Dimitrije Vasiljevic, composer and pianist, who works and lives in New York for years recently defended his doctoral dissertation ‘Jazz Piano Counterpoint’ at University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and officially became a Doctor of Musical Arts in jazz piano performance. Moreover, he became the first doctor of jazz piano in the history of his country Serbia.
He says the counterpoint is relatively unknown and new technique in jazz piano on which not much written, and engaged more and more pianists of the younger generation. In short, it is a technique that relies on polyphonic voice leading methods which originate from J.S. Bach’s music. The left and the right hands don’t have traditional roles of accompaniment and melody, but rather play independent melodic lines which fit well into each other. He also intends to make a book out of his dissertation and publish it here in America.
Dimitrije graduated from the Belgrade Faculty of Music, Department of General Music Pedagogy in just three years. After just a couple of months he went to America in 2007 and graduated from Berklee College of Music in Boston). There, he got several prestigious awards, including the award of performance for Jazz Performance Award and Piano Department Achievement Award. He moved to New York in 2011 and completed his master’s degree in Jazz Performance at NYU where he was also an adjunct professor of jazz. At the beginning of April he defended his doctoral dissertation ‘Jazz Piano Counterpoint’ at University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and officially became a Doctor of Musical Arts in jazz piano performance.
Dimitrije is playing at the Carnegie Hall in New York in 2014
He won the third prize at the Montreux Jazz Solo Piano Competition, he published two CDs, and in 2014. he had a concert at the Carnegie Hall in New York, after that he had concerts at the United Nations in New York and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Recently he accepted tenure-track position of Assistant Professor of Jazz Piano and Jazz Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, the city of jazz.
Urban Culture Tribe: You are very ambitious and talented. Tell us how your musical career started.
Dimitrije Vasiljevic: I started to play at the age of six. I always knew that I would become a musician. My goal in life was to become the best I can and to learn as much as possible. During my education I started to play classical music, and then I came to jazz and realized that America is the best environment for a jazz musician to flourish. That’s how I came to America and I stayed.
Urban Culture Tribe: What did you want to accomplish and experience in America?
Dimitrije Vasiljevic: It was my determination to prove to myself, then my colleagues and my parents who had worked very hard so that I could come to America that I came to the right place. Many didn’t believe in me. They told me that I’m too young, that all of that is too expensive, and I had that stubbornness to show them that I can achieve anything. However, it was my love towards music and my wish to become a better musician that was driving me to improve at everything I was doing.
Urban Culture Tribe: How much did you practice as a kid? Did someone had to force you to practice?
Dimitrije Vasiljevic: I have practiced very little when I was a child – maybe a couple of hours every month. I got by with my talent only. I remember my first lesson and my lovely teacher Milana Ulmanski who took my little marble ball, drew it in the music notation and told me – this is a note. That’s how everything began.
Urban Culture Tribe: How was it later? Were you disciplined?
The graduation – Dimitrije Vasiljevic at Memorial Stadium Champaign (May, 2017)
Dimitrije Vasiljevic: As a boy I was lazy, only later, when I hit puberty I realized that I could play rock and pop music the piano started to interest fundamentally interest me. It was then when I started to play songs, to show interest in playing and that’s how I came to jazz which had fascinated me because it gives the musician great freedom to express his creativity. But I had to practice. That’s how I started to practice on my own for my soul. Only when I came to America I started to play six to seven hours daily. Maybe I practice less today, one to two hours daily, but I do it all the time.
Urban Culture Tribe: You graduated from the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston. How was your experience?
Dimitrije Vasiljevic: I remember when I arrived for the first time in Boston in 2007. We were a few students who were waiting in the rain for registration. It was then when I got my registry number and told myself: “I’m standing in the rain alone, and I don’t know anyone in America. I’m now just a number, but one day I will be a big name in this city. In the meantime I graduated from this collage, got many prestigious rewards, including the award of performance for Jazz Performance Award and Piano Department Achievement Award.
Dimitrije in New York City – TImes Square
Urban Culture Tribe: Some musicians wait to perform at the Carnegie Hall in New York their whole life, but you did that at a very young age. How was it to perform at such a famous place? How much did your life change after such a great accomplishment?
Dimitrije Vasiljevic: Playing at the Carnegie Hall is a big thing for every musician, and so far it has been the most important concert in my career. Still, since music isn’t sport and as such accomplishments like these can’t be kept as trophies on a shelf, every concert after represents a new challenge and a new musical project.
Urban Culture Tribe: Your first album from 2013. has an unusual name “The Path of Silvan”. What does it stand for?
Dimitrije Vasiljevic: The Path of Silvan’ consisting entirely of his original compositions. Silvan was a mythical dog from the Serbian mythology, an unusual beast that was very huge and very intelligent that followed a knight from darkness to light in the early Middle Ages. I liked the metaphor about the mythical dog that was a faithful companion of a Serbian knight that was leading him to the right way, the one that is less traveled. Everyone chooses his own path. Maybe that path isn’t the brightest, maybe it isn’t the main path, nor luminous, but it’s ours. We love it the most and have a satisfaction when we pass it. That is the ‘path of Silvan’.
Urban Culture Tribe: In the meantime you recorded your second album called ‘Metaphor’. What kind of album is this one?
Dimitrije Vasiljevic: My second album under the name ‘Metaphor’ represents a contrast to the first album, firstly because its music for a single piano. I recorded this album at the Octavenaudio studio in New York under the guidance of the sound engineer Ryan Streber. ‘Metaphor’ is a fusion of neoclassical and jazz music and it represents the inner being of an artist.
Urban Culture Tribe: A few days ago you recorded your third album ‘Accidental Nomad’. Tell us something about the album and its original title.
Dimitrije Vasiljevic: I recorded this CD with my quintet from Champaign (Saxophone, piano, guitar, contrabass and drums). All of the guys are that go to the Doctoral classes for jazz at the University of Illinois are my good friends. Robert Brooks plays the tenor Saxophone, Jose Guzman plays the guitar, Andrey Goncalves plays the contrabass and Andy Wheelock plays the drums. Robert and Andy are from America, Andrey is from Brazil and Jose is from Puerto Rico. Every single guy brings a unique touch to my music, each in their own way through their own musical traditions and culture of the countries that they come from. I wrote all the compositions on the album. The style electric because is mix traditional Serbian music with classical and jazz music, and there is also some pop influence.
Urban Culture Tribe: Was this ‘accidental nomad’ journey was your artistic way?
Dimitrije Vasiljevic: As the title says, the album is inspired by the wandering of an artist in the world, everything that comes with it – moving to different places, coming, going, adventures, meeting various interesting people, bonding and saying goodbye… All of that represents stations at the path of an artist who is led by his shooting star and some goal that you feel your whole life, and which is slowly showing itself the closer you intuitively come to it.
~ Milica Puric, Urban Culture Tribe ~
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