The Marco Polo of MoonJune Records

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MoonJune’s Leonardo Pavkovic in Toledo, Spain, the new home for his globe-trotting label.

(Photo: Courtesy MoonJune Records)

Ever since being galvanized by rock and prog-rock as a youngster, entrepreneur Leonardo Pavkovic has had a lifelong, unquenchable thirst for music.

The motto of his MoonJune Records reflects his uncommonly open-minded attitude and eclectic tastes. As it states on the MoonJune letterhead: “Progressive music exploring and expanding boundaries of jazz, rock, avant, ethno, the unknown, and anything in between and beyond.”

That’s Leonardo in a nutshell. A native of Jajce in the former Yugoslavia (now Bosnia and Herzegovina), Pavkovic came of age in Southern Italy, where he came under the spell of T-Rex, Vanilla Fudge, Deep Purple and Pink Floyd, then Frank Zappa, Magma, Van Der Graaf Generator, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, Soft Machine and the Mahavishnu Orchestra and ultimately such ECM artists as Keith Jarrett, Ralph Towner and Terje Rypdal.

Pavkovic continued developing his eclectic tastes after moving to New York in August 1990. His first job in the Big Apple was working for renowned Brazilian graphic artist and photographer Fernando Natalici in his Studio T design firm, whose clientele included the Knitting Factory, the Village Vanguard, Blue Note Records, Dreyfus Records, Intuition Records and other music industry stalwarts. Pavkovic taught himself computer graphics and soon was doing Village Voice ads and posters for all of Studio T’s clients, which put him in the company of great musicians, concert promoters and record label executives.

His inaugural MoonJune release was 2001’s Bar Torque, a duet by former Soft Machine saxophonist Elton Dean and British guitarist Mark Hewins. To date, Pavkovic has released more than 125 albums on his unconventional label and he continues to trek around the world in search of music that inspires him, which has also earned him the nickname Marco Polo.

MoonJune’s growing roster of international artists includes Uruguayan guitarist Beledo, Israeli-born/London-based drummer Asaf Sirkis, Indonesian keyboardist Dwiki Dharmawan, Indonesian guitarists Tohpati and Dewa Budjana, Italian prog-rock legends DFA, the Jakarta-based band simakDialog, Serbian-born/Barcelona-based guitarist Dusan Jevtovic, Slovenian saxophonist-flutist Vasko Atanasovski, Italian keyboardist Beppe Crovella, Italian vocalist-beatbox artist Boris Salvodelli, Italian fusion band Slivovitz, Canadian prog-rockers Mahogany Frog, Chinese blues-rocker Zhang Ling (aka Big John), the Belgian group Mass Machine Trio, the Brazilian trio Dialeto and Bosnian-born/Barcelona-based drummer Xavi Reija.

That’s a whole bunch of artists whose prodigious output and instrumental virtuosity would otherwise be unknown to Stateside prog-rock, fusion and avant garde music fans, were it not for Pavkovic.

Other MoonJune artists like Soft Machine, Stick Men, drummer Gary Husband and the fusion band Pakt may be more well known to Western ears. Regardless of their level of visibility in the States or the U.K., Pavkovic has been a fierce and tireless advocate for all of the artists on his roster.

“I have very eclectic tastes,” Pavkovic said. “Of course, I have my preferences. But I always say to people, ‘Look, I love Chinese food, but I don’t eat Chinese food every day. I eat different foods.’ That’s why we need different music. And also as a person of extremely mixed background — Montenegrin, Croatian, Italian and Lebanese — and a guy who grew up in Yugoslavia and Italy and is married to a Chinese woman who is actually Brazilian, you cannot easily fit me in any category of human being. I’m just by myself. And that’s what I like in the music, and that’s actually how my label is represented. I don’t like to be jazz label, progressive label, fusion label, I just want to be a label of music that I like.”

In 2022, after 32 years of living in New York, Pavkovic moved his entire operation — record label, booking and management company — to historic Toledo, Spain.

His latest batch of releases from MoonJune’s new headquarters includes Markus Reuter’s new project Anchor & Burden (Kosmonautic Pilgrimage), Stephan Thelen’s Fractal Guitar 3 and Bleed by a trio of Reuter and Pakt members Motzer and Grohowski.

In June 2022, Pavkovic inaugurated the International MoonJune Music Festival, which was held in his birthplace of Jajce in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He is now working out details for the second International MoonJune Music Festival, to be held this coming June in his new home base of Toledo. “I would like the MoonJune Festival to be held every year in different parts of the world, always in beautiful places,” he said. “Dwiki Dharmawan has offered to help me organize the festival for next year in Bali. Yes, it’s a dream, it’s a fantasy. But in my life I’ve had so many dreams and fantasies come true, so why not?”

Meanwhile, Pavkovic is already laying plans for the rest of 2023. “I have some new MoonJune recordings coming out, I have a big tour with Soft Machine in October, and I’m always looking for other adventures.”

Spoken like a true Marco Polo. DB



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