Peđa Milutinović: All that groove

"I’ve never had a gig where I planned to do a certain thing. It's ok to have some kind of directions, to know which way you’re moving and to have an idea of what to play, but not knowing where the story will exactly go is the best thing about it"

Foto: Ivana Čutura


Aged only 23, a drummer from Kragujevac charmed the entire Belgrade club scene and reminded us why we love jam sessions. Or at least why we loved the mythological image of New York holes in the wall full of smoke, where the handful of jazz geeks plays until the early hours in the morning, extending the limits of their own capabilities  and of the music they’re playing. In the 21st century Serbia, a jam session is, unfortunately, a synonym for a routine gig where they go through the same old phrases over a thousand times played standards….
Anyhow, let’s get back to our main character. That is of course, Peđa Milutinović – well known to the audience for the many performances at the jazz club Čekaonica, among many others. While watching him happy and active at his drum set, you will first notice his impeccable understanding of 60’s bebop sound that goes beyond school knowledge. Peđa sounds exactly he’s playing in his era, or like he was able to teleport himself from some New York session – whatever you prefer. In any case, those hands and drum sticks move so naturally, and remind us once again – thank God – that jazz is not an ancient piece of work, but a live music.

He moved to Belgrade five years ago, and now he’s one of the most wanted drummers on the scene, a permanent member of Max Kocetov Quartet and Vasil Hadzimanov Band, and also a guest member of many other groups. Neither is he afraid of going into funk and soul… And while talking about what he’s already been through in his career, you can feel the enthusiasm and love for jazz and music in general in every word – he’s giving you a real impression of a musician who “lives the music”. Since we didn’t have a chance, until now, to get familiar with his work biography, we will begin from the very start.

How did you first get into jazz?

Ever since I was a kid, I was listening to the famous Cobham album “Spectrum” my dad used to play. I was listening to it every day! I was 10-11 years old when I started the lessons with Duca Ivanisević. I played before then – dad used to teach me a little, usually just the snare because I couldn’t really reach the pedals (laugh). Only around 14-15 I realized what I used to practice.

Somewhere around that time I started listening to the Chick Corea Acoustic Band – the Electric Band I never really dug. Then, I met Aca Pejčić (pianist/keyboardist) that just moved from Krusevac to Kragujevac. He was playing John Scofield, I remember him giving me “A go go” album, which I constantly listened to. We found two more musicians and started club sessions with them.

Aca made a compilation of “Jazz standards and others” for me, so I had folders with the names of certain jazz standards and various versions of the same tune inside the folders. With time I got through all of them and learned those 10 – 15 standards, so I continued to explore, but I never stuck to one and only version I would always look for the same standard in 50 different versions. I remember listening to Kenny Baron’s “Stolen Moments”…that might be the first thing I attempted to transcribe. Then I felt something that attracted me to it and I remember thinking something like “jazz is awesome, man, I wanna do this”.

We had some gigs around Kragujevac, but everything was a little amateur. At the same time I played folk music in some horrible band in order to buy my equipment. The friends from the band didn’t really agree with that, because I played almost every weekend…that’s the ugly truth, but I knew why I was doing it. When I got everything I needed, I told them “guys, the paycheck is great, but this not my cup of tea”.

Around five years ago, Rich Bitch, a band from Sombor called me to play some funk together, that’s when I came to Belgrade to live with them. Somehow I got to meet Branko Marković and the whole crew, and they liked the fact I was young and eager to live playing jazz, so they called me to play at Ptica jazz club sometimes. With the time I was falling in love deeper with the music… now I have a feeling like it all happened during the night, but I actually sweated a lot through it and my behind was hurting from sitting at the drums. I am so grateful to my parents who were handling all my noise.



Did they really have to handle it, or they liked what you were doing?

Of course they loved it – my dad is also a drummer, mum used to sing, it’s a musical family. My grandfather played organ, my great grandfather played drums in an army band – dad told me that he even played trumpet.

Where did you go to high school and how did all that fit together?

I enrolled in technology high school in Kragujevac. It was a transitional moment, when I did not know what I’ll exactly do. After completing the first year, I thought: “What am I doing here, man!” I dropped out and enrolled in elementary music school “Petar Konjović” in Belgrade in the class of a great professor Dusan Vrbić. I studied snare drum, timpani, xylophone and vibraphone with him.

Did you at some point practiced drums with Sale Ranković? (one of the most famous drummers of Kragujevac )

Our joint play was not a formal one. He’s a great guy, and he was glad that someone so young wants to do it. I liked a lot the way he played, I fell in love with that whole sound. There was also Heart Discount band, where Max Kochetov and his wife Ksenija played, I loved listening to them. I had a really awesome relation with Sale I was not going to him as a student, but to hang out and play two sets of drums in the basement of the Youth center. It sometimes lasted for an hour- hour and a half … it was great, I really remember it to this day.

