Monday, January 20, 2014

Java Jazz 2014

How Indonesia, and Jakarta in particular, became such a hotbed of jazz is one of life’s great mysteries. Whatever the reason, in its short 8-year history, Java Jazz has become a huge happening, attracting A-list superstars and jazz royalty – no mean feat given the travelling distance involved and Jakarta’s image as a chaotic, overcrowded madhouse. For this, we have to thank a certain Peter Gontha, festival organizer and a mean jazz musician himself. From virtually nothing, Java Jazz has mushroomed into one of the world’s largest Jazzfests in the most unlikely of places.

Java Jazz at a glance

Kicking off on 1st March 2013 for three nights, Java Jazz is not just a refuge for pipe smoking trad-jazz purists. You get a little big band bebop, mambo, acid jazz, ska, reggae, gypsy jazz, RnB and everything in between. It all takes place at the Jakarta International Expo (JIExpo) in the Kemayoran district, a sprawling complex of aircraft hangar style venues and smaller halls. There are over a dozen stages playing host to big epic shows and intimate jamming sessions with that smoky bar room vibe.

Some big names have graced the stage at JIExpo over the last few years, including Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Jason Mraz, Roy Ayers and George Benson. A star-studded line-up for 2013 includes funksters Spyro Gyra, New York Voices, Kenny Garrett, Bob James and like every year, a couple of surprise A-listers. There are around 100 different performers expected, roughly split down the middle between international acts and Indonesian jazz bands. Indo-jazz is slowly creeping into the mainstream with a lot of up-and-coming acts on the scene and don’t be surprised to see unplanned jamming sessions between unheralded local jazz musicians and big-time western acts.


The predominantly local Indonesian crowds disprove the theory that jazz festivals are low key affairs. It’s a generally young crowd who like to make some noise and for the big name performances, it can almost resemble a heaving mosh pit. Over the three days, over 100,000 fans show up. To get a piece of the action, you can book tickets online – day passes cost Rp.300,000. and entrance for all three days will set you back Rp.550,000. This allows you access to all performances, except for one or two ‘headliners’ which this year include English soul divas Joss Stone and Lisa Stansfield.

If you don’t want to fork out your hard-earned Rupiah, there is another way to get your fix of jazz – completely free! Each year Java Jazz takes on a small army of enthusiastic volunteers to help out with merchandising, promotion and best of all – ‘performer liason’. It’s a great way to enjoy music for free, give something back and have fun. You also get to go to the special volunteer post-festival wrap party.

Each day during the festival, a number of international and Indonesian performers conduct music clinics for mere mortals like you and eye to learn a few riffs or beats. It’s an intimate, informal affair where fans can ask questions, learn a few musical tricks and even join the pros on stage for a quick jamming session.

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