AMERICAN BIG BAND LEADER

Since adopting a jazz policy several years ago, Laptaria Enache has produced outstanding Bucharest concerts by Mircea Tiberian, Austrian saxophonist Nicholas Simeon, and the legendary Johnny Radacannu. Last Thursday’s performance of the National University Big Band was no exception when this popular twenty-member ensemble peeled paint from the club’s narrow walls, and kept an overflow crowd on the edge of its seats.

The presence of a big band in a place not suited for such an ensemble was a novelty in itself. Horn players blared within arms distance of delighted patrons whose heads arched back every time the band performed an especially aggressive passage.

Director Tom Smith took full advantage of the electric atmosphere by programming as many intense selections as possible. These included several compositions from the band’s well known repertoire, and new additions to the book which featured strong solo work from tenor saxophonist Catalene Milea, trombonist Iieronim Pogorelovski, and trumpeter Grig Grigrescu. As always, lead alto saxophonist Alex Simu provided fine solos and excellent student leadership.

The university big band will be on hiatus until March, according to Smith. This is not a surprise since he now leads all three of Bucharest’s outstanding big bands, at least through February. Right now, he prepares the National Radio Big Band for a tribute concert dedicated to Bucharest native Peter Herbolzheimer on February 18, followed by the premier of the 20 in membership National Jazz Ensemble of Romania. This concert will take place Thursday February 27 at Arcub. It will include the long anticipated performance of Carla Bley’s jazz suite “Birds of Paradise,” a performance Smith has dedicated to the fallen astronauts of the space shuttle Columbia. Fulbright Professor Tom Smith will join me in a retrospective of his first four months in Bucharest, and an examination of his former band Unifour Jazz on Radio de Nationale Sunday, February 9 at 15:00. Some Romanians will probably recall Unifour from Radio Free Europe broadcasts before the revolution.

On Monday, December 16, twenty Romanian jazz musicians led by Senior Fulbright Scholar Tom Smith, performed seldom heard Christmas jazz ensemble music, and backed popular Romanian acts ASIA, Voltage and Partizan at Bucharest’s five- thousand seat Paladalui Auditorium. According to Smith, the entire concert, to be broadcast nationally on TVRom 2, December 25 at 9:30 pm and on TVRom 1 at 9:30 pm, was prepared in only six days, adding further credence to his assertions of optimum prowess among the up-start Bucharest jazz community.

One of the evening’s highlights was the performance of Romanian opera star Felicia Felip, who under Smith’s direction entertained the audience with her poignant interpretation of “Silent Night.” The crowd’s sustained cheers were interrupted only by the amazing sight of artificial snow falling from the ceiling’s lofty rafters. The concert ended with Smith’s direction of his band combined with a large military choir. Their performance of Florin Radacanu’s arrangement of a traditional American spiritual, brought this enjoyable
evening to a conclusion.

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