Romanian guitarist Alexandru Cismaru talks about his journey on Blues/Jazz/Rock roads and local scene

"I’d like to change dramatically the music from the 80% of TV channels and radio stations."

Alexandru Cismaru: Blues Soul, Jazz Heart

Romanian blues-rock, pop-rock guitarist Alexandru Cismaru, from Tulcea, now established in Bucharest, studying at the National University of Music Bucharest. Alexandru says: I saw the light of the day on 10th August 1993. Born and raised in the Delta. Not Mississippi’s, but the Danube Delta, in the city of Tulcea. Grew up listening music on a cassette player. Since I was 5-6 years old I knew I wanted to study music, so here I am in the first grade at the Art school “George Georgescu” in town, studying piano. By the age of 9 or 10 (seriously It’s impossible to remeber) I switched to the classic guitar studies and I knew that this was my instrument. By the age of 13 of 14 I started hanging around in the city, with the guitar on my back and go wheRever and wheNever there was a “happening”.. so shortly after that, I started having, with some friends, my first small gigs, that were unrelated to school. We were playing folk (Bob Dylan style) and acoustic rock. Anyway, my first serious band (meaning gigs in the country, an album, etc) came up in the early 2010. After graduating the high-school I moved up to Bucharest, because there “was the big deal”. I joined the National University of Music Bucharest, (Jazz-composition studies) and here I am, in the fourth year.          (Photo by Razvan Muresan)

My biggest influences when I was a kid came from legend rock bands (Led Zeppelin, Ac/Dc, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd). Whitesnake/David Coverdale still have a big influence on me. After that, like any other guitarist from rock i switched to Joe Satriani/Steve Vai genres. But something good happened and my mind was set on blues guitarists. I started listening Hendrix, Jeff Beck, S.R.V., Eric Clapton, Gary moore and so on, and those guys left theier mark on me and my playing style. Of course I never “refuse” a recording with Muddy Waters, Robert Johnsohn and other “paths” to the root of the blues. So, “today”, I see myself in a Blues-Soul-R&B-Jazz-Funk-Rock- bubble and I just love to discover new artists. For example, My latest happy discoveries are Marc Broussard or Jon Allen. And I’m sure that plenty of music is waiting for me!

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues & Jazz culture and what does the blues mean to you?

I like to think at Blues & Jazz as at 2 different stories, 2 way of thinking, of living maybe! Same continents but different countries. Blues taught me to open my soul when it comes to playing and listening. Despite the pain that blues brings inevitable, there is no comparable joy to FEEL what that music have to say. On the other hand, jazz taught me that there is not only the soul, the heart; we have heads, and we should use them. Jazz is making me wit, it compels me to chew that musical information (in a very good way). I guess that if a musician have these two “powers” (blues in soul and jazz in mind), he is invincible!

What were the reasons that you started the Jazz researches? What characterize your music philosophy?

After graduating a music high-school in Tulcea (the city I grew up in) I had to ask myself what I want, but a lot of voices in my head (maybe childish, maybe innocent, maybe inspired by rock-stars, maybe brave) said “go and play blues or rock or whatever in the capital! (Bucharest). And that was all! Of course I didn’t have any plans on how should I do that. In the first place I didn’t wanted superior studies at all, I said that I could live directly for the gigs...But quickly I realized I don’t know too much people here, so a college would have been nice! I wanted to study blues (or even rock!) but we don’t have such specializations. The closest way of not abandon my...dreams was to apply for the jazz section, although I didn’t know to play jazz, and even now I don’t play jazz at the level I should...I guess I’m not ready to espouse it completely. But now, in the fourth year I’m glad I came here, not only because I learned to like it, but also for the tips & tricks that I learned, that doesn’t apply only to jazz. And about the philosophy, I believe in original and quality-based products. Blues is offering a lot of space for them. I also want to start my own blues-trio project this year...I have some ideas, can’t wait to see how far this will go!

"Talking socio-cultural, Jazz is gaining more ground that Blues. Looking at the number of festivals, Blues & Jazz are on the same place." (Alexandru Cismaru on stage / Photo by Daniel Cozma

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

The tips & tricks from the college professors were mind-opening to me, and not only! In almost 4 years since I moved to Bucharest I found an endless fountain of wisdom from which I like to drink every time. But speaking of advices, I don’t believe in “the best advice”... That’s a problem, I don’t know if only in Romania, but everybody thinks they have the best advice. Everybody feels the “duty” of saying something, even if they don’t know the whole story. I believe in the best advice ONLY at the right time, in a particular case!

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Difficult to say... I can mention that I keep a journal in which I write absolutely every gig/concert in which I play. And it’s working since I was 7... when I played my first song in front of some teachers and parents in the first grade, on 21 December 2000, that was my first mini-concert!  On 16 January 2016 I had the concert number 381. Of course the memories from gigs/studio sessions etc. are priceless, but I don’t know where should I start... However most of them since... Mark Zuckenberg, are/will be shared on Facebook!

