The first appearance of jazz in Croatia can be traced back to the times when this American musical phenomenon sprung up in the other Central European countries, our neighbours to the north, or a bit later. However, in the early twenties in this part of the world, owing to the first small amateur bands which began to appear, Zagreb became the cradle of jazz. In the late 30s, and particularly on the eve of World War II, under the influence of European radio stations, including the one in Zagreb (founded in 1926), as well as of American films, jazz flourished, acquiring clearly set outlines in larger jazz orchestras too. The beginning of the war diminished and suppressed to a great part developments in the field of jazz, although this type of music did not, even during the war, completely disappear from Croatia's cultural life. Due to the alliance with the Western allies and under the influence of Glenn Miller's orchestra, the post-war period witnessed an expansion of the number of large jazz orchestras under the umbrella of various national cultural societies and institutions. In 1947, Željko Černjul founded, within the framework of Radio Zagreb, the first official jazz orchestra, known today as the Big Band Orchestra of Croatian Radio Television. During the politically rigid post-war years, jazz - taken then as American propaganda - went through an exceptionally difficult period which gradually began easing up in the early fifties with the appearance of the first relevant small bands. The early sixties were characterised by the Bled Jazz Festival (Slovenia) whose initial programmes attracted all the relevant Croatian bands of that time. Political liberalisation in the sixties resulted in an expressed dwindling of Croatian jazz musicians who began leaving Croatia in increasing numbers for certain Western countries. Only the "Zagreb Jazz Quartet", a chamber combo-band founded after the American "Modern Jazz Quartet" which based its programmes on its own repertory succeeded in overcoming this rather misfortunate period for our jazz.
The climate in the eighties was much more favourable. International jazz festivals and jazz clubs where domestic and foreign bands played sprung up everywhere. With Croatia's independence jazz increasingly began to spread to other cities as well. Rijeka, Varaždin, Dubrovnik and Čakovec became hosts to international jazz festivals. Small bands became active in these cities as well - the "Varaždin Jazz Band - with its original repertory, "Quarter Argus" from Osijek, which followed jazz standards and "mainstream" jazz, Darko Jurković's "Quartet Sensitive" in Rijeka devoted exclusively to the "bossa-nova" style, rock-jazz band "Black Coffee" in Split, etc. Nonetheless, in respect to both the number of bands as well as their quality, Zagreb's position remains dominant, with two Big Band orchestras, one of them being the Croatian Radio Television's Big Band and the other, the Dance Orchestra of the Croatian Institute of Music. On the modern jazz scene small bands prevail: the "Zagreb Jazz Portrait", "Matija Dedić Trio", "Ivan Kapec Trio", Quartet Boilers", the "Ante Gelo Quartet" and the "Ladislav Fidri". The interpreters of "mainstream jazz" include the "Damir Dičić Trio", "B.P. All Stars", the "Cool Date" band with the vocalist Jasna Bilušić, the "Vanja Lisak Trio", the "Željko Kovačević 'Cute' Trio" and his Dixieland band.
The "Croatian Jazz Club" was founded in Zagreb in 2000, as the first professional jazz association on the national level engaged in a wide variety of activities (organisation of concerts, festivals, education centres, recordings…). Clubs such as the B.P. Club (initiated and under the artistic direction of the vibraphonist Boško Petrović, at one time one of leading musicians of the Croatian jazz scene) Sax, Art-net, KSET, Be-bop, that do not exclusively specialise in jazz, have also initiated a number of activities. Within the recording industry jazz is represented only sporadically (Croatia Records, Jazzette) so jazz musicians make do the best they can through private productions. The City Office for Culture and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia support some of the projects, and jazz is regularly presented in national radio and television programmes.
Among the present day jazz musicians in Croatia, the following should be singled out: Domagoj Ralašić (tenor saxophone), Ratko Zjača (guitar), Milan Lulić (guitar), Saša Nestorović (tenor saxophone), Željko Kovačević (soprano-saxophone, tenor- saxophone), Igor Savin (vibraphone), Damir Dičić (guitar), Kruno Levačić (drums), Davor Križić (trumpet, bugle), Julije Njikoš (piano), Silvije Glojnarić (conducter,score-writer), Matija Dedić (piano), Dražen Boić (piano), Salih Sadiković (drums), Ante Gelo (guitar), Mladen Baraković (bass), Darko Jurković (guitar), Elvis Stanić (guitar), Ivan Kapec (guitar), Renato Rožić (guitar), Josip "Joe" Pandur (guitar), Aljoša Mutić (tenor-saxophone).
by: Mladen Mazur