NEWS/ INTERVIEW: Sam Healey wins first prize at the Johnny Raducanu Jazz Festival in Braila, Romania

Sam Healey, the trophy, and his Romanian translator

Sam Healey, alto saxophonist with Manchester band Beats and Pieces has just been to Romania and won First Prize and a cheque for €5000 in the Johnny Raducanu International Jazz Festival competition in Braila (October 10-12 2014). We interviewed him:

LondonJazz News: Congratulations Sam, first please tell us about yourself.

Sam Healey: I was born to a musical family attended Chethams, The Purcell School, and the Royal Northern College of Music, where I'm currently studying just composition, I'm also working on original material with the Sam Healey Quartet (featuring Stuart McCallum, Luke Flowers and Richard Hammond. We made our debut at Manchester Jazz Festival 2014. I also continue to play lead saxophone in Beats and Pieces Big Band and alto in Paradox Ensemble - and I play piano in a pop band.

LJN: So how does it feel to have won the competition?

SH: I'm feeling over the moon! It has been my first solo competition and so a real honour to not only win the grand prize but have the opportunity to gain experience in competitions and meet like minded musicians making connections all across Europe. (And win €5000 of course!)

LJN: What gave you the idea to enter? Did anyone tell you you might win?

SH: I was called about two months before the competition by a Romanian bass player living in Manchester called Michael Cretu. The competition is named after his uncle, the famous Romanian pianist Johnny Raducanu (1931-2011) and so he was actively seeking competitors to participate in the second year of the competition. He asked me if I would be interested and due to the high level of hospitality provided by the Romanians I agreed to participate, Michael did believe at the time of the call that Manchester has a strong selection of jazz musicians who all have the potential to be successful in the competition.

LJN: What form does the competition take?

SH: The competition was split over 3 days and is held in Braila, a town in Eastern Romania close to the Black Sea,  to coincide with the Johnny Raducanu Jazz Festival. Contestants played a 15 minute slot that required two pieces, one of which was a jazz standard, the other a composition of one's own (or of more personal repertory) or a piece by Johnny Raducanu. There was a large audience in attendance at the theatre in the Braila and the judges were hidden amongst the audience. All competitors' performances were televised live and the final results were announced in the form of a gala on the 3rd evening (Sunday).

All contestants were called to stage and certificates of participation were handed out to contestants who didn't win a prize, we were all then sent backstage. One by one contestants were called to receive one of 5 awards and perform another short set. I waited for an hour in the dressing room as each prize was called until a very fine pianist (one to watch out for) Julia Perminova 23 of Russia and myself were sat waiting. There was only best instrumentalist and grand prize left.

LJN: So then came the big moment?

SH: As everything was called out in Romanian I was only the one who did not realise I had won by process of elimination. After Julia's musical performance I was awarded grand prize and performed a 20 minute set live on TV followed by addressing the live and TV audience whom I thanked for giving me the opportunity to experience the beautiful Braila and for supporting live music and having such passion for jazz and it's continued development (€15,000 in prize money was given out overall).

LJN: What was your overall experience?

SH: With the whole competition taking place over 3 days it was hard to relax at any point, although the best part of this was how friendly all the competitors were to each other, all socialising together in the evening and making friends beyond the element of competition. It is very apparent how important music and sustaining performance are to the Romanian public, they see the importance in being able to artistically express oneself and retaining their culture and wisdom through music.

LJN: Were you a  bag of nerves?

SH: I definitely felt nervous at certain points during the completion, most of all stood on stage during announcements. With it all being in Romanian I had no clue what was going on. Overall, this experience has changed my perception of what it is to get involved in a competition. Away from the incredible opportunity to win and compete it is a different way to experience parts of Europe that I wouldn't otherwise have the chance to see, and meet such a wide selection of musicians. From music students to the director of the national big band, all in the one hotel.

LJN: How was Romania- and the food ?

SH: I'm a vegetarian, and Romania isn't the most prepared country for such things, but the willingness to try and help only added even more kudos to the wonderful Braila people who are very kind and honest. There was no pretentiousness and a noticeable lack of judgement towards anyone they meet. A refreshing people who perhaps have been, fortunately, slightly less bombarded with the anonymity of globalisation.

LJN: Congratulations!

Johnny Raducanu Festival Website (in Romanian and English) 

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