Somewhere between a rolling rock ballad and a jazz standard lies the sweet tune with punctuating percussion that is “Poate De Ce.” The trio known as JazzyBIT creates a smooth journey of a sound with cool stops and starts, after which the keys lead the melody once again.
On a recent airing of “BalconyTV” from Romania’s most populous city Cluj, JazzyBIT performed overlooking the rooftops. It seemed off-the-cuff because they’re so casual about playing, but the sound is gossamer and blues woven together; a blending that is as picturesque and lofty as their view overlooking the beautiful architecture of the city.
Bassist Mihai (“Michi”) Moldoveanu talks about JazzyBIT’s sound, the influences of rock and why they play “loud jazz.”
When did you learn bass?
I started playing bass in high school, after a few months of playing guitar. I was around 17 and I was a big rock music fan. I wanted to be able to play Metallica, Rage Against The Machine and Guano Apes songs.
What do you most like about it?
I was always attracted by the big vibration of the bass strings, and when I first tried to play bass, it somehow felt home. The size of the bass and the strings felt natural to me, and you can feel the vibration on the entire instrument. It resonates strongly. This helps me express myself, as it acts as an amplifier for the strings, so I can feel the notes even without a true amplifier. In fact, I rarely ask for my bass in stage monitors.
Who are some of your favorite contemporary jazz artists?
Snarky Puppy comes to my mind, as they succeeded in bringing jazz to a much wider audience. They play the most fun parts of jazz, which also JazzyBIT wants to do. But I am also into the more experimental, fusion side of jazz; for example the entire Nordic movement. My background is rock music, so I have no problem when jazz meets rock music. When it comes to the more traditional kind of jazz, I really dig the Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet.
Who are some early jazz artists you draw inspiration from?
Miles of course, his attitude was always an example for me. But I was also inspired by Herbie Hancock and John Coltrane.
What is the jazz scene like in Romania? Is it supportive of musicians?
There are more jazz festivals in Romania recently, but not as many clubs as before, which might be a good thing: jazz wants to get out of the club and face a larger audience.
But jazz is still a niche, so you can rarely expect over 200 people in a jazz club. In fact, most of the historic jazz clubs I got to play were really small!
How did the three of you come together?
I got to play in a local big band, where also Teodor Pop, our pianist, was invited. He always wanted to play jazz tunes in the breaks we had there, so we jammed around. Then he wanted to do a trio, and I accepted. Szabo Csongor-Zsolt, our drummer, joined us after being recommended by a mutual friend.
We have quite different personalities, but we complete each other very well, almost miraculously! Teo plays piano and always has great initiatives and wants to try so many things. Csongi plays drums and he is always looking for the steady groove, and I play bass and tie them together, after bringing in my own take on things. We get together very well.
What sound are you going for?
We just want to create a combination of what we all like to play. We have quite different musical backgrounds, which might be a little challenging sometimes, but when we start jamming, we often find fun stuff to play.
We aim for an “easier” kind of jazz, very melodic and powerful at the same time, then always with a twist you do not expect. We enjoy playing live a lot, and our live shows are often full of surprises, even for us!
What do you like about funk and fusion?
Funk makes people dance and fusion creates powerful emotions. Also, most of our audience would easily get bored of straight-ahead jazz, so we bring in the funk and the fusion to add some variety. A big part of our sound is also rock music. Our band can be very loud, and this is why we call our music “loud jazz.”
What was your tour in Korea like?
An amazing experience. The Korean audience was very open and enthusiastic to our music, which was a big surprise for us. We have never given autographs after a show for half an hour! It was also very interesting to see the social and cultural differences between the two countries and continents. The people were very friendly and treated us very well. In fact, every jazz fan should attend the Jarasum Jazz Festival at some point, it is incredible to see 120,000 jazz fans in one place!
How do you get your ideas?
This often comes while just jamming at home. Most ideas we find on our own, and bring them in the band as simple ideas, which we work on in our rehearsal space. We are usually very picky, so only the best stuff becomes a final song.
Do you all compose?
