Interview with Răzvan Scurtu of Smida Jazz Festival

Amongst the many brilliant jazz festivals around Europe, there are those that stick out as being extra special in terms of where they’re happening.

Smida Jazz in Romania is one of these.

Built out of nothing each year, it takes place in a small village in the heart of Apuseni Nature Park (home to more than 1500 caves!) with a programme which features a range of contemporary/avant garde/fusion jazz.

For this interview, we talked to festival director Rāzvan Scurtu whose job is to oversee the running of the festival, from conception to the main event each summer.

You can read his answers below, but first a couple of nice takeaways:

  • On programming: “the objective is to offer something that’s considered a quite unique experience”
    Can you (as a self-booking musician) convey in just a few words in your pitching email not just the style of your music but the overall ‘vibe’ that it will contribute to a festival? “Watch this video” tends to be the best way to do that!
  • On showcases: “make a plan in advance”
    Every performance or event is an opportunity but those that come prepared – researching participants, bringing promo materials, arranging meetings – tend to get loads more out of it.
  •  The qualities of a booking agent that artists should try to replicate: “patience and perseverance”
    Of course it’s easier for agents as they’re not putting their artistic vision out there to be rejected, but if you can break through that and persevere enough to get answers from promoters and journalists, you will almost certainly see better results in the long term!

Smida Jazz Festival is open air in the middle of nature at the height of 1100 metres. What are additional obstacles does this bring to the organisation? 

First of all, the production and logistics of the festival.

With every edition, we have to build the festival from scratch and after, to leave almost no trace of it.

The infrastructure is quite nonexistent in that area and we have to rely on our resources for most of it.

The limited accommodation options are another challenge as it’s not easy to meet even our internal needs for the artists, the team, not mentioning the participants who are requesting more and more locations to spend the nights close to the festival site. 

We’re building a camping site, next to the festival, trying to offer a really good experience for the public, with hot showers and almost everything needed.

There’s a really nice and friendly atmosphere in the camping and most of the participants are choosing this way of experiencing the festival.

The plan is to add more accommodation options for the public and to make it better.

What does a typical day look like 9 months before the festival? How does that compare to 3 months before?

The 9 months before the festival time frame is dedicated mostly to planning, for discussions with partners and building the line up.

With 3 months before the festival I’m more focused on the production of the site, ticket sales and other operational things.

The pace is becoming more and more alert as the festival approaches, as it’s usually the case with most of the festivals and events, I guess. 

Do you take ideas – formally or informally – from other festivals in Europe?

Sure, it helps and it’s something I’m always trying to look out.

Going to festivals and following what they’re doing it’s part of the job.

The objective is to offer something that’s considered a quite unique experience by the participants so I try to be as informed as possible. 

What makes a great festival, in your opinion?

Depends on what perspective we’re looking from.

From the public’s perspective, I think a great experience overall matters the most.

The location, atmosphere, the quality of the concerts matters but also how the toilets are, the quality and the price of the food, the bars also matters a lot.

What’s your opinion of showcases as a way of ‘discovering’ new bands to book? 

I think it helps, as most of the audience going to the showcases is made of people from the industry, interested in listening and discovering new bands.

As an advice for the artists playing at showcases: make a plan in advance, have a look at who from the industry will be attending, send an email to some people you think they’re more interested in your music.

It’s an opportunity for the artists that it’s good to be approached very seriously.

What ‘qualities’ do booking agents have that musicians should copy when booking themselves?

I can speak from my experience working in the past as an agent for some bands but also from how I manage booking artists for Smida Jazz.

It helps to have patience and perseverance as sometimes it takes time to find the proper moment to book a band.

Also, don’t take the lack of an answer to a booking offer you send as a no, keep following back, especially when you have any news about your music.

Study a little bit about the festival or the venue you want to play at to be able to identify some interests and be concise with the offer. 

How does an unknown band get onto your radar?

There are several ways.

I’m always looking for and searching for new and interesting young artists as I want to have those kinds of bands playing at Smida Jazz Festival.

If it fits the concept of the festival and has a really good live performance, that band will be on my list of interests.

It happens to discover really good unknown bands from offers received, articles, other festivals line-ups, Spotify playlists or recommendations from people I know.

How would you describe the Romanian jazz scene for someone who is not familiar with it?

It’s a small one but let’s say it’s been growing in the last few years.

The jazz festivals we have now are helping the scene over the summer and I think there’s a decent number of them by now.

But the indoor scene is quite small as there aren’t many places you can play indoors and so it’s a little bit hard to build a proper tour around here.

Also, there’s a lack of young bands playing jazz. 

Which local jazz magazines or blogs are useful for getting to know this scene?

Sadly, I can’t mention one jazz magazine or blog covering the scene.

There were some initiatives in the past but not existing anymore as far as I know.

The press and media coverage of the jazz scene is quite reduced, probably in accordance with the dimension of the scene as a whole.

Even though, usually are articles covering events and festivals happening or jazz albums reviews from outlets with broader content and audience like Sunete Magazine or Dilema Veche, most of them in Romanian.

Considering festival dates are fixed, how important is it to you that an artist has an album release around the period that you would book them? 

Usually, it helps, especially if there’s a marketing and press campaign associated with the release, that builds interest.

It also helps when that artist who releases played before here in Romania and we can have any news to communicate about this new concert or the performance is different from the previous one.

Big thanks to Rāzvan for taking the time to answer these questions and share yet another insight on booking gigs from the perspective of a promoter! 

You can discover more about the programming and ethos of Smida Jazz Festival via their website or social media profiles

You can check out the other 50+ Jazz Interviews here.

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