Wed, 09 Mar 2005

Jazz fashionable again on Java in festival's wake

M. Taufiqurrahman and Evi Mariani, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

March 9 is National Music Day, as it marks the birth date (in 1903) of Wage Rudolph Supratman, composer of Indonesia Raya, the national anthem.

It may therefore be fitting to reflect on what impact the recently concluded and hugely popular Java Jazz festival may have had on the musical life of the country.

Among the most notable features of the three-day festival last weekend was the presence of large numbers of young people as concertgoers, dispelling the notion that jazz is a musical genre that appeals only to adults.

Standing, sitting and cheering performances by numerous jazz maestros were male and female teenagers who made up the bulk of the audience, outnumbering adults -- who were easily recognizable due to their dour sartorial taste.

Some of them were young celebrities like heartthrob Nicholas Saputra, and Nirina, a former host on MTV, a TV channel that usually promotes pop music, not jazz.

In between shows, the young concertgoers, who had trendy haircuts and outfits, were seen going after a number of jazz performers like Eric Benet, Amp Fiddler, Deodato or George Duke to autograph their shirts or ask them to appear in a photo with them.

Although some of the youngsters had no idea about the artists who performed in the festival, the young jazz-lovers were curious about jazz and wanted to hear more from the original artistes.

Many were also seen lining up in front of souvenir booths that had been erected by the festival organizers, to purchase paraphernalia from the festival so that they could tell friends and family that they had really been to a jazz festival.

Anticipating the presence of the young jazz lovers, a music channel, known for promoting pop music for the young, plus its sister channel set up booths at the festival venues and included wide coverage of the event in their news program.

Java Jazz Festival executive director Paul Dankmeyer said that the large number of young visitors was something that made Java Jazz unique compared with other jazz festivals.

"Although it's called a jazz festival, I've seen a lot of young people and that makes me very happy. I think's it's an interesting mix of ages and generations but also an interesting combination of backgrounds," Dankmeyer said.

"I definitely think that jazz is more than just a specialized music style. What we try to present here is more a lifestyle or a quality brand. The music varies from jazz to Latin-jazz to soul. Java Jazz Festival proves that jazz is not boring at all," he said.

The most heartening of all developments was the presence of numerous jazz groups comprising young musicians who turned in impressive performances.

Although the new acts were relegated to perform on small stages, they pulled off a good show, which highlighted their craftsmanship, and was an indication of a bright future ahead.

What does that phenomenon mean? Was it simply hype or did Java Jazz manage to convert pop-oriented youth into true jazz lovers?

As a musical genre that was considered to be at an artistic impasse in the late 1970s and ceased to appeal to youth audiences ever since, did jazz see its resurgence at the festival?

Maybe this has occurred only in Indonesia, a country that has not seen many international music festivals of this scale.

As Dankmeyer wryly put it, "Maybe it's an advantage that there isn't so much happening here."