Vladimir Maraš is Montenegrin composer, pianist, multi-instrumentalist, producer, arranger, chief music editor of the national radio, owner of the record company „Rabbit records“ and of the Ethno Jazz club „Sejdefa“. He has a music studio „Balkan 2“. Also, three albums „Pod kamenom“, „Letters from Montenegro“ and „10/8“ (ten-eight note). Maraš spent few years, as a young composer and arranger, in Belgrade where he worked with a lot of famous musicians in the region. On our pleasure, he also became a partner of Made in New York Jazz Competition and Festival from New York and brought it here.
Made in New York Jazz festival started when Vladimir Maraš and his band attended Made in New York Jazz competition and festival 2014, at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center in New York with Montenegrin ethnic song „Poljem se vija“ and his other tune named “Spyro” in his specific arrangement, which are on his first album. Since then, Maraš, with his publishing house „Rabbit Records“ and principal partner of the festival The Capital Plaza, became a director of this festival in Montenegro. They launched the brand in Europe in 2016. This year, starting on June 15th in Tivat and lasting until June 17th, we are having Made in New York Jazz festival for the third time in Montenegro with a list of new virtuous jazz musicians from all over the world. Get your ticket!
SR: The festival is happening again. It is a big thing for Montenegro, to have a jazz festival of that quality, and every year get it on a higher level. Names like Randy Brecker, Mike Stern, Wayne Escoffery and many more great musicians had played in our country already. The list will continue to grow. Made in New York Jazz festival Montenegro 2018 is bringing to us Dave Weckl, as a central star, a well-known drummer who played in Chick Corea’s Elektric band and with many others. Below, there is a link with all the names of musicians, which we will hear this year. You always make space for musicians from our country and region, which is good promotion and a great experience for them, and you plan to join them on the stage too.
Tell us more about the upcoming festival? You, obviously, successfully lead this story, but tell us more closely how did it begin and how is it now, after three years? It is a significant event for Montenegrin culture and music and, for sure, it wasn’t easy to arrange. How does it feel for you, as a human being and as a musician, contributing to the cultural enrichment of our small country and having this festival here?
VM: Yes, you’re right. It’s a tough thing to do in a country without jazz tradition. We had several jazz artists, but they were well recognized in the region and Europe. As I said, it’s hard to handle all issues, especially when you have biggest names in the program. But that’s the challenge, that’s the way we should go through “quick education” process, and try to catch world standards for the organization of events like Made in New York Jazz Festival. I was lucky to get in touch with them four years ago, and here we are… developing festival, simultaneously mapping Montenegro as a touristic destination and as a fast-growing jazz destination.
Names like Randy Brecker, Mike Stern, Wayne Escoffery, Dave Weckl and many others are helping us on that path, but also helping to all of Montenegrin and regional artists, some of the future jazz stars, to get in touch directly, share and spread priceless jazz and life experiences. This year, we have 3rd annual Made in New York Jazz Festival in Montenegro, as you said, on Summer stage in Tivat on 15th June, and two days later, on 17th June, in the capital of Montenegro, Podgorica, at The Capital Plaza atrium. Beside Dave Weckl, there will be a lot of famous jazz cats on stage, such as, Richie Goods on bass, Yaacov Mayman on sax and EWI, Igmar Thomas on trumpet, Brianna Thomas as a vocal, Caloe from France as a vocal too, Jorge Luis Pacheco from Cuba on piano, Raymond Ray Angry on piano and keyboards… We will have guests from Montenegro, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina – Shule Jovovic, Miladin Perunicic and Vladimir Tubic on guitars, Ivan Ilic on trombone, our dedicated friend Ivan Aleksijevic on piano and keyboards and Max Kochetov on sax. Also, we’ll have a middle day activity, on 16th June, The James Brown Tribute band will remind us about some of the most popular tunes of James Brown. That event will be held in jazz club “Sejdefa” in Podgorica. We still have tickets available for all three events, but I advise you to hurry and buy your ticket as soon as possible. As we are approaching the dates, more and more people are coming and buying tickets, so don’t waste your time.
SR: Tell us in details about your lovely experience in NY this May. You`ve been invited to Jazz Gala at Tribeca – 5th Anniversary by Made in New York Jazz Competition and Festival INC. You played your composition “Tiru Riru“ together with one of the best bass players in the world John Patitucci and Randy Brecker, famous trumpet player (who was a guest at the first Made in New York Jazz festival in Montenegro) and others. I’m sure, it was a big excitement for you and an honor as well as for Montenegro. What impressions and memories of the performance did you bring from NY? How does it feel, when there is a good groove all over the city, compared to Montenegro and our music events?
VM: New York City is one of a kind. There you can find any nation, any colour, which exists in the world. But at the same time, they all live together in peace. You can feel that peace anytime and everywhere. They are firmly committed to law regulations, and that’s the most robust connection among them. We think that in such a big city, man must lose his identity and must adapt himself into one, huge community. We’re wrong. Newyorkers are highly committed to a human nearby, on the street, at the theatre, jazz club, store… They will help you anytime, for any reason. They are not just polite, probably that’s the last spot on Earth where you can feel every emotion and grace of humankind. In these circumstances, every normal human being can live in NYC. But it’s not easy. It’s a big town, with big opportunities, a strong market of professionals. But, besides your knowledge and skills, you’ll also need some luck, because there is no man on Earth, who knows his job, avoiding Big Apple. When you succeed in that business environment, you know that you perform at the highest level. I was lucky to share the stage with John Patitucci, Randy Brecker, Francisco Mela, Yaacov Mayman and Bobby Sanabria, playing my tune “Tiru Riru”. They much appreciate, when you are a composer because there are millions of good players in the world. But there is no millions of good composers. And when they accept you that way and like your work, you become a “club member”. Once again, I was so lucky to have that opportunity, because I grew up listening music of these cats.
