Gheorghe Zamfir (Romanian pronunciation: ˈɡe̯orɡe zamˈfir; born April 6, 1941) is a Romanian pan flute musician.
Zamfir is known for playing an expanded version of the traditional Romanian-style pan flute (nai) of 20 pipes to 22, 25, 28 and 30 pipes to increase its range, and obtaining as many as eight overtones (additionally to the fundamental tone) from each pipe by changing the embouchure.
He is arguably known as "The Master of the Pan Flute" (see Criticism).
Zamfir came to the public eye when he was approached by Swiss ethnomusicologist Marcel Cellier, who extensively researched Romanian folk music in the 1960s. The composer Vladimir Cosma brought Zamfir with his pan flute to Western European countries for the first time in 1972 as the soloist in Cosma's original music for the movie Le grand blond avec une chaussure noire. This was very successful, and since then, he has been used as soloist in movie soundtracks by composers Francis Lai, Ennio Morricone and many others. Largely through television commercials where he was billed as "Zamfir, Master of the pan Flute", he introduced the folk instrument to a modern audience and revived it from obscurity.
In 1966, Zamfir was appointed conductor of the "Ciocîrlia Orchestra", one of the most prestigious state ensembles of Romania, destined for concert tours abroad. This created the opportunity for composition and arranging. In 1969, he left Ciocîrlia and started his own small band (taraf) and in 1970 he had his first longer term contract in Paris. Zamfir discovered the much greater freedom for artistic adventure. His taraf consisted of: Ion Drăgoi (violin), Ion Lăceanu (flutes), Dumitru Fărcaș (tarogato), Petre Vidrean (double bass) and Tony Iordache (cymbalum). This taraf made some excellent recordings (CD Zamfir a Paris). He changed the composition of the band soon after: Efta Botoca (violin), Marin Chisar (flutes), Dorin Ciobaru and Pavel Cebzan (clarinet and tarogato), Petre Vidrean (bass) and Pantelimon Stînga (cymbalum). It is said that this change was made to increase the command of Zamfir and have more artistic freedom. Lăceanu, Drăgoi and Iordache were mature musical personalities. A turning point was the recording of Zamfir's composition "Messe pour la Paix" (Philips). His taraf joined a choir and a symphonic orchestra. This was evidence of the growing ambition. While the Philips recordings of that time were rather conservative, Zamfir preached revolution in the concert halls with daring performances. Some say that this short period was the highlight of his career. In 1979, he recorded "the Lonely Shepherd" with James Last. Zamfir put himself on the world map and since then his career became highly varied, hovering over classical repertoire, easy listening and pop music.
Zamfir's big break in the English-speaking world came when the BBC religious television programme "The Light of Experience" adopted his recording of "Doina De Jale", a traditional Romanian funeral song, as its theme. Popular demand forced Epic Records to release the tune as a single in 1976, and it climbed to number four on the UK charts. It would prove to be his only UK hit single, but it helped pave the way for a consistent stream of album sales in Britain. His song "Summer Love" reached number 9 in South Africa in November 1976.
After nearly a decade-long absence, Zamfir returned to Canada in January 2006 for a seven-city tour with the Traffic Strings quintet. The program included a world premiere of Vivaldi's Four Seasons for PanFlute and string quintet arranged by Lucian Moraru, jazz standards, and well-known favourites.
In 2009, Zamfir was sampled by Animal Collective in the song "Graze" on their EP Fall Be Kind.
In 2012, Zamfir performed at the opening ceremony of the 11th Conference of Parties to the Ramsar Convention at the Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest, Romania.
One of his most notable contributions was to the soundtrack for the classic Australian film Picnic at Hanging Rock. His first appearance in 1972 as soloist interpreter in a movie soundtrack was in Vladimir Cosma's "Le grand blond avec une chaussure noire" with a very famous and successful melody known all over the world. His music has also been heard on the soundtracks of many Hollywood movies. He was asked by Ennio Morricone to perform the pieces "Childhood Memories" and "Cockeye's Song" for the soundtrack of Sergio Leone's 1984 gangster film Once Upon a Time in America. His performance can be heard throughout the 1984 film The Karate Kid, and his piece "The Lonely Shepherd", recorded with the James Last Orchestra, was the theme from the 1979 television series 'Golden Soak', a British/German/Australian co-production. It is also featured in Quentin Tarantino's film Kill Bill Vol. 1. The melody "The Lonely Shepherd" was written by James Last and first released on his album "Memories from Russia", released 1977 (Polydor Germany 2371 856), which also featured Zamfir on the track "Nadjenka". The panflute was played by Gheorghe Zamfir, who had a contract with the Philips record company. An agreement was made that Philips could release "The lonely shepherd" as a single (45 rpm) on the Philips label.
His song Frunzuliță Lemn Adus Cântec De Nuntă (Fluttering Green Leaves Wedding Song) appears in the Studio Ghibli film Only Yesterday.
Although Zamfir is considered the most important person to popularize the pan flute worldwide his personality often put him in disputes with other pan flute players such as Dalila Cernătescu, Simion Stanciu or Damian Draghici.
Zamfir was born in Găeşti, Romania on April 6, 1941. Although initially interested in becoming an accordionist, at the age of 14 he began his pan flute studies with Fănică Luca at the Special Musical School no. 1 in Bucharest. Later he attended the Ciprian Porumbescu Conservatory. He currently resides and teaches pan flute in Bucharest. His son, Emmanuel Teodor (who resides in Montreal, Canada), is also a drummer/musician.
Zamfir has written an instructional book, Traitė Du Naï Roumain: méthode de flûte de pan, Paris: Chappell S.A., 1975, ISBN 88-8291-286-8, and an autobiography Binecuvântare şi blestem ("Blessing and Curse"), Arad: Mirador, 2000, ISBN 973-9284-56-6.