As far as school, for a while I was enrolled in music school “Stanković” for a while. I was quite late, about five years late. I started learning with younger kids, and I did not like it there so I just dropped out at that time I had already started playing in clubs.

Who inspired you the most when you moved to Belgrade, and who did you start playing with, first? 

Max Kočetov already knows me from Kragujevac, so everything went through him. At that time Sale (Ranković) was playing at the Ptica, but once he needed to sub out and they called me. So I went to Max`s, he gave me the charts and played the recordings, and my jaw dropped to the floor: “Max, how I am going to do this!”… I transcribed the repertoire they played, there was some Hancock, Miles, all kind of stuff, and also some more difficult things. I would listen to them six times a day, and when the gig came I had a huge stage fright. But when we started playing, I realized that I could do it, so I gained trust with these musicians and got introduced to the whole crew. It was like a christening, but Max was definitely the one who pushed me and connected me with Belgrade musicians. I am infinitely grateful to him for that. He inspired me and gave me a lot of music and charts, and we still play together.

I noticed that in playing, you feel the best in the sound of the 60`s. Did you get interested in it by yourself or was that something that Max introduced you too?

Not just Max, but also the pianist Sava Miletić, and Aca Pejčić too, they all poisoned me with that kind of old sound, but mostly I looked myself for something that was awesome to me. I think that the 60`s had this great energy between the musicians, they were so dedicated to it you can really hear it on those old records.



How should one play “Blue Note” music and still keep it new and fresh?

For the beginning, you need to listen to music at least 3-4 hours a day, minimum. Listening is the most important part. No one can explain to you how to swing, or how to make that cymbal sound just like that, simply you just play the record. If you get a little deeper into the music, with the time you can hear every instrument separately, so you start imitating. I know that feeling, when I put my headphones on and start playing drums, I can exactly feel that pulse and the groove that they are playing. When I go to a gig I always try to get that level of being relaxed. Because as soon as you get stiff, it makes the whole thing collapse. When myself and the whole band feel good, then we are probably closer to that state. Then the audience loves it!

You mentioned the stage fright from your first gig. At what point did you relax?

It’s very important to know the musicians, both as players and as people. The better you get to know them, the less stage fright you have. If I am, for example, at a jam session where I don`t know anyone, I listen and wait to hear what they have to say. I don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. It`s not a stage fright, it`s more like adapting to people that you`re playing with.

Of course I still have stage fright, when I play some big festival. Last summer in Kraljevo, we played in front of around two thousand people, it`s not a small thing… man, huge stage, lots of people… It depends on the place and the room, on your mood, don`t know. There were situations when I was afraid, but I always have a good self-control: even if i don`t know a lot, I will play the best that I can and I stay behind that. Even if it`s bad, I`m straight with myself.

It depends a lot on the other band members as well bassist the most, then the pianist and the soloist who needs to lead us and tell us how to follow him. There are some people I just enjoy playing with and never have stage fright, but a great feeling in my stomach. Especially when I play with Filip (Bulatović) or Sava, I feel great. With Sava for example, I play in a very weird and crazy way, he inspires me to play something that I’ve never played before in my life. And then I think “man, what am I doing!” I surprise myself at moments, which is great.

When you put new elements in your playing, is that something that happens spontaneously, or does it evolve from an idea you already have in your head?

I’ve never had a gig where I planned to do a certain thing. It’s ok to have some kind of directions, to know which way you’re moving and to have an idea of what to play, but not knowing where this story will go is the best thing about it.

Are you, then, trying to repeat something that you already did?

No, no, exactly the opposite. I always try to play the same song in a different way.

OK. Let me ask you something about Vasil`s band…

Oh… that`s crazy.

The audience knows you as a jam session musician, VH band is something completely different.

It`s first class.

How did you start playing with Vasil?

Thanks to Dragan Ivanović, a bass player from Kotor who used to play at OUR Bar, I met Vasil and Hana Vučičević, and I played Jill Scott, Erykah Badu and stuff like that with them. Anyway, once Džoni Dunkić could`t make the gig, so Vasil invited me to sub for him.

To be honest, I was scared a little (laugh). He sent me 10-12 songs, we had two rehearsals and played the concert. There was a couple of missed kicks, but no one noticed or “Boo`ed”, thank God (laugh). A little later they asked if I would play with them…“ Man, why are you asking crazy questions, of course I want to!” And there you go, it`s been over a year. I got to meet the musicians a little better so the fear has disappeared and it’s easier to give my best.

How is this experience different, from everything else that you do?

I didn`t give up on my sound, that I built through the time. Playing a little softer with thinner cymbals, I try to translate that to the VH Band too. Of course, that’s fusion, and it doesn’t actually have much connection to standard jazz playing…

To me, your playing generally sounds a lot different than when you play in Vasil`s band.

