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Mircea Tiberian: The Natural Force of Music

Mircea Tiberian: The Natural Force of Music
Adriana Carcu By

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Pianist Mircea Tiberian is an emblematic figure of Romanian jazz, with a prodigious musical and academic career. He plays an influential role in the jazz scene and as author of many theoretical studies and essays, fosters its development on the theoretical level as well. Along his 40 year career Tiberian has played with top ranking Romanian jazz musicians and with quite a few Western ones such as Randy Brecker Chris Dahlgren, John Betsch, Maurice de Martin and Christian Lillinger . Educated in the classical tradition, the pianist followed the energetic and intellectual line of instrumental expressivity established by McCoy Tyner and Thelonious Monk in developing his specific instrumental voice. His sound combines the clarity of tone with suggestive elusiveness that results in a perfectly balanced inner dynamism. He has recently released a trio album with Chris Dahlgren and John Betsch entitled Both Sides of the River.

All About Jazz: Tell us about your musical upbringing.

Mircea Tiberian: My relation with improvisation began at a very early age. As a pupil in the music school I exasperated my teachers with my improvisations before I even knew what jazz was. I started playing the piano at 4 or 5. My family was not involved with the arts, but for some reason there was a piano in our house, a pretty good one too. I never knew how it got there.

AAJ: When did you know that you were going to be a musician?

MT: It never occurred to me that I could be anything else. I think that the idea ripened when I was about 14. I was lucky too, because at that time I had received a special jury prize at a piano contest and I became a sort of star of the little high school I was attending.

AAJ: What was your first contact with jazz music?

MT: I was about 10 when one of my piano teachers gave me a jazz record. I think that was the first jazz album released in Romania, the big band of the University of Illinois. When I was 18, I started going to the jazz club in my hometown, Sibiu, a club with a high musical standard, where a lot of contemporary jazz was played. So, you can say that I started listening to jazz with Coltrane. Not long after that I started playing too, but I wasn't very happy because in those times in the Eastern European countries the jazz bands were playing mostly Dixie. I decided to get back to classical music and I abandoned jazz until I was 26. First I focused on Bach for two or three years—a real adventure—and then I started realizing that I needed to get closer to contemporaneity and I started with Mozart. It wasn't a very big leap, but it went faster.

AAJ: When did you start playing jazz again?

MT: After I graduated from the Music School in 1986, I started playing in Club Nord -a jazz club in Bucharest, near the main train station. The club wasn't official, but everybody knew about it, and jazz lovers were coming from all over the country. Here I started inviting Western musicians like Randy Brecker and Guido Manusardi. After the Romanian revolution in 1989 they closed it down.

AAJ: How did the jazz life change in Romania after the revolution?

MT: In the first six months we had quite a few international gigs. While I was trying to ground a Romanian Jazz Association, the students from the Music School in Bucharest voted for the opening of a jazz section and proposed me as the chairman. The staff of the faculty was quite uneasy at the beginning because I used to be pretty rebellious as a student. Luckily, I got a scholarship in the US and I could do some documentation on creative schools, so that soon I started the first jazz section at the Bucharest Conservatory. Today, when I read the statistics, I can see that 90 percent of the jazz musicians have passed through that section.

AAJ: When did your start your first group?

MT: In 1996 when Romania freed itself from the Russian influence I started interacting more actively with Western musicians and I grounded a group meant to connect the Western and Eastern musical cultures by means of jazz and ethnic music. The group was called Interzone and the aim was to make a synthesis out of the joint musical heritage. We were all educated in the classical spirit and as a European it is a pity not to make the best of that background. Besides, the musicians from the Balkans, Moldavia, Ex Soviets, Poland and Bulgaria, are very close to traditional music as well.

AAJ: How is your rapport with the Romania traditional music?

MT: I wasn't born in the country and I played traditional music only for money, which doesn't mean that you can't play it well. I studied the cultivated folklore, through the Romanian traditional music school, which has got at the top George Enescu, and a few other very good composers, who unfortunately are not that well known. I have played their works in the faculty. Their works have a vision and a harmonization that is way above what we understand today under ethno style.

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