Born: November Primary Instrument: Piano
Born in Romania the 1st of December 1931 in Braila, Johnny Raducanu is descended from a long line of Gypsy musicians. At the age of 8, he starts playing the piano with one of his brothers. A year later, he knows the first Czerny notebook by heart, and gets a grant for the academy of music of his native town.
During his young years, he discovers on his older brothers’ gramophone « Caravan » and « Prelude to a kiss » by Duke Ellington. Jazz is a revelation, even if at that time Johnny believes that « Jazz » is the name of an artist, and not that of a musical trend. A premonition perhaps, given that 20 years later, the so-called Duke Ellington nicknamed him “Mister Jazz of Romania”, during a performance in Bucharest.
The war begins, his father and brothers leave for the front. At 10, he lights up officers’ dance with an accordion to help his family. At the same time, he carries on his piano studies and gets his first two working contracts: the first one in a Jazz Club (where he plays music from Rogers, Gershwin, Col Porter or Charles Trenet), the second, as test pianist in a music shop. The repertoire of the young wonder is wide: sonatina from Mozart and Beethoven to trendy ragtime. Step by step, Johnny builds his reputation among the city’s music-loving and is invited in private parties of the local bourgeoisie. The pleasure to play live often is a better reward than that of a fee.
At 19, in 1950, he joins the music academy of Bucharest, where he piles up subjects: chamber music, harmony and above all bass, the instrument of a long family tradition. He is fired three years after, for refusing to have his exam of military strategy. At that time, advanced studies, whatever the subject, included a military training sanctioned by an exam. Summoned by the dean, he hears him say « You can play like Paganini with your bass, if you don’t take the exam, you will be dismissed », he answers: « I applied to the music academy to study music, not to become a soldier. If this exam is compulsory, I’ll be a musician, without a degree». He then drops his studies and become studio musician for Electrecord (the only music publishing house of the communist Romania). In 1957, he take his revenge over the music academy. The Culture Ministry asks him to represent the country for the Youth Festival of Moscow, but Johnny needs to be a student. Whatever, the minister enrolls him immediately to secure his appearance. He plays in Moscow with I. Körössy at the piano and P. Osadici at the battery. The trio is noticed by the accordionist Marcel Azola (Michel Legrand’s father), chairman of the panel of judges, who awards them the gold medal. He asks Johnny where in the States he learned Jazz, Johnny answers: « I have never been there».
From the 50’s, Johnny will keep a total devoutness for his art, described by the composer Pascal Bentoiu : « In Johnny lives Jazz, Johnny is jazz ». Johnny plays with passion in the different jazz bands and clubs before their closure by the communist power. The government imposes his censorship and exclude words music: a godsend for our musician, who can introduce without barriers instrumental jazz in the intellectual groups of the country. Thanks to this, he records in 1966 one of the first Romanian jazz discs: “Jazz in Trio”.
At the end of the 60’s, sunnier climes give him the opportunity to meet his idols: Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, during a tour in Eastern Europe organised by the US State Department. After playing bass standards for years, he introduces this instrument as solo in Romanian jazz. He then turns towards composition and naturally comes back to piano. He gives his last bass concert in 1977and sells his instrument to buy a ticket to Paris, where he wanted to get drunk with the beauty of the city of lights, as described by his father.
Johnny comes back in his country and develops his art, by creating his own style. A peculiarity described by his contemporary: « His pieces are varied, ballad like, sometimes dramatic, nostalgic or intensely suggestive… » - Edgar Elian (composer)
« Each artist has, on top of what is implied, ie the feeling and the swing, another side in which he shines. Art Tatum sublimes the rhythmic, Armstrong the tone • vocal or instrumental • Ellington the thematic inventiveness. For Johnny, this talent is harmony. For him the colour is not the tone, but almost exclusively harmonic. Inventive, unpredictable, sometimes peculiar.» - Pascal Bentoiu (compositer).
An oddness emphasized by the actor Ion Caramitru who says about Johnny « one can always envy a talent beyond conventions».
Unquestionably opposed to the communist power, Johnny Raducanu defends, in 1984, the Romanian intellectuals put under house arrest in the city of Tescani. Enlightened by the turmoil of the place and inspired by the city of the composer Enesco, he composes one of his most famous pieces « Tescani ‘84 », a tribute to the rebels.
The talent of Johnny Raducanu spreads abroad. The pianist takes part in numerous festivals, concerts and tours in Europe and in the United States. His fame build in the Jazz world, the American Library of Bucharest finds in him a wonderful cultural ambassador, and takes him under his wing. It finances his trips to the US in the 80’s. These trips allow him to play in mythical Jazz locations such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, New York or New Orleans, where he is awarded in 1987 an honorary membership of the Louis Armstrong Academy.
His collaborations in the world of Jazz (he recorded with Art Farmer, Frederich Gulda, Slide Hampton or Barney Kessel) and his unquestionable talent makes him the musical reference of Romania. The Romanian president awards him the « Medal of Honour», one of the highest distinction of the country. While receiving it, Johnny asks the president which use he could have of it. The president answers that the army will fire three honour volleys the day of his funeral. Thoughtful, Johnny fires back: « And do you think I will hear them Mister President ? »
The 1st of April 2005 he receives the « Price of Excellence », one of the most famous awards given by the Union of Romanian Composers. Once again, Johnny drops a word for the audience: « I thank my colleagues for this distinction, but I mostly thank God, because this price of excellence, I already received it in my mother’s womb. »
During his musical career, Johnny Raducanu not only tried to promote his art, but also passed on his passion for music to the young generation. He creates the Romanian Jazz school by training a great part of his elite.: Ion Baciu Jr, Ionut Dorobantu or Theodora Enache. He chairs the Romanian Jazz Federation. Generous and passionate, his philosophy can be summarized by: « The signification of art, for the musician I am, is to give all the music I have in my heart to the public. »
Johnny Raducanu can be applauded all the year long at « Làptària lui Ena-che », the trendiest bar of Bucharest, located on the roof of the National Theatre of the Romanian capital. The pianist lives in a modest 30 square-feet studio flat on the 7th floor of his building. He surrounds his piano with scarves and towels to play at will without bothering his neighbours. The latter are very well-intentioned with their famous neighbour: one day, when a visitor, trapped in the elevator, slammed its door while exiting it, a neighbour lectured him: « Keep quite, Johnny is playing… » 4 years ago, Johnny Raducanu celebrated his 70th birthday, and published his memoirs: « Loneliness…my job» (Regent House Printing & Publishing, 2002).
Today, after a 50 years long career, at the acme of life rich in events, during which he expressed his dreams, his yells, his envies in his music, Johnny choose Paris to record his new album. A character to be discovered in his new CD…