SR: You started playing as a child and then graduated from the Music Academy in Montenegro. Now you are a successful young man, working on several fronts. You are, also, a caring father of two. As a student and a young man you probably dreamed of playing in the world and having a proper/rich life of a musician. How does it all look like from this distance and this corner of the earth? Also, do you think that things in regards to the culture and art are getting stronger here, or the Balkan air is stubbornly thick? What is the key to a prosperous community in Montenegro and not only? We do have some progress in jazz scene and youth. Do you think there is a brighter future for them?
VM: Definitely, collaborations of these levels are improving and developing our cultural scene in the fastest possible way. Just imagine, better to say, “Remember, we were traveling miles and miles for watching concerts and festivals like this one. Now, we have it in front of our homes”. It’s not finished yet, Rabbit Records, as a partner of Made in New York Jazz Competition INC, always needs more help and support for keeping this festival alive. Every year, the festival needs to gain its value, to grow more and more, and it’s not easy. So far, we’re on the right way, and I hope we will stay on that track. Owner and director of the Made in New York Jazz Competition INC, Michael Brovkine, became a good friend of mine, and he is in love with Montenegro. All artists said the same thing. It’s our opportunity, and we’ll take our chances. It would not be easy, but we will get there, for sure. With a little help from our friends and partners, we will survive. We need to touch 10th Anniversary and say, “Ok, we did it, we have a festival of highest possible impact and value”, so we can go for retirement. Meanwhile, we need to promote some new jazz kids from Montenegro and teach them to produce huge events like this so that they can carry a flame further.
SR: You grew up in Podgorica and partly in Belgrade, at your grandparents. It is used to be Yugoslavia. So, you had different upbringing and, maybe, you unconsciously adopted the sounds of ethnic roots, mainly Montenegrin, that inspire you today. What does our ethnic heritage mean to you? You have always promoted it with your music, painting the soul and dreams of a small nation with a big heart. Now in your albums, you have beautiful melodies from our ethnic culture, along with your original compositions. Is it inspiring for you to play with our, I could say, blues tunes, which brings more than just notes..?
VM: Yes, you are right. We can’t run away from ourselves. That is the mapped way of our artistic progress. My musical success depends on this fact. And that was my entry card to high jazz society. That ethnic moments in my music brought attention from the experienced ears. You can play guitar or piano in the best possible way, but if you don’t have that small, necessary part of specific art in your music, you’ll be one of a million. But if you have it, you are becoming one of a kind. That is simple, but makes a huge difference in modern music. Americans are in love with Balkan’s such a specific harmonic and rhythmic progression, and they found some of it in my music. From the first sight, Montenegrin musical heritage looks poor and simple. But inside small archives, there is a blast of musical and emotional impact. From that point, when you know how to pack blast, you’ll reach any heart, no matter does it live in Japan, NYC, Berlin or anywhere else. You can’t beat the emotion in music, you must use it to improve your way of playing instrument. When you hear an extraordinary piano player, for example, you can see his highly developed technique, but you don’t feel anything…The other comparison could be an average street jammer. He can put tears into your eyes with simple 3-4 chords progression, filled with the emotional blast. With so many years of experience, you can’t cheat John’s or Randy’s heart or ears. After this NYC trip, I started thinking of my music as a unique in this world. I’m thanking them all the way.
SR: What was your first conscious and unconscious contact with music? Was it in your family or school? You played accordion and clarinet in elementary and secondary music school. Now you sometimes play the bass guitar and drums. All of these you apply for the studio work and sometimes gigs. But the piano stands out. What is your secret language with ebony and ivory? Your love for the instrument, what would you say is stimulating and, let’s say, magic about the piano?
VM: In my family, for sure. My parents were playing some instruments as amateurs, and I was lucky to have good music all the time around me. I started playing the piano at the age of seven, but I knew some guitar and accordion playing techniques before that, which learned from my parents. In high school, we had to pick a second instrument, so I decided to walk into a world of woodwinds, later bass. But don’t ask me to play some clarinet now, I’ll pass out. All other instruments I use today for my music work at the studio was my teenage intention to learn… and is based on my youngster’s curiosity. Curiosity also led me to many different music genres, but now, all that goes to Folder named “Experience”.
SR: Tell us about your albums. What would you single out for a listener, the story you want to tell, emotions, rhythm, harmonies, melodies, what is characteristical in your musical expression? Besides the ethnic motives, what leads you through the fusion you create in your original compositions, what sound, style are you fond of and is searching for?
VM: A simple answer could be so musical, better to say, so artistic – when you have a central theme, an idea, everything other is the matter of producing and arranging. Of course, some ethnic tunes were rearranged, some of them are part of my creativity, but I firmly believe that you can not fake lack of creativity. I’m going to the studio when I feel like I have it – I have that deep feeling of logical ending process. When you feel that during the process of creativity, you can be sure that you did it. Also, when you have an opportunity to upgrade your themes and ideas with some high-quality musicians, artists, a verdict is the best possible outcome. It is that simple. Don’t lie to yourself, never, because the audience will recognize it.
Reed the Part II of the interview here>>
Find out more about the Made in New York Jazz Festival