a compilation album Belgrade/The Blues/Today, Vol. I (PGP RTS, 1994), and has founded and been the editor of the Metropolis Jazz production (2016-2019), releasing fourteen albums of domestic jazz artists.
Pantić’s first book Jazz Face (Dallas Records, 2019) contains over 50 interviews with 46 jazz musicians published between 1991 and 2015, such as: Charles Lloyd, Ahmad Jamal, Joe Lovano, Michael Brecker, Maria Scheider, Brad Mehldau, Joe Zawinul, Pat Metheny, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Esperanza Spalding, Henri Texier, Enrico Rava, Dusko Goykovich, Mića Marković and Lala Kovačev, among others. It is illustrated with 150 photographs by renowned authors from Serbia and abroad. The project has been supported by SOKOJ – the national organisation of music authors of Serbia, through the call of the 2018 Fund for Culture.