Janko Nilovic interview

February 24, 2013

Janko Nilovic interview

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
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…
What would you say were some of the
major influences in your carrier?

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
“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

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?
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
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One Comment
  1. Thanks for this awesome interview with an amazing artist! I'm listening to Rhythms Contemporains at the moment, such a masterpiece!

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