It was a hot flute that led to a cool career for Alexander Zonjic.“I came home to Windsor, Ontario, to visit my mother and my family, and as I’m walking down the street, a guy who recognizes me as the local rock guitar guy who went to Toronto approaches me on the street and said, ‘You’re the guitar player; would you like to buy a flute?’
“It kind of took me aback. I didn’t really understand why I would even want a flute,” Zonjic recalled. “I loved the way it looked in the case. He said he wanted 50 bucks; I only had $9 and he took it.”
The steal was a deal — bargain price, lighter and smaller instrument, and a life-changing experience.
“I think what I had automatically was a real passion and desire to really want to learn how to play this very interesting-looking little thing. I mean, it looks like plumbing; it’s basically three pieces of a tube, and you put it together and yes, you can make music with it, but not unless you really make a huge commitment to it,” he said.
“The guitar is still a part of my life, but the flute is definitely what has served me well on a very large level and has brought me to perform with amazing people and meet great people and travel the world.”
That minimal monetary investment combined with dedication, education and talent made Zonjic a jazz star. The Canadian was a member of Bob James’ band in the 1980s before embarking on a solo career. With nearly a dozen discs, he has recorded with an array of luminaries, including Kenny G, Earl Klugh, Peter White, Kirk Whalum, Rick Braun and Kem.Zonjic’s latest release, Doin’ the D, pays tribute to the Motor City. The flute player took home the Canadian Smooth Jazz Award for Album of the Year for the 2009 disc.
“[Detroit] became my source for everything: I have an office in Detroit; I have a huge audience in Detroit; I got to do CBS radio in Detroit. So when you start to look at what I owe the city, because there’s really no justifiable reason why anyone should go through their whole life thinking they could get away with playing the flute for a living, come on. That is a profound blessing,” he said.
“Regardless of what level you may play on, you can never take something like that for granted, and most of the credit has to go to this area. So when I put my CD together, the main reason I called it Doin’ the D was because it was a cool expression that referred to doing cool things in what I think is the greatest music city in the world.”
Still a broadcaster, Zonjic’s radio show, “From A to Z,” airs weekly in Toronto and is syndicated in several U.S. cities, including Detroit.When he’s not on the air or stage, Zonjic is putting together lineups for music events.
“It just started with people casually asking for advice and eventually led to me being hired on a somewhat regular basis to be an artistic director,” he said. “At this point, there are around nine events.”
He has assisted with Music Fest since it began in 2010.
“I love how eclectic Music Fest is at The University of Toledo. It’s just been a thrill to work with Larry Burns [vice president for external affairs] and UT,” Zonjic said. “I think that school is special, and I think that city is special.”
Motown will be on the menu when Zonjic takes the stage with The Motor City Horns and Serieux at the free event Friday, Aug. 29, at 6 p.m. in the Rocket Hall parking lot.
“I grew up loving Motown; you’re talking about the greatest songs ever written,” the flutist said. “We’ve done these shows before and there’s a lot of magic.”