WartaJazz.com: An Indonesian Jazz Mission


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In his book The Miracle: The Epic Story of Asia's Quest for Wealth (HarperCollins, 2009), Michael Schuman writes, "In little more than a generation, Asia has emerged from centuries of stagnation to become the rising force of the global economy—a transformation so spectacular that some have called it a miracle."

WartaJazz.com founders in 2001, from left: Ajie Wartono Ceto Mundiarso, Agus Setiawan and Kushindarto

Given the sheer number of people—over 4 billion—the booming economies and important social changes, it is not so farfetched when Agus Setiawan, of WartaJazz.com, declares, "The next big thing for jazz is Asia."

Certainly it would appear that there is a growing appetite for the music. Jazz festivals are popping up all over the place and the two largest, Java Jazz Festival in Indonesia and Jarasum Jazz Festival in Korea, draw crowds of 100,000 and 150,000 respectively. An increasing number of exciting Asian bands are emerging, perhaps encouraged by the freedom to record independently that modern technology has brought within reach of so many.

The largest, most populated continent in the world is also welcoming jazz musicians from Europe and America. Although the highly appreciative and knowledgeable crowds in Japan have long been a magnet for jazz musicians, traditionally receiving them with a reverence more usually accorded classical musicians, American and European jazz musicians are increasingly touring more widely in Asia. It is no longer a surprise to check out a musician's tour schedule and find dates in China, Malaysia, Thailand, Korea or Indonesia.

WartaJazz.com, the most active organ for the promotion of Indonesian jazz both at home and abroad—and jazz in general—has played a significant part in the recent development of jazz in Indonesia. Celebrating 10 years as one of the most dynamic, innovative organizations on the jazz scene anywhere in Asia, the story of WartaJazz.com is an inspiring one, for in it lies the truth that jazz is a living, evolving entity—and one with a very promising future. And if Setiawan and WartaJazz.com have their way, Jakarta could yet become the future world capital of jazz music. An impossible dream? Perhaps, but one that WartaJazz.com aspires to, and, as its colorful history shows, with motivated people and determination, almost anything is possible.

The roots of WartJazz.com go back to 1996, when WartaJazz was launched as a monthly publication. The idea was that of a group of friends from the Jazz Society of Jogjakarta, Ajie Wartono and Ceto Mundiarso, who were soon joined by fellow jazz fan Agus Setiawan, who suggested they take the idea a step further by making an online edition of the paper.

Nobody jumped at the idea initially, as Setiawan recalls.

"This was back in 1996—at that time nobody knew what Internet was all about and how the system worked," he said. "The idea just remained an idea for a while, with nobody doing anything about it. It stayed like that until early 2000, when I had just come back from Pittsburgh where I'd been to the jazz festival, and I thought why don't we seriously put everything together and call ourselves WartaJazz.com. and mention .'com' every time we meet people?"

With all in agreement, Setiawan spent a couple of months researching branding and thinking about the contents. Finally, on Aug. 8, 2000, WartaJazz.com was up with articles contributed by Setiawan, Wartono and Mundiarso. It wasn't a runaway success at first.

"For the first while, the site was only accessed by five people, which was obviously us three—and two other people," recalls Setiawan, laughing. Ten years on and the site receives 30,000—60,000 visits per month. But that's just the beginning of the story.

Ask Setiawn what WartaJazz.com does and he says, "We do everything as related to jazz. Anything connected to jazz, that's where we are. Our mission is to introduce jazz to as many people as possible."

Setiawan talks with the precision and clarity of purpose of the most dedicated of professionals but it was very much a hobby for all concerned. That is, until a turning point came only a few months after WartJazz.com was launched.

Returning to Jakarta from his family village after Ramadan, Setiawan was surprised to find a note waiting for him from the local post office asking him to stop in. Curious as to what it could be about, Setiawan went straight away to find a bag waiting for him containing 150 CDs from around the world from musicians seeking reviews at WartJazz.com. It was a defining moment for Setiawan.

"That was the time I said to Ajie and Ceto, 'man, this is a really serious business,'" he said. "From that moment, we decided to take this hobby and treat it in a professional way. Now in our catalog we have about 15,000 CDs."

At the end of 2000, the three pioneers became four when they were joined by photographer Kushindarto. "He told us our photographs were terrible," laughs Setiawan, "so he joined the team."

WartJazz.com certainly has taken the business seriously since then, realizing one goal after another.

"Year after year, our history grew," Setiawan said. "We wanted to do a concert ... we did it. We wanted to have a radio station ... we have it. We wanted to have a jazz festival ... we did it. We wanted to make a jazz documentary ... we did it. We wanted to release CDs ... we did it. We wanted to have a photo exhibition ... we did it last year.

"We've covered most of the aspects of jazz, from managing artists to putting on festivals, doing interviews, arranging press conferences—we've done all that," he added.

And that list doesn't include the group's production of high-quality merchandise, web design for other jazz festivals, booking Indonesian bands around North America, and a forthcoming book publication.

