A musician whose pieces of music have been declared artworks of cultural importance for the country, a symbol of Serbian jazz, a man who plays the most beautiful Serbian traditional music with so much dedication and respect, a title holder of the best jazz pianist on electric piano within the 41st Annual Jazz Station Awards, a fan of improvisation but discipline as well – Vasil Hadžimanov. Vasil will perform as a special guest at Stefan Milenković and Camerata Academica concert on 13 January, within the traditional Novi Sad Doček.
This concert will mark the beginning of the work of the first City Concert Hall in Novi Sad, while all fans of excellent music will have an opportunity to watch this outstanding duo online via visitns.rs platform and the Second channel of RTS, starting from 8 p.m.
Vasil Hadžimanov is an experienced educator, thus; he will not only be a visiting professor and head of the jazz piano department at the Academy of Music in Štip, Macedonia, but he’ll also be teaching at the Academy of Arts in Novi Sad. Vasil Hadžimanov will surely be a big inspiration to piano students, and they will have an opportunity to expand their knowledge and skills.
Surrounded by music and love, growing up with dad Zafir, mom Senka and aunt Bisera, there was no doubt Vasil would follow the world of distinctive colours and sounds. He started attending music school when he was only five. In 1995, he graduated from the piano department at Berkeley. A year after that, Vasil returned to Serbia and formed the Vasil Hadžimanov Band, with whom he recorded 7 albums. The famous American magazine DownBeat awarded the band’s album ‘Alive’ as one of the greatest releases of 2016.
Vasil Hadžimanov said he was delighted when Stefan Milenković asked him to be the guest at the New Year concert, hoping the audience will like the performance of the songs ‘The Christmas Song’ and ‘Preko Brda, Preko Brega.’
Within Doček, on 13 January at 8 p.m., the audience will have an opportunity to enjoy classical music in jazz style since you will play two New Year’s Eve songs together with Stefan Milenković. What will distinguish this performance from the ones we’re used to?
– Stefan thought I would be a good addition to the whole story and I am very thankful to him for that. Given the New Year’s Eve and the festive mood, I think these two songs were a great pick. ‘Preko Brda, Preko Brega’ is ours, while ‘The Christmas Song’ is a song by Nat King Cole – both classics, but we arranged the songs differently for this particular occasion.
The Academy of Arts students in Novi Sad entered the New Year with great news. What made you want to become a professor in the first place? What is your goal when it comes to students?
– For now, my task is to give information about jazz to those studying classical music, but to also try and make them look at it from a different perspective. It’s not about making jazz musicians out of them, but changing the prism of perception and broadening their knowledge. If the conditions ever allow, after I leave, I would love for a whole new department dedicated to this kind of teaching to exist.
Freedom or discipline? What do you enjoy more, composing or improvising?
– I believe these two are connected. I think improvising is composing, improvisation is not something that just happens on its own. You compose something on the spot, you play it that one time and never again. When you go to a jazz concert, you listen to a unique piece of music that happens at that moment and never again, unlike classical, pop or rock music, where you know exactly what you are going to hear. It’s absolutely fantastic, but it’s not exciting the same way jazz is. This music inspires me because not even I know what’s going to happen.
You’re a jazz musician, but also a huge fan of fusing different genres, your music is considered world music. Considering your roots and your grandpa Vasil, an ethnomusicologist who collected 10 thousand pieces of music, you also ‘joyfully embrace folk music’, as you said. It can be said that you’re the greatest representative of Serbian traditional music in the world?
– Traditional music is absolutely beautiful, it’s rich with instruments, melodies, rhythm and it’s very inspiring. Due to disbalance, we forgot to cherish traditional music. Instead, we let turbo-folk dictate our lives and aesthetics. My grandpa Vasil is the reason why I love and respect traditional music from Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia and the whole Balkans. Twenty-five years ago, I started playing this music my own style whenever I felt inspired to do so. I don’t run away from it, I embrace it gladly.
Last year, you got the prestigious acknowledgment. Arnaldo DeSouteiro, the famous world jazz journalist, historian, educator and producer of more than 800 compositions, declared you the best jazz pianist on electric piano within the 41st Annual Jazz Station Awards. How much of an inspiration and encouragement is an award to you?
– It’s a good thing because you get confirmation that you’re on the right path. However, a prize is also when a colleague that you respect comes up to you and tells you ‘What you’re doing, is really great!’ Those are the parameters. Of course, we must believe in ourselves first, but those additional approvals are always a plus. This award is exactly that kind of praise. It’s not a statue-kind-of acknowledgment, but acknowledgment from a man who has been producing, composing and evaluating music for 50 years now. He’s a critic of the world’s best musicians and if you find yourself on the top of his list, you must be doing something right. Not to sound pretentious, but I definitely believe the most important thing is doing what you love. When you decide not to give up on your dreams, and if you are talented at that, things just come along. You are not chasing anything in order to succeed, you just do what you love, and then, it just so happens that you start living off of it.
The pandemic affected the whole world, and naturally, the musicians as well. Concerts are cancelled and life is still. However, the quarantine didn’t affect your work. What was your 2020 like?
– I’m trying not to succumb to it all. I’ve been playing in front of people for 30 years and then all of a sudden someone says ‘You’re not allowed to do it anymore, for an unknown period of time.’ It’s quite devastating on so many levels. Not being able to meet up with people, I decided to do things that have been waiting for their turn for a long time. I managed to make a whole new album by myself and prepare the material for recording with the Vasil Hadžimanov Band. I worked on music for the film. Raša Andrić made a wonderful film for children, ‘How I Learned to Fly.’ I was also invited to compose for the second season of the TV series ‘Dug moru.’ It’s not that there’s lack of work, but live performances fulfil me the most.
Interviewer: Gala Gajin
Photo: Jelena Ivanović, Nebojša Babić