Interview: Jazz Icon Alexander Zonjic Knows a Thing or Two about Programming a Festival

alexander_zonjic_portrait_1There wasn’t a cloud in the sky on August 24, 2014. While the sun was beaming the true heat was coming from the Heritage Landing stage on the Muskegon shores of Lake Michigan. It was day two of Alexander Zonjic’s inaugural Shoreline Jazz Festival, and LiquidAE.com had the perfect view of the events’ success taking shape before its creator’s eyes.

Lalah Hathaway and Ruben Studdard had the packed audience in the palm of their hands as Zonjic, the multi-award-winning international jazz icon himself, watched from behind the pavilion as a music fan with security personnel, members of the event crew, and friends and relatives of the all-star lineup that included Boney James, Jeff Lorber, Maysa, Nick Colionne, and Brian Simpson.  One person turned to another and said, “I can’t wait to see what Alexander Zonjic and Kenny G are going to do together to close the show!” World renowned saxophonist and living legend Everette Harp was within earshot. He interjected with his two cents. “They’re going to kill it,” he said, flashing them an assured smile. “Look at Zonjic standing over there as cool as a cucumber. He’s a bad boy with that flute.”

Looking back on last summer, Zonjic tells SoulTrain.com he’s proud of how that event turned out, and is very much looking forward to its 2017 iteration August 24-27. “If there’s one thing I can bring to the table it’s the ability to program a festival with some kind of balance with the perfect amount of variety,” Zonjic says. “We knew people would be able to walk over with their lawn chairs, pay $25, and hear the greatest music in the country.”

The lineup for Shoreline Jazz Festival 2017 features Boney James, Jeff Lorber and Alex Bugnon all returning for the second time, along with Peabo Bryson, Gerald Albright, Keiko Matsui, Jackiem Joyner, Steve Cole, Joey Sommerville, Yancyy, John Gist and Organissimo.

Recounting his time, effort, and especially audible investments, Zonjic starts to laugh. “You’d think I’d be numb to it all by that point of the summer! By then I’ve already been through ten major festivals!”

Zonjic says his goal going in was making Shoreline one of the majors like his Jazz on the River in Trenton, MI near Detroit, which has been celebrated for more than 20 years. “I’m not a promoter, I’m an artist who happens to be an artistic director,” Zonjic says. “A ‘promoter’ paints an image of a guy with a cigar in his mouth who wants to make a whole lot of money. That’s not what I am. I love doing this stuff.”

Asked about his highly-touted jazz career as a premier flutist, Zonjic humbly remains off stage. “I’m more in love with playing the flute than I am with being a great jazz musician,”he confesses. “I’m flattered when people refer to me as such a great jazz artist, but I think my music is more jazzy than it is jazz.”

With that being said: Does he still love the art form? “I totally love the art form,” Zonjic exclaims. “I don’t know that there’s a more beautiful song than John Coltrane’s ‘Naima’. On a high cultural level, jazz has so much sophistication. That’s certain when you look at the architects of it– Charlie Parker, Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, and the list goes on and on. I have way too much respect for the art form, and it is America’s greatest culture export.” Similar can be said of Zonjic.

Originally from Windsor, Ontario, with a degree in classical music, Zonjic, now a resident of Detroit, MI, was recruited from the University of Ontario music program to join the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Here he studied under principal flutist Ervin Monroe. This led to performance roles with both The Florida Symphony and The Windsor Symphony Orchestras, among others; however, jazz had a change in tune destined for Zonjic. While performing at a lounge in Detroit, he caught the attention of Grammy-winning smooth jazz pianist Bob James, who invited and welcomed Zonjic into his international touring band. Success with James saw Zonjic land a multi-album recording deal with Warner Brothers. “Hey if it wasn’t for Detroit…,” Zonjic begins, then pauses. “Listen, I don’t like Detroit; I love Detroit!”

Crediting the Motor City with his historic rise in ranks, Zonjic firstly identified more with its other moniker—Rock City. Early on he was an aspiring guitar player in a rock band. “I was a poor Windsor kid who went off to Toronto to play in a rock-n-roll band, and when I came home to visit my parents a guy sold me a flute on the street for $9,” he recalls. “That’s how it all started.”

Zonjic was a member of a traveling rock band called Crosstown Traffic. He says the “salesman” recognized his face and big afro. “The flute was hot; it was stolen from one of the local high schools—ironically the one I’d gone to. I was intrigued by how the flute looked, and I was a Jethro Tull fan. Still, I knew nothing about it or playing jazz. The guy wanted fifty bucks. I told him I had nine, and he took it.”

With his $9 dollar flute in hand, Zonjic left the road and rock mates behind, and auditioned for the University of Windsor music program. The results changed his life profoundly. “I didn’t understand what was happening at the time, but it just shows you that maybe there was a connection that was supposed to be made,” he says. “I don’t like to get hocus pocus about things, but, let’s be honest, that was a pretty fateful street exchange I had there.” |

CREDITS Written by Mr. Joe Walker | Photos – Search Engine Exploration | Alexander Zonjic – as Himself | Producer – Liquid Arts & Entertainment | Creative Director – The Liquidation Committee | Editor – Mr. Joe Walker | Copy Editor – Mr. Joe Walker | Site Editor – Doug Sims | Webmaster – Doug Sims | Twitter – @LiquidAEMag | Instagram – @liquidmagazine

Liquid Arts & Entertainment is committed to presenting engaging conversations with top artists. We hope you enjoyed this interview with Alexander Zonjic.

For more information visit zonjic.com.

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