The Sultan Hotel in South Jakarta was bustling on Wednesday afternoon as musicians from around the world checked into their rooms ahead of the three-day Jakarta International Java Jazz Festival, which opens on Friday at the Jakarta Convention Center at the Bung Karno sports complex.
It seemed as if the festival had already begun as six members of the Ron King Band played a set at the hotel for event organizers, the media and fellow musicians. When Gary Anthony joined in to sing “New York, New York,” the crowd showed their appreciation by swaying to the music and cheering.
The program director, Paul Dankmeyer, said: “Many of the artists arrived yesterday and today, and they are very excited to be here. Some of them have never been here before, so they don’t know what to expect.”
Among the international talent roaming around the hotel was Dutch jazz vocalist Laura Fygi, one of the event’s headline acts, scheduled to perform on Saturday night.
Another headliner, four-time Grammy winner Diane Reeves, will be one of many stellar performers at the festival. Reeves won her most recent Grammy for her 2005 album “Good Night, and Good Luck,” which was also the soundtrack to the film of the same title, directed by George Clooney.
Peabo Bryson, two-time Grammy winner for his Disney duets “Beauty and the Beast” with Celine Dion and “A Whole New World” with Regina Belle, will also grace the city with his presence.
Reeves and Fygi will be performing a special show, for which separate tickets must be bought, as will the other headliners — 2008 Grammy nominee Jason Mraz, British pop duo Swing Out Sister and the smooth R&B singer Brian McKnight.
With Fygi, Reeves, Mraz and Bryson on board, Java Jazz maintains its reputation as a world-class festival. It is by far the biggest jazz festival in Southeast Asia and one of the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere.
In 2004, the year before the festival made its debut, its founder, Peter F. Gontha, said, “If we want to create a jazz festival, let’s go all the way; let’s make it big, the biggest in the world if possible!” For the fist Java Jazz, there were 11 stages and 146 performances by both local and international artists. And it has gotten bigger every year since.
Not all of the acts can necessarily be classified as jazz. The organizing committee says, “What the festival is striving to present is not just jazz as a musical genre, but also the spirit of the jazz philosophy, which welcomes with open arms any form of spontaneity, improvisation and a mix of musical elements.”
Music enthusiasts who venture out to the Java Jazz Festival can expect to find a wide range of performances, from swing, bebop, ragtime, fusion, experimental and electronic jazz to funk, soul and Latin music.
This year, there will be 19 stages, on which a total of 188 performances will take place. “There will be 59 shows on the first day, 65 on the second and 64 on the third,” said Eki Puradireja, the festival’s program coordinator.
On top of the well-known headliners, talents like Matt Bianco and Roy Ayers will also be performing.
Of course, some well-known local musicians will share the stage with the internationals, such as Idang Rasjidi, Oele Pattiselanno, Yance Manusama, Dwiki Dharmawan, Glenn Fredly and Tohpati.
Johan Buse, the chief commercial officer of the event’s main sponsor, Axis, said, “We like the mix of Indonesian and international artists because we always like to support local talent.”
And for those looking for a more contemporary feel, Jamie Aditya, Phinisi, Afgan, Humania, Maliq ‘n’ D’Essentials, RAN and Cindy Bernadette will perform.
A special tribute to R&B and soul luminary Luther Vandross, who died in 2005 aged 54, will be held on Sunday night. During his career, Vandross sold more than 25 million albums and won eight Grammy Awards, four for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.
Glenn Fredly will pay tribute to Chrisye on Saturday night. The late Chrisye, or Christian Rahadi, was a legendary figure in the Indonesian pop and jazz scene. His album “Badai Pasti Berlalu” is considered an Indonesian classic.
Another show that is sure to impress is the “Amboina Project.” This is a special project organized to present musicians and singers with Moluccan heritage.
Enteng Tanamal, a jazz musician from Ambon, the capital of Maluku Province, said, “For the Amboina Project, we are going to present Ambonese songs in a jazz style.” Many local renowned jazz musicians and jazz-influenced musicians are Ambonese, such as Ole Pattiselanno, Barry Likumahua, Yance Manusama, Yopie Latui and Glenn Fredly.
To make the festival greener, the promoters are encouraging all visitors to come by bike. A number of artists and staff members will bike to the festival in a group on Saturday, and even Jakarta’s own governor, Fauzi Bowo, is getting into the spirit and is scheduled to ride.
Swing Out Sister
Forming in Manchester in 1985, this British pop group with jazz-inspired arrangements offered something slightly different to the popular music on the charts at the time. Swing Out Sister was originally a trio, with drummer Martin Jackson, Andrew Connell on keys and rookie vocalist Corinne Drewery.
The group was quickly likened to British pop-rock artists Everything but the Girl. Although their first single didn’t have much success, their second, “Breakout,” was a Top 10 hit in Britain and Japan in the fall of 1986. The trio eventually put out its debut album, “It’s Better to Travel,” in 1987.