Nonetheless, WartaJazz.com still has plenty of unrealized goals, and like all the others thus far, obstacles do not stand in the way—they are stepping stones on the way to fulfillment.

"We still have a dream which we want to do in the very near future," enthuses Setiawan, "which is to have an Indonesian Jazz Meeting, and promote jazz to Indonesian people, learning from everybody like obviously IAJE, and Jazz Ahead in Germany. We want to bring something very good to Indonesian people and also for the world of jazz. We want to make this music as accessible as possible."

Bringing the music to the people is at the core of everything WartaJazz.com does. In 2003, the group toured Indonesia with an Indonesian band called Cherokee. Although no one in WartaJazz.com had any previous experience managing a tour, it was a resounding success and paved the way for more tours to follow. From early on WartJazz.com has also brought international jazz acts to Indonesia. In 2001, it promoted Spanish improvisational group Zip Zap in Jakarta.

The musical events WartaJazz.com promotes often have a "one-time only" character, uniting international and Indonesian musicians to explore music together. In 2003, WartaJazz.com produced Jazz Meets Gamelan, which brought together Swiss jazz trio Podjama with gamelan (music performed on a group of traditional instruments found in Bali and Java) masters. In 2005, WartaJazz.com did a project with the Goethe Institute called Pata Java, a collaboration between Djaduk Ferianto's Kua Ethnika and Norbert Stein's Pata Masters from Koln, Germany. The collaborative project toured three cities in Indonesia and went into the studio to produce a recording.

The desire to stage a jazz festival was realized in 2005, when the Bali International Jazz Festival was launched—although its timing, coming only two months after two tragic bombing attacks killed 20 people, meant it was doomed from the start.

"Obviously everybody knew that the festival couldn't continue after that, though the hope is to re-launch the festival in the future," Setiawan said.

Undeterred, WartaJazz.com has been involved in running jazz festivals throughout Indonesia, providing its expertise in the production side, in festival programming and promotion. One notable example is Jazz Goes to Campus, held at the University of Indonesia in Depok, West Java.

"Jazz on Campus started in '78," Setiawan explained. "It's 100 percent organized by Indonesian students. They have had some international names like Bob James and Dave Kosta, but it's mostly Indonesian artists like Syaharani and Bubi Chen.

"It's held around the end of November," he added. "This year, 25,000 are students expected to attend. The audience is 90 percent students and it's the only jazz festival in the world managed 100 percent by students, attended mostly by students and this legacy is passed on year after year. It's one of the oldest festivals in Indonesia."

The latest of festival ventures involving WartaJazz.com is Jazz Gunung, a one-day jazz festival held in the mountains of East Java at more than 2,000 meters above sea level, in an area of active, smoking volcanoes and spectacular volcanic terrain.

Jazz Gunung, 2010

Collaborations have unfolded, too, with Indonesian-based cultural centers in France, Italy and Holland, as well as the embassies of Portugal, Finland and Norway, among others. As a significant on-line presence in Indonesia WartaJazz.com has been the official online partner for a range of artists from David Benoit to Level 42.

The promotion of home-grown jazz artists is not restricted to Indonesia, and the first international tour promoting a gamelan-jazz fusion band, Krakatau, took place in 2004, with a tour of North America and Canada. It was an important move in more ways than one, Setiawan said.

"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, John Scofield, Bill Stewart, 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 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, 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 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

"We've been working with around 70 radio stations across Indonesia," Setiawan explains. "We provide music and programs for them."

In addition to radio and publishing WartaJazz.com has also ventured into film production, partnering Toni Hauswith and Winston Marsh to make Teak Leaves at the Temple. "We did a documentary jazz movie in three temples—nobody has done that before. A movie in a temple—yes, but not jazz," Setiawan says proudly. The film, which played at international film festivals around the world, features Swiss improvising musicians, pianist Guerino Mazzola, percussionist Heinz Geisser and legendary American free-jazz bassist Sirone.

The film features the group playing free jazz against the backdrop of some the world's most spectacular temple structures—the 8th century Buddhist temple Borobudur; Prambanan, the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia; and Boko in the mountains of Yogyakarta, joined by the Indonesian group Soni Seni Ensemble, as well as dancers.

"That was in August 2006," continues Setiawan. "We did it with a famous Indonesian director who is now appearing at many international film festivals; his name is Garin Nugroho."

It seems that there is no limit to the range of activities that WartaJazz.com is involved in, in its mission to promote jazz. "We do pretty much everything, but we want to move on," asserts Setiawan.

But what of jazz in Indonesia today? Setiawan is in no doubt.

"I would say it's in a very healthy state," he said. "Many things have changed in the last decade or two. Festivals have become commonplace; we used to have one festival for the whole country and now we have more than 10 festivals. There are a lot of talented young musicians now able to record their music independently and we support them not just by promoting them on the website but by actively promoting them at any festivals, mentioning their names.

