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Interview with conductor Simona Strungaru

Monday, 30 October 2023 , ora 10.59

Radio Big Band makes its debut in this new season at 7:00 PM tonight with a concert that commemorates Thad Jones' 100th birthday. The stage of the Radio Hall will feature distinguished musical pieces of the notorious jazzman, who lived between 1923 and 1986. We learn more about today's event and the other surprises organized by Radio Big Band from an interview conducted by Viorel Grecu alongside the conductor Simona Strungaru.

For those who don't know, can you explain to us what Thad Jones means for Big Band jazz?

Thad Jones is a very important figure in the jazz world. He was a highly regarded trumpeter and an equally important composer, arranger and a big band leader. He contributed to the evolution of big band compositions. He was daring towards his approach of orchestration. He went beyond the limits or he made use of a lot of dissonances in the way in which he orchestrated. That was unprecedented. And, the pieces we play stretch from several periods of his creation and we are glad to have the opportunity to honor the musical legacy he left us.

He extensively worked beside Count Basie, but he didn't limit himself to emulating his mentor. Essentially, he was a modernizer...

Absolutely. He wrote for Count Basie, but some of his arrangements were not approved at the time they were proposed. They were probably too ahead of their time. Of course, they became the pieces through which he became known and he started his own big band with Mel Lewis, the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big Band, in which he performed and which is still active, certainly, by the means of a successor, the Village Vanguard Orchestra. He went to Europe at one point and he was the bandmaster of the Copenhagen Radio Big Band. Also, at this time and this year, there are many projects dedicated to him all over the world.

Essentially, we have synchronized with the Thad Jones centenary. How will you approach the repertoire? Will it be a gender cast, will someone play Thad Jones and someone else Mel Lewis?

We are faithful to his text. Most of the pieces are composed and orchestrated by him, and the lead singers we have are from Big Band. It is not a repertoire for the trumpet and Big Band. He was a trumpeter, but the pieces we perform don't just feature the trumpet. We possess everything from trumpet, baritone saxophone, bass and piano. Everyone is represented and everyone will be a vocalist throughout these pieces.

Since we're at the beginning of the season, can you disclose what you have in store this year?

We will organize some very nice concerts this year between now and Christmas. After the opening of the season with Thad Jones, there is a concert on the 9th of November, called Contemporary in Romania, during which we are starting a new interdisciplinary concept in art and we want to invite the audience to a shared experience alongside an art exhibition, Centaur, and on the musical side, on the 9th of November members of the Big Band will perform some of their compositions. Thus, it's about our creation, and the fact that Big Band members are both composers and arrangers, and so, it's very important to make this known to the public, because just as we appreciate foreigners for their creativity, we need to know that we are present in this area as well. In November we will also have Gianni Gagliardi as a guest, a Spanish saxophonist, well known to the Romanian audience, who is coming with his own repertoire. In December we will attend two very special concerts, one with Ana-Cristina Leonte, with an original repertoire, orchestrated for Big Band and a Christmas concert in which we will have a collaboration with the Radio Academic Choir and the Children's Choir.

Interview by Viorel Grecu
Translated by Andreea Ioana Cuprian,
University of Bucharest, Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, MTTLC, year I
Corrected by Silvia Petrescu