The University of Illinois doctoral of musical arts degree candidate (all but dissertation) in jazz piano performance recently chatted with The News-Gazette's Melissa Merli.
Don't you have degrees from NYU and Berklee?
Yes, I first finished at the University of Arts in Serbia my bachelor's and master's degrees in classical music theory and pedagogy. Then I got a scholarship to Berklee, where I studied jazz piano with Ray Santisi, Laszlo Gardony, JoAnne Brackeen, Frank Carlberg, Dave Santoro and Danilo Perez and finished my bachelor's degree. Then I moved to New York, where I started working on a master's degree. So I have two bachelor's and two master's degrees.
What else did you do in New York?
I had the opportunity to lead a quartet, the Dimitrije Vasiljevic Quartet. I gave concerts both with it and as a solo pianist. I recorded two albums, first with the quartet and the second solo. I played with jazz superstars like Joe Lovano and Chris Potter.
I also did a series of concerts in clubs like the Metropolitan Room, the Somethin' Jazz Club and Drom, but I also played other places like Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. In clubs, I played mostly with bands. In the concert halls, I played mainly solo piano. For the 2014 International Jazz Day, I played solo jazz piano at the United Nations.
Why did you want a doctoral degree?
Because I really like to teach, and nowadays for a jazz performer, it's very hard to live from just your gigs and concerts. To my knowledge, I'll actually be the first musician from Serbia to get a doctoral degree in jazz piano. There is one guy, Zvonimir Tot, from Serbia who got a DMA in jazz guitar, also here at the UI.
What will you do after you leave C-U?
I'll apply for university teaching jobs in America but also Canada and Europe. I also plan to continue my performance and recording career. I'm going to record two more albums and continue touring and leading the life of a musician, whatever that means.
Do you compose, too?
Yes, I compose jazz piano settings for band and jazz solo piano. I also compose for films, TV, commercials, video games — incidental music. Currently, I'm working on a Serbian-Spanish co-production called "Terra Utopia," a documentary.
Do you play up in Chicago a lot?
Yes, with various bands. I also made it to the finals of the (Chicago-based) Luminarts Cultural Foundation competition. I was first runner-up overall in jazz.
At the Montreux Jazz Festival, I won a third-prize jury award and an audience award. That's actually one of the most important jazz competitions in the world and certainly one of the most important in Europe. I was pretty young back then, around 22.
How old were you when you started playing professionally?
When I was 16, I started playing with the Belgrade Dixieland Orchestra. We did 500 gigs in five years and also played at jazz festivals in Sweden, Hungary, Bosnia and all over Serbia. I also recorded three CDs and appeared often on TV with them. I also played with other smaller groups. I led my own trio, called Neo Instinct. We played jazz fusion.
I also play avant-garde electronic music under an alias, Albion Filux, and I play keyboard and other electronic instruments with a trio here called Stream of Consciousness, with electronic trombone and acoustic trombone. We recently got back from a mini-tour in Columbus, Ohio, and Chicago. We were well-received, even though the music is experimental and a little weird.