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss musicians’ faces on the stage, but I’m talking about small-medium gigs. Of course the face is only a figure of speech... More and more people lose the passion, or the happiness, or the true sadness, or the laugh, or even the anger, or anything and I don’t know why (Guess I know but I have too much answers/options)... When the sound is good on the stage, I can’t help it, I really start to feel the music and make strange faces, haha! And it would be classic to say that from the music of the past I miss the simplicity, the non-modified version of the final product that, made with attention and quality had no-speed-limit-highways to human’s soul. 

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I’d like to change dramatically the music from the 80% of TV channels and radio stations. Aaand, after that, I’d really like to access people’s minds and change some wires in order to make them come to concerts in a much more bigger number, buying music, and make them enjoy more and more anything that has to do with music. Oops, I changed more things! But wouldn’t it be so much better?!

"I like to think at Blues & Jazz as at 2 different stories, 2 way of thinking, of living maybe! Same continents but different countries." (Photo by Daniel Cozma)

Make an account of the case of Jazz/Blues in Romania. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

I guess I’m a little too young to make statements, to know all the insides. What I certainly know is that this genres should get much more attention from the large public. Jazz and Blues concerts are some kind of secrets well kept... you must be one way or another in the business to know about what’s happening in this scenes. If you stop 50 people on the street, maybe only 3 people would know some big names in Blues or Jazz... And none of them would know concerts upcoming or even clubs/institutions that hold such gigs. Maybe only in some respected neighborhoods in the middle of Bucharest or other few important cities the situation is different.  I can’t tell you the most interesting period in the local blues scene because this scene never had a reaaaly big “army” of fans, it was never in the spotlight... But also, it never died (and hope that won’t do it too soon). But still, I’m not disappointed with what we have. We have a lot of truly great artists and bands. The Blues & Jazz world is small but nice! Everybody knows everybody, everybody plays with everybody, and I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not. I tend to think it is.

What are the lines that connect the Jazz/Blues from US to Romania? Are there any similarities between the blues and the genres of local folk music and traditional forms?

I’m afraid that it’s much easier to find the differences instead of similarities. For example the pulsation of Jazz or Soul or R&B or Straight Blues or many other genres is based on the 2nd and the 4th accent in the bar. The pulsation that a native Romanian (or any East-European native) has in mind it’s the 1st and the 3rd accent in a bar. This is making things pretty complicated when it’s about finding a root that would be the same. We, as natives, feel different... actually wrong in my (and many others) opinion, we kinda kill the groove. Nevertheless, there is a similarity when it comes to lyrics. Traditional music has pretty much the lyrics of the blues, or vice versa. It’s (almost) all about pain, missing or loving somebody (but mostly missing) and with a lot of figures of speech.   

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the local music circuits?                                               (Photo by Cursuri Photocover)

It’s impossible to not be emotionally touched (in a really bad way) when it comes to the nightclub fire that killed in Bucharest last autumn more than 60 people including all of the band members (only the vocalist survived.. but with forever scars). It touched everybody and a lot of changes that affect the music business are taking place these days. Somewhere about REALLY big number of the clubs/pubs in the country have been closed due to the lack of emergency exits, fire extinguisher and so on. Also, some clubs that survived this raid, have also been closed due to a new law that suspend activity of all pubs/clubs/restaurants/etc situated in seismic risk buildings. I’m not saying these new laws are bad, we really don’t want this nightmare again, but artists and bands are indirectly affected... there are not too many places left to play! Usually I love to laugh (It’s one of my purposes in life). There are many many “happenings” and people that we could laugh “with” or “of” in the local music circuits. It’s just that these days was ... a little harder to do that.

What is the impact of Blues, Rock and Jazz music to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

I also question this to myself pretty often, but I’m afraid that there is no significant impact anymore. Everybody is free to express their selves, nobody is stopping them, but in the same time nobody is listening to them. But maybe I’m just young and I don’t realize. However, for the moment I’m concentrated to learn to play nice more than to analyze the political impact of the final product. It may turn some politicians heads I guess only if it’s a big sponsored product, with PR’s and all the “team” that the basic product needs, with thousands of people that agree with that project... but the chances that this would start from blues or jazz are very weak. Talking socio-cultural, Jazz is gaining more ground that Blues. Looking at the number of festivals, Blues & Jazz are on the same place.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

Allow me give two answers. First, if there would be such things as time machines, I would certainly buy one for me and go anytime anywhere I’d like, I have too many ideas! But if I’d had only one chance, for one day, I’d like to be at Woodstock ’69.

Photo by Ionut Anisca

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