By 1992, Jackson had left the group, but the remaining duo continued making hits. “Get In Touch With Yourself,” which was a cover of Barbara Acklin’s 1960s pop song “Am I the Same Girl,” based on an instrumental version by Young-Holt Unlimited, did well on the US and British charts. The single was popular in Japan, where the duo became one of the most followed acts. They also had a cult following in the US and Europe. Even so the duo’s next albums were not released in Britain as they could not secure a record deal there.
EMI was their worldwide label for 2004’s “Where Our Love Grows,” and “Live In Tokyo” was released in 2005.
It is almost impossible to have a night out in Jakarta without hearing the hit single “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz. While it might seem that Mraz and his catchy melodies appeared out of nowhere, the truth is he already had a few albums under his belt before his 2008 album, “We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things.”
He first developed an interest in music through musical theater when he was a high school student in Virginia, US. After school, he made his way to New York City to attend music college, but he soon dropped out and began street preforming. He eventually found a home in the many coffee houses of San Diego — which once gave singer-songwriter Jewel a foot in the door of the industry — and Mraz established a quirky acoustic style that was as comedic as musical.
Luckily, record labels were looking and Mraz eventually got to work with producer John Alagía, (the Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer) and his high school heroes, the Agents of Good Roots, who became his backing band.
The album “We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things” peaked at number three on the charts.
His hit “I’m Yours” received Grammy nominations for Song of the Year and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.
Since the late 1980s, Dianne Reeves has been considered one of the most prominent vocalists on the jazz scene and is a stalwart headliner at festivals all over the world. She is known for her impressive scatting and is at her best when performing live with a full swing band.
Her uncle, Charles Burell, a bass player with the Denver Symphony Orchestra, introduced her to the music of jazz singers, from Ella Fitzgerald to Billie Holiday, and she remembers being especially impressed by Sarah Vaughan.
Her earlier recordings were more eclectic, fusing African folk with jazz and Latin styles. She established her own style when she signed a record deal with Blue Note Records, which released her albums “I Remember,” “The Grand Encounter,” “The Calling: Celebrating Sarah Vaughan” and “A Little Moonlight.”
She is now known for her emotive and inventive interpretations of standards and has been compared to the jazz singers Dinah Washington and Carmen McRae.
Although Reeves is not a new name to jazz aficionados, in 2005 she entered the mainstream with the Grammy-winning soundtrack to the film “Good Night, and Good Luck.”
Her latest album, “When You Know,” was released last year.
It is no surprise that R&B singer Brian McKnight grew up singing in a church gospel choir: The singer’s licks and trills are intricate enough to rival Beyonce’s.
He has released 11 albums, seven of which have gone platinum. He has sold more than 20 million albums worldwide. His 1999 hit “Back at One” was perhaps McKnight’s most successful hit internationally.
He seemed to have disappeared off the radar after that, but it turned out that a divorce and a stint with the California ABA basketball team the Ontario Warriors kept him from the music scene for some years.
McKnight’s first release on Mercury, “The Way Love Goes,” peaked at number 11 after 19 weeks on the Billboard R&B charts.
His following singles barely made the Top 60 on the R&B charts.
But a duet with Vanessa Williams, “Love Is,” which featured on the hit 1990s TV show “Beverly Hills 90210,” was a huge success on the pop charts. This commercial exposure helped provide McKnight with a significant crossover audience.
He worked with hip-hop producer Sean “P. Diddy” Combs on the release of his 1997 album “Anytime.” The album features a hit single that was popular in nightclubs, called “You Should Be Mine.”
Sultry jazz vocalist Laura Fygi was for a long time known as a member of the Dutch disco girl-group Centerfold. However, she went solo in 1991, making a name for herself in the jazz world with her debut album, “Introducing Laura Fygi.” On the album, she was accompanied by famous Belgian guitarist and harmonica player Jean “Toots” Thielemans.
Fygi has enjoyed strong album sales in Asia and tours the region at least twice a year. Most of her albums are in English, but growing up in South America with a Dutch-speaking father and her Egyptian French-speaking mother, she has also sung in many other languages.
Her latest album, “Rendez-Vous” (2007), is entirely in French and Fygi is sure to showcase these songs at the Java Jazz Festival. The album was inspired by the Hot Club de France, which was a Parisian jazz club in the 1930s that attracted jazz musicians from all over the world. As it was forbidden to sing in English in France during the war, many American standards were translated into French, giving Fygi an array of French jazz numbers to choose from.
Java Jazz Festival
When: March 6-8
Where: Jakarta Conference Center
Web site: www.javajazzfestival.com
Schedule: See highlights in Friday’s Life & Times section of the Jakarta Globe
Photo: American pop singer Jason Mraz, one of the many musical stars appearing at the Java Jazz Festival. (AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin)