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Interviews

WartaJazz.com: An Indonesian Jazz Mission

By Published: August 11, 2010
"That gave me a chance to visit some prestigious festivals like the Vancouver Jazz Festival, the Chicago Blues Festival and the Toronto Jazz festival and a few others," he said. "It was also a chance to meet some guys like Ron Davis
Ron Davis
Ron Davis

piano
, John Scofield
John Scofield
John Scofield
b.1951
guitar
, Bill Stewart
Bill Stewart
Bill Stewart
b.1966
drums
, and many others.

Jazz for Aceh benefit concert

"I invited the Ron Davis Trio, featuring Daniela Nardi, to the Bali International Jazz Festival and the Eero Koivistoinen
Eero Koivistoinen
Eero Koivistoinen
b.1946
reeds
Trio from Finland, as well as some guys from Japan, Australia, and well, pretty much all around the world," Setiawan said. "I also invited Rudresh Mahanthappa
Rudresh Mahanthappa
Rudresh Mahanthappa
b.1971
sax, alto
, who at that time was voted best up and coming saxophonist by Down Beat Magazine. That connected us with AllAboutJazz.com —a guy from the U.S. came to cover the festival."

The following year, encouraged by the success of Krakatau's North American tour, WartaJazz.com toured Europe with the band, with gigs in Italy, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Spain.

There is an almost missionary streak in Setiawan as he seeks to extend the reach of jazz via WartaJazz.com's ever-increasing circles of influence, but it is faith of a very altruistic nature. The music and the musicians come first, the aim is to connect the music with as many people as possible, and any financial benefits that arise are almost seen as a bonus.

Whenever natural disasters have struck Indonesia, something to which the country is highly prone, WartJazz.com has responded in the way it knows best, by staging jazz benefit concerts. Jazz for Aceh followed the unimaginable devastation wrought by the tsunami of 2004 which killed over 200,000 people. For that event, WartaJazz.com brought together more than 100 Indonesian jazz musicians, a musical happening without precedent in Indonesia.

In 2006, following the minute-long earthquake in Jogjakarta in which more than 5,000 people died, WartaJazz.com staged a benefit concert called Jazz for Jogja, and in the aftermath of yet another earthquake, this time in West Java, WartaJazz.com was there to contribute, staging a benefit concert of jazz music.

Setiawan is an impressive jazz historian, well versed with the story of this music and its practitioners, from its earliest roots in America through its adoption in Europe and Asia. In Indonesia, too, jazz has a long, though little known, history. Prior to independence in 1945, Indonesia had been an important economic outpost and effectively a colony of the Dutch for many years. Prior to independence, Indonesia was generally considered to stretch from Aceh to Papua, and it was during the 1920s that jazz first found its way to the archipelago. The Dutch transported jazz to their colony on LPs and 7-inch singles, though obviously the number of people given exposure to this music was small.

There was evidently something of a jazz scene in the capital Batavia—the old name for Jakarta, Setiawan said.

"We had a very strong relationship with the Dutch Cultural Centre; one of the teachers in the Royal Conservatory in Rotterdam, if I'm not mistaken, Peter Ypma, a Dutch jazz musician who was born in West Java, gave us a book Batavia: Swinging Town! 1922-1949 (Den Haag, 1987) by Allard J.M. Moeller. What happened after that time until 1968 nobody knows; jazz was known to a very limited number of people in terms of its history."

Plugging the gap in the lost history of jazz post-WWII in Indonesia is important to those at WartaJazz.com, and the group is working to publish a book in 2011 tracing this lost history, completing the picture of the history of jazz in Indonesia from the 1920s until the present day.

One person who was certainly connected to jazz fans in Indonesia in these years was Willis Conover and the Voice of America. He aired the Indonesian pianist Bubi Chen's album Bubi Chen with Strings (Lokanata, 1958) on the Voice of America, describing him as the best pianist in Asia in 1960.

Art Tatum
Art Tatum
Art Tatum
1909 - 1956
piano
of the East by Down Beat Magazine in the '60s. Bubi Chen is considered as a living legend in Indonesia; he has done a lot for Indonesian jazz. At the last Java Jazz festival, people queued for two hours to get in and see him perform. He performed in a wheelchair; he's the most respected jazz musician in Indonesia."

Chen may be known to Indonesian jazz aficionados, but he and many other jazz musicians remain little known to the wider population. WartaJazz.com sees a way around this.

"Well, nobody is asking the question, so WartaJazz.com pretends that somebody is asking the question, and then we explain," Setiawan said. "That's how our method works. The people start asking how can I get this record? How can I hear this music?"

One way that people can hear the music is through the network of radio stations criss- crossing Indonesia. Inevitably, WartaJazz.com has already thought of this.


Teak Leaves at the Temple concert, Prambanan temple, Yogyakarta


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