Interview with Ratko Zjaca (February 2019)
When did you start playing the guitar and why? What did you study and what is your musical background?
I grew up in Zagreb, Croatia. My older brother had guitar and i find very impressive sound and touch of instrument .
I started playing classical guitar, but very soon I heard people like Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck and they blew my mind later Ornette Coleman ,Coltrane ,Joe Pass , John mcLaughlin and I decided to be more serious about playing guitar. I had many teachers, at music school and the conservatory.I finished Conservatory in Rotterdam where I studied jazz guitar, Indian classical music and composition.
What were and are your main musical influences? Listening to your last record “Life on Earth” I felt the presence of Jam Hall, Pat Metheny, Joe Pass…, do you like their way of playing?
Off course I grew up listening Joe,Jim,Pat and Wes but I love music of great Russian classical composers – Stravinsky, Schostakovic, Ali Akhbar Khan (a great Indian sarod master), Keith Jarrett, Arvo Pärt, Elliot Carter, Thelonious Monk etc.
How did start the idea to release a solo album like “Life on Earth” and why did you choose IN+OUT Records to produce it?
My collaboration with In+ Out records is very long and this is my sixth record for this label. Few years ago I recorded an album in NYC with Stefano and I feel great chemistry with him on musical and personal level and I wanted him for my new album with great organ player Renato Chicco. We played now 3 years together and when I think about new album I always want a great drummer becouse for me drums are the most important instrumenent in the band, all gravity in music is around drums like rhythm,feel,dinamics ,timbre etc..
If you look all my records, what I recorded in the last 15 years, you will find that on every record there is top world drummer. I’m huge fan of Antonio Sanchez drumming and I know it will be a perfect combination to have him on this record
I have seen pictures of you with Linda Manzer’s guitars. How are her instruments?
Linda made beautiful acoustic archtop instrument .People know her for acoustic guitars that she made for Pat ( the famous Picasso guitar) but I love her archtop guitars.
I played guitar show in Berlin 3 years ago for Mirabella guitars and Linda was just close to us with her guitars and I played few models and I was really impressed by the sound and feel from her instruments. I still playing Mirabella guitars because Chris’s guitars are special story for me. He is a really modern genius about how he builds guitars and how his guitars sound .His guitars response beyond reality.
I have to confess to be a Antonio Sanchez’s fan I have his records with Pat Metheny, how did you meet him?
I know Antonio for many years and his wife is very good friend of mine.Antonio is one of the greatest drummer last 20 years on musical scene.He is just an incredible musician.
How do you express your “musical form” both under execution that improvisation? How did your instruments changed the way you play and think about music?
Music is just a reflection of your mind and soul, and also your way of life. The way I feel about it, is if you have a boring life, you’ll have boring music – if you have an interesting life, you’ll have interesting music. That’s why I always like to travel, to read literature, to go to museums, theaters, cinema and to be around with interesting people. But, of course, music also asks a lot of dedication and discipline, and love. For me is first to have musical idea and story and than I will decide which instrument I will play. Music must be in your head and ears much before instrument.
This is what I learned from guitar lessons with legendary Maestro Joe Pass. He will ask you to sing your solo first and than to play it on your guitar and he was right if you can not sing what you play that mean you play mehanical with your fingers. You dont play what you hear.
That start to be my mantra for practising and playing always singing before playing or both at some time. I teach my students like this also because many players this days play very technically advance but I hear very often only with fingers.
What does mean improvisation in your music research? Can we go back to talking about improvisation in a repertoire so encoded as the classic or you’re forced to leave and turn to other repertoires, jazz, contemporary, etc.?
Music is the universal language, you need to first start imitating from teachers and from great players from records. Later you go through the process of assimilation and to start to edit your own thing, and in the end you go to a phase of creativity, where you play what you really hear in your own ears, and you play in your own way.
My routine for improvisations is playing songs – I like to practice songs, because all theoretical information about melody, harmony and rhythm come together in compositions. I use the Indian system Konnakol and Indian Talas to help me go deeper to study rhythm.
And what do you think is the “function” of a moment of crisis?
Play with the right people, who can make you sound good, and play with people who you can really trust to be with you. Have a vision where you want to go and work on this. You will be on good road.
What are your essential five discs, always to have with you .. the classic five records for the desert island ..?
This one is very difficult because I have huge list in my mind.
Jimmy Hendrix – Are you experienced
Joe Pas – Virtouso
John Coltrane – A love supreme
Ornette Coleman -New York is Now
Igor Stravinsky-The firebird suite