Yes! But Teo brings in most of the songs. Csongi and I only composed a few songs, but we always arrange them together. Bringing a song from the initial idea to its final form is the actual work which belongs to all of us, and only happens in the rehearsal room.
What is “Remember” about?
It is about remembering the beautiful things of life. We always think about the song when we achieve something new or nice for us. We will certainly remember these moments all our life, and this song resembles that feeling.
How would you describe the different tracks in “Horizon”?
We stepped a bit away from the Latin jazz influences that were in our first record “Touch the Sky”, so “Horizon” was about trying something new. Some tracks are very different, but they all represent our band in that time. We are very proud of the record and we still play most of the songs in our live shows.
What was it like to produce and record it?
We rehearsed a lot! We played the record twice on every rehearsal, from start to end. We did this about 16 times! We wanted to be in top form and very prepared before entering the studio, which was a good choice.
As far producing, we did not produce it that much. Basically the record is our songs recorded live, and only a bit of polishing them. What you hear live at our concerts is the record as it is on the CD. But the energy comes from having the band in front of you and not on a CD or YouTube. This is the case with many bands, so please go see live shows!
What is the biggest challenge in being professional musicians?
Puzzling it all together: rehearsals, concerts, travels, our day jobs (!) and our private lives. Running a band can be a full-time job, and all three of us have full-time day jobs, so we have to piece it all together. It works out so far, but it also involves some sacrifices, which we do not regret doing at all. JazzyBIT brought us many fantastic memories, and we got to see amazing places and meet amazing people.
What do audiences ask you most about the music?
People often ask us how we compose or how often we rehearse. Very often people tell us that they don’t listen to jazz, but that they loved our band. This is a big achievement for us, as one of our goals is to bring jazz to a wider audience.
Do you feel jazz is going off into a new direction?
Jazz has its constant evolution since the very beginnings, and this is the beauty of it. Jazz always reinvents itself, while being the expression of freedom. It is incredible how so many bands play variations of jazz, and people always magically relate it to jazz, even if none of its key elements are present. It has an unmistakable vibe of its own.
Why do you enjoy performing as an ensemble?
A band can be as powerful as its parts combined, and as sensible as each part individually. We always love playing live, and we think this is the biggest statement we can make.
How does the first CD compare with the new CD?
Our first record “Touch the Sky” is much more Latin jazz-oriented, as we were still trying to find our own sound. We released the record after less than two years since we started playing, so it represents our earliest influences and attempts.
But most of our hits are from the first record “Curaçao”, “Story of the Heart” and “Poate De Ce”. Also, we intended our first album as a “business card,” because many promoters asked us for a CD. Meanwhile we reprinted it twice, selling around 750 copies in two years, and the album sold out almost two years ago!
How did it feel to win two awards in 2014?
Unexpected! We never expected to win awards, or play at such amazing festivals and venues that we got the chance to in our first years. It feels great to see that people love what we do, while we do what we love.
What are your plans for touring and performing in 2018?
2017 was pretty full for us, with almost 50 concerts, from which almost 15 were abroad, on two continents. We dedicate all of 2018 to touring and performing, and we want to play abroad as much as possible.
What country and what festival would you most like to play?
The Jarasum Jazz Festival in South Korea was an amazing experience and we would love to return there anytime. But the Sziget Festival in Hungary and the Vilnius Mama Jazz Festival in Lithuania are amazing too. Performing in Vienna always had amazing audiences too!
How is your new CD doing?
Still cooking, as we did not have enough time last year to compose. We have a few songs started, but not in playable condition. One new song we’ve played live for a while and it will be included in the next record for sure. We were taken by surprise by the number of concerts in 2017, that is why we did not compose as much as wanted. But now we’re getting back to the rehearsal room in order to work on some new material.
What do you want people to know about the band that they do not yet know?
Teo loves pork ribs, Michi hates Christmas carols and Csongi just got a driving license.
Future plans to market yourselves?
We will continue to add live videos on YouTube just like “The Alt Club Sessions” as we got great feedback on those, and many people discovered the band that way. Also, the best way to market ourselves is by playing live as much as we can.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of JazzyBIT.
© Debbie Burke 2018