When someone mentions "Library Music" most of us think about composer Janko Nilovic. His career was and still is a very rich one. From the early start as a jazz musician to the 70s where he recorded and produced amazing amount of albums. He was always ahead of everyone; adding various influences from traditional art and combining them with what was popular at the times, psychedelic rock. In the late 60's his career began to explode and there were series of albums released, which are credited as the best in the genre. We spoke with Janko and he kindly shared his memories and stories with us.
It's a great pleasure to have you on It's Psychedelic Baby, Janko. How are you?
It's always a pleasure to become acquaintance with new fellows all over the world, particularly with young people. I feel good, never considering my age and always working on plenty of projects.
What I had in mind for this interview is a quick overview through your rich career, so let's start. You were born in Istanbul in French residence to a Greek mother and a father from Montenegro. Where did you grow up and what inspired you to get involved in music from the very early stage of your life?
It is a fact that some people write wrong things, news about me. But you are right! This is the real story. Mother Katina was Greek. Father Prenca from Crna Gora. He lost his first son in MNE and so deceit, out of spite for that, so he leaved MNE to Turkey called by his brother (Luka) which was working at the British Embassy in Ankara. My father rejoined his brother around in 1918. He found a job immediately at the French Embassy (Istanbul & Ankara ). He worked there for 35 years. That's why I was born in Istanbul in French territory. Four sisters were born before me. Father (born in 1893) was playing all flutes and GUSLA; the Montenegrin special instrument. He was playing and singing at the same time. I grew up with this image. At five, he gave me a Pan-Flute & Harmonica. I played it by ear. At seven, he offered me a violin but I forsaked this instrument! Father died when I was about 12 years old. My elder sister which saw my sadness, offered me a piano. My God, it was great! I started to play (self-taught) and took lessons from Marthe Papazian, a great player & teacher. In the meantime, I was fascinated by DANCE, especially the Tap-Dance & Academic. Later I won the first price on dance competition with my partner, my younger sister. At the same time, I was captivated by literature, particularly by poetry (Croatian, Serbian, Russian etc.). At 15, I was poet, musician and dancer. Things changed suddenly at this moment...
While persevering on those three disciplines (Classic music, poetry and dance, I started to play "Boogie-Woogie" & Blues) on the piano and entered at the Istanbul Conservatory studying Oboe & Percussion. I didn't stay a long time. The reason is BIG! Stroke of luck, one day I heard Elvis Presley, Bill Halley, Fats Domino and some others on the radio. I was astonished by this new music! I couldn’t buy the records because my family was poor; but high school friend of mine lend them to me. You cannot imagine my joy! 1955 what a year! It's done, I immediately create my first band. Me, as pianist & singer, 4 saxophones, guitar, bass and drums. After that, I left the school and became a professional pianist & singer at the Jazz Club of Istanbul, with one of the best bands. The repertory was Jazz & Afro Cuban. At 17, I took up a new career, composing and arranging on different styles from jazz-classic- rhythm'n'blues. All world music influenced me from this year forward. At 19, I left Turkey for France (Paris).
You are for sure one of the leading artists of genre called "Library Music". I always find this phrase a bit confusing. How would you define it?
1960 Paris! The first six months were really hard. I accompanied several singers on the piano, gave lessons (piano & singing) and finally played in different clubs in Paris. In the meantime, I took lessons with a very known teacher (Harmony-Counterpoint - Fugue - Composition ) Julien Falk. I started serious compositions and arrangements (classical & jazz) but this consecration was not paying enough to live in Paris. While accompanied singers (French-Americans), I tried to get in Show Business and by chance, I met some people. Davy Jones (American singer & writer) with whom I created my label; “Ju Ju” Records and produced several records. After that, I met the owner of Montparnasse 2000 and this was my new career in Musical Library. I composed about 60 LP's. This let me be comfortable materially. My first record was Psyc' Impressions
You started recording in late 60's and one of the very early LP's was with Hervé Roy. What can you tell me about this very first albums till "Psyc' Impressions"?
At the same time I was playing Hammond organ & percussions every night in the Musical Hair in Paris. The musicians and the singers of the company collaborate in this first album. At that moment, everybody was exclaiming “Psychedelic”! So, on the spur of the moment (big mood) I composed this music.
Well, "Psyc' Impressions" is for sure one of the peak's in your carrier. Montparnasse 2000 signed you up and you started to work on this album. It became pretty popular. What can you say about it?
Yes, "Psyc' Impressions" had a large success. The Radios, TV's, movies and advertising people seized this music. Believe me, it was an HOLD-UP! I was really happy. My wife, my two sons Sacha & Jovan and me were in heaven! I can tell you that I bought my first house six months later.
