by Andy McCulloch
The first weekend of March has become one I look forward to since moving to Indonesia. It has become a tradition to make the pilgrimage down to the Big Durian, from Bandung to Jakarta, for the Jakarta International Java Jazz Festival, held at JI Expo in Kemayoran every March for three evenings. This year was the 14th edition of the festival and my 7th time there! Coming from Australia, I have seen acts over the years at Java Jazz that would either not travel down-under, or would be prohibitively expensive. So it is a great way to soak up some world-class Jazz!
Despite the headline acts not being as famous as previous years, with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Santana, Sting, Jamie Callum, Level 42, David Foster, etc. this year there was a mix of R&B and Pop performers added to lesser known local and international Jazz performers playing over the 11 stages. The event itself is a logistical marvel, from the ticketing system to the complex stage and lighting systems, all set up to enable over 100,000 festival goers to move from one stage to the next to get a taste of the different music as much as you can.
Headline artists this year included Goo Goo Dolls, Daniel Caesar, Lauv, Dionne Warwick, JP Cooper, Jhene Aiko, Lee Ritenour, Vanessa Williams and BJ the Chicago Kid. Whilst this lineup included more R&B and pop than Jazz, as usual it was the lesser known performers that provided unexpected delights. In previous years my favourite up and coming artists that I discovered at Java Jazz include Snarky Puppy and Tokyo ska Paradise Orchestra. This year a highlight was the Matthew Whitaker Trio. Reading Whitaker’s bio during his performance I thought it must be a mistake that he was born in 2001!! But it is true. At home on the grand piano and organ, Whitaker delivered both original compositions as well as his own arrangements of other jazz standards and jazz interpretations of pop tunes. On top of that he is blind, relying on his drummer and guitarist to find his way around the stage. He was an amazing entertainer, one can’t help being reminded of the young Stevie Wonder. Playing a solo on the organ foot pedals and another playing piano with his right hand and organ with his left hand, he amazed the audience with his talent and versatility. Another highlight was pianist Marvio Ciribelli and band, playing wonderful Brazilian Samba-Jazz. I will be looking for the albums of both these groups in the coming days!
The local Elek Yo Band with Endah N Rhesa drew the biggest crowd of the acts I saw on the Friday night. Jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour was excellent as expected, a stalwart of the Jazz scene since the 1970’s. R&B legends Vanessa Williams and Dionne Warwick were a little out of place at a Jazz festival, but appreciated by large audiences. Williams performed all her hits from the 80’s and 90’s and had an amazingly talented band. At 76 years of age, Warwick was also incredible, celebrating 50 years in performance.
If you ever have a chance to attend the Java Jazz Festival in the future, I highly recommend it!