BIG BAND GROSUPLJE … ON ALL THAT JAZZ
“Let’s start with the basics.”
It’s a sunny Monday morning in late October when I meet with three members of Big Band Grosuplje at the Špica café in Ljubljana. Klemen Kotar, the band’s conductor (and occasionally a saxophone player), Žan Pajek Arambašić, BBG president. and Neža Pajek Arambašić, the pianist and social media editor, sit down and order their café-au-lait and as soon as the formalities are over, I get my first 101 in jazz – the big band topic, in particular.
“Technically speaking, it’s five saxophones, four trumpets, four trombones and a rhythm section.” explains Klemen, “that’s the ideal we strive towards. In our case…it’s a wild bunch.”
Big Band Grosuplje, BBG for short, was founded twenty years ago by Braco Doblekar and the Grosuplje music school – they celebrated their 20th anniversary in summer 2017 with a concert featuring Braco himself. “I’d say four of our current members are still ‘the originals’,” says Žan – he and Neža are among the younger members of the bunch. “We invited all of the old members to our 20th anniversary and discovered there are approximately 60 of them, including those who stepped in as substitutes when needed.” Even though they’re called Big Band Grosuplje – and Grosuplje is the band’s main venue – the members come from all over. “Most of us are actually from Grosuplje but there are people from Ljubljana, Nova Gorica…”
“We’re kind of ‘tutti frutti’,” Neža pitches in. “Chilli con kajmak, you could say,” says Klemen.
Let’s clear one thing up – big band, even though featured in the band name, is a type of band. There are many of them in Slovenia (roughly around twenty) and many more in the world. This confuses the public sometimes. “It’s not the easiest thing being a big band in Slovenia… but it sure is fun,” says Žan.
And BBG does make it look like fun. If you’ve ever been to one of their concerts you’ll have noticed that they appear to be one big family – a really talented group of individuals with families of their own, but a family nonetheless. They meet every Monday for practice, which usually lasts for two hours give or take, and before concerts they come together for extra hours if needed. They try to make Mondays work, which is sometimes hard to do since the majority of the members are older and have families and worries of their own. This is why, they tell me, it is great that they get opportunities to travel together sometimes. In 2018 they’re set to perform at the Jazz Festival in Nisville, Serbia. “You need an event like that every now and then, it brings the band together,” says Žan. “I think every group of people working together needs that. Some call it team-building; we call it intensive band practice. I mean, meeting for those two hours a week is great, but people can’t always bring themselves to relax completely. Those two hours can be really therapeutic – to just shut out all your worries – but sometimes a longer trip like this one is much needed.”
“And after we spend some time together… It’s great. We sound better afterwards,” says Neža.
The audience they prefer is a lively one, responsive. “Sometimes you get a tough crowd. We played this amazing set in Austria once, and the crowd was completely bland. The day before we weren’t half as good but the crowd loved it.”
“When it comes to [the audience], we don’t stress too much. If they come to see us, we’ll get them eventually, I’d say,” says Klemen on the topic. “People usually create their own vibe when they come to listen to us play,” Žan tells me. “There’s definitely a regular audience, you can pick out their faces in the crowd, shake their hand afterwards.” It also depends on the program they perform. “We did Sinatra in August in the Ljubljana Old Town and lots of people showed up.”
They try to balance their program, keep it both instrumental and vocal with the help of guests, singers such as Ana Čop or Peter Savizon. “We play some programs that are a bit more complicated – I think it helps us grow. And by doing so we also educate our audience,” says Žan. They get their gigs by reaching out or via connections Klemen has. The sponsorship of the US Embassy is also a great help.
“But I also think that the trick is not to perform too often.”
“The main problem we’re facing is the lack of younger members. Kids don’t attend music school anymore, not as much as the previous generations did,” Žan expresses his concerns. “And even if they do, sooner or later they turn to rock and pop,” adds Neža. In jazz, the intros to the songs are longer – sometimes a piece is entirely instrumental. Jazz is the type of music you listen to, not just something you put on for background sound and don’t pay attention to the composition. Every part of jazz music is intricate, played passionately.
And BBG’s future plans? They have a couple of performances they already know about, such as the festival in Nisville in summer and the project they’re doing on the 2nd of February – a combo (small formation) with Help! A Beatles Tribute in Kulturni Dom Grosuplje. The combo will also perform at the opening of a retrospective exhibition of the American – Slovenian writer and journalist Louis Adamič at the National and University Library in Ljubljana. In May, BBG will also give a concert at the same venue, honouring this great writer who was born near Grosuplje. As for the rest – they’ll seize opportunities they get. One thing’s for sure – if you love jazz or you want to get a first taste of it, BBG’s concerts are worth checking out.