"Vocal Impressions" (w/ Dave Sucky) and for instance "Supra Pop Impressions" show us, you had free hands so you could basically do whatever you'd like on the album…
From "Vocal Impressions" to "Supra Pop Impressions" I used all my musical knowledge. I know why those records had a success. It's because in 1969 the Background music was a back and old numbers. When I arrived, I quietly revolutionized the kind of work. After my last record “Balkan Impressions” (Belgium), I stopped because a lot of musicians & composers copied my works and saturate the market. During my contract with MP 2000, I was completely free concerning the choice of the style, compositions and the arrangements. That was a real advantage.
In 1974 two amazing albums followed. "Rythmes contemporains" and "Soul Impressions". You had a big band of 45 musicians for the "Rythmes contemporains". What did you have in mind while writing this absolutely amazing piece of music. I find it amazing, you managed to mix together so many different influences from acid rock to soul and jazz. That's just incredible!
In 1970, I yearned for a Big Band Jazz. I composed, arranged and conduct this band called Janko Nilovic Band - Giant ( 45 musicians ). We had a good success on concerts and finally we recorded the LP in 1972. Giant and later titled Rythmes contemporains by MP 2000. This record was a big success internationally. I bought a bigger house + sport car! Once again, I used my eclectic experience. However, my impressions was present in any kind of music (classic-jazz-rock…).
Are the albums conceptual and if so what are they about?
The conceptual idea is my way of work, my origins and my total freedom of thoughts. Other thing; I'm not a fervent listener of music. My favorites are classical, jazz, ethnic, but I never have a time to listen. I’m a strenuous worker on my piano & desk.
While recording you were living in Paris and I believe you still do. What would you say was the scene there in the late 60's and 70's for an artist like you?
60s & 70s were a beautiful spring-board. All kind of feelings gave birth at this epoch: Rock-Funk-Groove-Jazz rock- R&B-Blues etc... The melodies were in the top! I'm happy to have some great LP's at home like Elton John, Gino Vanelli, Supertramp, The Who, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Stevie Wonder , George Duke etc. The melodies and the arrangements are sublime. I was IN!
Would you like to share a few words about your relationship with Montparnasse 2000 Records?
I think I told you some things about MP 2000. All I can say is that I gave all my energy to produce the “Impressions". It was a big job but I did it very seriously. Unfortunately, the Boss sold the company to incapable persons. Now the owner is Universal.
One of your most famous pieces is "Drug Song". May I ask if you experimented with any hallucinogens/psychedelics?
No. I just amused myself by doing this kind of pieces.
Another highlight in your carrier is for sure "Funky Tramway". Would you like to share a story about it?
A Belgian group called me saying that they want to record an LP in Brussels with my compositions. I agreed and composed "Funky Tramway". It was really amazing. The musicians were fantastic. The cover was illustrated by my wife (Yohana). I produced six records in Belgium.
Your albums always came out with an absolutely stunning cover artwork. Who made them?
Most of the covers were realized by different persons. It was not my special preoccupation. My wife painted some like "Un Couple Dans La Ville".
What happened in the 80's?
In the 80's I decided to write exclusively classical music and my Big Band Jazz. I created my publishing company "Symphony Land" in Paris. After that, I wrote a fiction, a novel titled "A Piano In Space". I went to Hollywood trying to find some producers for an eventual movie. I also tried Canada- Japon- New York but the project didn't lead. Actually I modernized the manuscript. This subject have a different facets: Novel-Movie-Musical-Animated cartoons-Comics. I am very patient and enduring. I am waiting the right person at the right time...
Are you still active as musician these days? What else besides music occupies your life?
Right now, I have some concerts and festivals with my Jazz-Trio. In the meantime I don't stop composing. I recorded an CD with Paul Godfrey (Morcheeba) which will be released soon. I composed a song named "Days After Days" for Beyonce; I am waiting the recording.
Any future plans?
1. A Piano In Space
2. Concerto for Piano & Orchestra
3. New CD for my Trio
4. Musical Book Method (3 tomes) - A Jazz Club in MNE BUDVA, of course is JAY Z ( Universal - D.O.A ) send me my money (I' m waiting that for 2 years! SACEM, French & America lawyers try to help me.) We will see!
What is on your turntable/CD player and what are you reading?
Actually, my CD's are: Dave Brubeck& Paul Desmond, which I met in Istanbul on 1957. They were preparing the legendary LP / EURASIA ( Take Five – Blue Rondo a la Turk...) - The trumpeters : Arturo Sandoval who played once in my Big Band – Jon Faddis, a friend of mine - James Morisson, a fantastic Australian player - The Piano Concertos of Sergeï Rachmaninof - Cuban Music etc... As I told you, I am swimming between all kind of music and styles. Resolutely I am an eclectic composer! Anyhow I am a world-citizen. About my readings: BIBLE - Different international novels – Historic works...Actually I'm Studying the ex-Yugoslavian languages.
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2013
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/2013
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/2013