By Jenny Neyman
If there’s anything a Croatian-born, classically trained pianist-turned-U.S. folk, rock, country, blues, jazz singer/songwriter and Zydeco accordion aficionado demonstrates, it’s that categories don’t mean a hill of New Orleans red beans. Good music is good music, no matter what classification it may or may not fit into.
“I cover quite a bit of ground. A lot of it is rooted in kind of New Orleans-piano styles. Some of my big heroes are Professor Longhair and a great pianist named James Booker, but I’m also a singer/songwriter and there my influences range from, of course, Bob Dylan, Jackson Brown, people like that. So I will be doing a few original ballads, some up-tempo New Orleans piano style with a Second Line sort of approach to it, and some straight-up boogie woogie and blues, as well,” said Radoslav Lorković, who will perform at the Flats Bistro on Kalifornsky Beach Road on Saturday night. “And then, just when you think you’re safe, an accordion will come out and I’ll be playing some Zydeco.”
Lorković was born in Croatia into a deeply musical, though stylistically divided environment. His maternal grandmother sang him Croatian, Slovenian and Czech folk songs since birth. As family lore goes, he could sing back in pitch by age 1, and by age 3 was performing floor shows for the family. The soundtrack at home was classical music, since his paternal grandmother was an internationally renown classical pianist. Lorković started studying piano, as well. The family moved to the United States when he was 6. By the time he was 14, living in Iowa, he was progressing toward a likely career as a classical musician.
Until, that is, he was led astray by the siren songs of a green transistor radio playing Top 40 music, and a lesson in how to play to blues music.
“I was just plodding along, playing my Bach and Mozart, being a good boy,” he said. “And then it was my sophomore year in high school, 1973. This gentleman showed me a blues scale and a base configuration to go with it. First he played it for me and I thought, ‘Oh my God, where do I buy the music for this?’ He said, ‘You don’t.’ And he showed me the scale and that blew my world wide open. You couldn’t keep me off the piano. I was just glued to the piano ever since — and still am, happily.”
From there Lorković became omnivorous of Americana music, tasting wide samplings of styles, starting with rock ‘n’ roll and tracing back from the Grateful Dead to Bob Dylan and Woodie Guthrie. He emulated the styles of boogie-woogie greats Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson and Freddie Slack, and the blues of Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Otis Spann and Pinetop Perkins. His palate came to include the spice of New Orleans, with Professor Longhair and James Booker, and branched into Tex-Mex and Zydeco-style accordion, as well.
His sets still include representations of his favorites, but along the way he developed a style and music all his own, as well. But it’s not just a blues song, followed by a jazz piece, then a folk ballad. It’s a little bit of all of them, all the time.
“They all show up. The jazz shows up in my blues. The blues shows up in my jazz, which is critical to jazz,” Lorković said.
Through it all runs his base in classical music.
“The classical technique, I’m blessed with being taught it at a very young age and it really serves these other styles very, very well because classical technique is a really efficient technique, real light. And then if you combine it with the groove of New Orleans, you’re in pretty good shape,” he said.
He didn’t branch away from classical piano out of disdain for it. When he’s just playing for himself, that’s still when he plays the most.
“Classical music, one of these days I’m going to actually just knuckle down. Because I’m getting there. I’ve been playing Mozart violin sonatas with my uncle, who is a well-known European violinist. And I’m hanging in there. I can hang with him. So there’s still hope,” Lorković joked.
“But I have so much fun playing this music. But the classical never leaves me. If I’m playing ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ I’m still thinking classical when I strike the keys,” he said.
Besides, “classical” music wasn’t always classical. At one point it was just music.
“And I think that a good deal of the really famous classical cannon was improvised. Mozart’s piano concertos, he would improvise two-thirds of them and then he’d sort of get around to writing them down. It was pretty free-form stuff, and the good stuff, in my opinion, sounds like it was improvised and like it was really fresh,” Lorković said.
The concert is being presented by the Flats Bistro with Kenai Peninsula College’s Multicultural Consortium. Lorković isn’t planning on disappointing the latter, with a mix of Balkan, Croatian, Serbian, Russian and French songs up his sleeve.
“It will be something of an international journey,” he said.
So if a little Zydeco enters the mix, who’s to say it doesn’t belong?
“The accordion will be well-represented, and it’ll be the last thing you expect to hear out of an accordion,” he said.
The concert starts at 10 p.m. Admission is free, seating is limited and no reservations will be taken. For more information about Lorković, visit http://www.RadoslavLorkovic.com.