"The Indonesian Jazz Meeting will give musicians like these a chance to be known to international jazz journalists and promote themselves to festivals," Setiawan added. "WartaJazz.com also sells their CDs at our website and we have more than 100 CDs in our catalog right now. We want to expand this service even more and give more exposure to Indonesian jazz musicians."

One example of the way WartaJazz.com helps promote Indonesian artists at home can be seen with Boi Akih, a duo, sometimes trio led by singer Monika Akihary and guitarist Niels Brouwer.

"Boi Akhi's album Lagu Lagu (Enja Records, 2005) was released on the Enja label but in Europe it costs about 25 Euros, which is not affordable for Indonesia," Setiawan said. "It doesn't make any sense to import that. So, we came up with the idea to do our own version on our label, but to expand the liner notes in Indonesian Bahasa [the official language of Indonesia]."

The result is a beautifully packaged CD with extensive liner notes at an affordable price for Indonesian consumers.

Although WartaJazz.com sell a considerable number of T-shirts, baseball caps and other merchandise at a big event like the Java Jazz Festival, the prime motivation for Setiawan is not to make money but to spread the name of jazz and its practitioners.

"We can support musicians not just by selling their music and supporting their music at our website and on our radio show, but in other ways too, and we will keep doing it in whatever way we can," he said.

When David Murray's Black Saints Quartet played the first night of two concerts at the 2010 edition of the Java Jazz festival only a few hundred people turned up to watch. WartaJazz.com decided to put Murray on the front page of its printed publication—a project completely independent of the festival but designed, of course, to promote the music featured at the festival—before the band's second concert.

"The concert was packed," Setiawan recalled, enthusiastically. "David Murray and his manager were both surprised and wondered what was happening. When I went backstage and I gave them the printed edition of WartaJazz newspaper to them, the manager and David Murray immediately hugged me. 'Man, you did it!' they said. This is something I really like in the jazz family—promoting everybody, and everybody benefiting from what we do."

Although Java Jazz has mostly staged smooth jazz, easy-listening jazz and fusion jazz of the lighter kind, as well as a heavy dose of pop music in its 10-year history, there are signs that its programming is getting a little more adventurous. In recent years, the SFJAZZ Collective, Christian McBride, David Murray and Roberta Gambarini have all been invited to perform.

At the Prambanan temple, Yogyakarta from left: Agus, Ajie, Ceto and Darto

"There are 1,500 performers on 21 stages and 100,000 people, from 15-years-old listening to jazz, whatever type of jazz it is, whether it's pop-jazz, smooth jazz, big- band, bebop, swing," Setiawan said. "Java Jazz needs to keep doing what it does, making a balance between pleasing the hard core jazz fans and at the same time, building a bridge for the new generation of fans to come to jazz."

Building bridges for people to help them encounter jazz music is what WartaJazz.com is all about. Arguably, its most ambitious project to date is the plan to create what Setiawan describes as "a house of jazz." The idea was born when wondering what to do with the huge number of CDs which it has accumulated over the years.

"We have about 15,000 CDs; what do we want to do with them?" asks Setiawan. "Do we want to store them in a warehouse where nobody can touch them? Nobody can listen to them? No, we don't want to do that. We have an idea, fingers crossed, to have a four-story building. The first level will be basically a café with a small stage where a trio or quartet can play for free and the people listen for free. The idea is that any jazz musician, even amateurs or those who would like to become jazz musicians, wherever they come from, can have the chance to visit our place and play there and be appreciated.

"On the second level we want to have a 100-capacity auditorium equipped with recording equipment so that anybody who wants to record a record can go in, play and go out with a CD in their hand.

"The third floor will be a jazz library," he continued. "We get books relatively cheaply from a guy in Chicago but friends also donate books. On the fourth floor, we want to have a radio station, a combination of on-line and aired, so any radio station who wants to subscribe, can. You can listen to any radio station around Indonesia or around the world. We can invite guest hosts or do interviews, record them, upload it to the server and it can be heard by anybody around the world. I love the idea that people can connect anywhere around the world at any time as long as they are connected to the Internet.

"We want on-line streaming, not necessarily on our own, we want to attract and encourage people to participate and build the largest collection of music, something which will be very beneficial," Setiawan said. "Any record label or any jazz fans who want to donate CDs, we would welcome them. This is what I would call an Indonesian Jazz House."

It's an exciting vision, and vision is something that WartaJazz.com has always had. Driven by a love of jazz music in all its myriad forms, WartaJazz.com is creating a story which is already the stuff of legend. Where the future of jazz lies or what new directions it will take tomorrow is anybody's guess, but Setiawan has a clear idea in his own mind of where the epicenter lies—and of WartaJazz.com's mission: "The next big thing for jazz is Asia" he declares. "I want to build something that is really beneficial for the people."

Photo Credits
Page 2, Second Photo: Ian Patterson
All other photos: Courtesy of WartaJazz.com

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