Yeah…I would love to connect those two kinds of playing. The last couple of years, I have been working on my sound a lot, which is very important to me. I don`t want to just go to bigger cymbals and hard sticks, to just kill everything. They told me that they liked the change, a little softer sound I brought. I was probably unaware of it, and they just adapted, I guess. But my friends also say that it is a big difference when they see me in Čekaonica at a jam session, where I play like I`m at home they tell me I am more free, and that I play faster and nicer, but its’s all in the head I suppose. Maybe in the music too, but I didn`t really think a lot about that.



You played with a funky band L8 Night at the OUR Bar? I think that`s where i heard you for the first time with  Banović, Mlačak and the crew…

It was crazy there! We were super loud, fast and sweaty I used to bring three tee shirts and two towels, and tie the drum set so it doesn’t run away from me. We played covers, that’s where I got more intimate with the musicians and got more free. That’s also where I got to know the bassist Dragan Ivanović, Strahinja Banović, Kristijan Mlačak and Peca Kozomara really well… even Filip Bulatović played with us. A lot of different musicians exchanged because everyone has their own projects. That was just for our own soul, and it was awesome! We played 1150 notes in one song, but it doesn’t matter, it`s awesome!

I suppose you listen to funk and soul at home too?

Of course. James Brown… that man made so many records and songs that you can even do nothing but listening to him. George Clinton too, Tower of Power, I love soul Roy Ayers, Otis Redding, also hip-hop, I like to hear a lot of interesting things.

Do you think of having your own band or a project, or is it too soon for something like that?

“This and That” quartet from Kragujevac, with whom I started playing, reunited this summer they have been working hard already for more than half a year. There is Aca Pejčić, Bratislav Vučković a guitarist, and Nemanja Ristić on the bass. Everyone wrote a couple of originals and they told me: “Peđa, come on, we gotta have one of yours”. So they gave me a reason to sit down, turn on the metronome, sing some melody and play over it. I recorded 25 seconds of a theme, it was pitchy as hell, but it doesn’t matter, I know what it is!

Of course that that`s in my plans my heroes Jeff Tain Watts and Brian Blade write their own beautiful music, and that`s what they do: they arrange and compose.  It`s a really big task to even put your own groove on someone else’s song, a new pattern. But I do dream about having at least one original tune one day! (laugh). I’m surrounded by really good piano players who make me explore and learn, study harmony and notes. When I get that better playing piano, for the beginning I will be able to write some music. For now I like the role of a side man.

You listened to Blade with Wayne Shorter at the Sava Centar three years ago?

It was phenomenal! Shorter is really a living legend. That concert changed my life. I watched them for over an hour, couldn`t say a word, I couldn`t believe what was happening. I thought: that`s it, man! They are not trying to play something that was played over 50 or more years, they took a step further, created something new. And I love that idea, to constantly upgrade yourself. They are not finding the formula and making ten same albums. That whole band, man, they found each other, they function so well, and Shorter writes some incredible music… I really love him a lot. I`m going to put him in the next podcast!

Let`s summarize your current activities. You made an album with Max Kocetov?

That`s right. Milan Nikolic played double bass, Sava Miletic piano, Max Kocetov sax. That`s my first experience of recording jazz in a studio. I borrowed an old Gretsch from a friend, that`s that sound of 50`s and 60`s. We had a sound check in the evening and recorded one ballad, and then tomorrow in about 2-3 hours we recorded another 7 songs! All the songs are Max` originals, you will hear it, you will probably write a review, too. A wonderful experience. I would love to do that for the rest of my life. To record other people’s songs and my own. That feeling of listening to yourself on a record afterwards is…. I will probably never be satisfied with any of the tracks that I recorded, but it doesn’t matter! (laugh)

And that motivates you to practice more…

Of course, of course…I want to feel unsatisfied constantly (laugh).

Which other musicians are you working with?

There`s Space Shift Impact with Strahinja, Filip and Dragan. I also recorded an album with Lena Kovacevic, some kind of pop-jazz, then a soul album with Ivana Vukmirovic, ethno-jazz album with Nenad Gajin trio. I am a member of a soul band Maraquya, which is an awesome crew; we recorded around 4-5 songs and a couple of music videos… Then with a DJ MKDSL: I play the electric drums, Srđan Zdravković plays guitar and some other stuff, which is a mix of several different things. Since we’re living in the 21st century, we need to forget about those acoustic set ups a little, at least twice a week, and try something else. I play at Čekaonica, Iguana…

Famous question:  can you live of playing jazz?

Of course, and I’m very happy and satisfied. I even had a vacation. I have new sneakers too! (laugh) But the most important thing is the feeling when I come back home from a gig and I feel great because I did something good, played what I love, hung out with people that are cool. I am very satisfied, and I hope it will get even better.



Translation from original article (11.10.2013) : Sofija Knežević

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