Java Jazz Festival by Jerzy Pawleta

Indonesia is a vast country lying on the equator, and for most of the Poles it associated itself with Balinese dancers, dragons of Komodo, the brilliant temple of Borobudur, white beaches, underwater coral paradise, spicy food and many other attractions.

How many people associate Indonesia with jazz?

I think only a few of you might raise your hand. Here, in Jakarta, the capital city of an archipelago consisting of 17,000 islands, holding a huge jazz festival every year called Java Jazz Festival. Now this jazz festival is probably the largest jazz festival in the world!

This year’s festival was outstanding! For many reasons. The organization and momentum was just amazing. Number of bands and musicians, including world’s greatest stars attracted enormous crowds of listeners and jazz fans from Indonesia and all over the world. I have never seen such an attendance and fun in a jazz event!

The list of artists was incredibly long; It is enough to mention a few names, to have an idea of the level of the festival.

Sting, Chris Botti, David Foster, Candy Dulfer, Eric Benet, Larry Coryell, Orquestra Buena Vista Social Club and Michelle Walker – it is just the tip of the iceberg.  

Among the famous names we had also some Poles, such as Wojtek Pilichowski whose bass solos have enchanted the audience at concerts and jam sessions, and the members of Dwiki Dharmawan & his Polish Friends – Piotr Chęcki, Adam Golicki and Piotr Lemańczyk.

The most important part because without him the Java Jazz couldn’t happen was a man named Peter F. Gontha. No, no. The creator and founder of the festival was not born in Poland, nor has Polish roots. He is however the current ambassador of Indonesia in Poland as well as absolute passionate of jazz and music in general. His passion and vision supported by businessman’s common sense and calculation made the event developing from year to year, and I once again had the pleasure to participate in this celebration of jazz. This year it was the 12th Java Jazz Festival.

The event started with a full momentum ceremony preceding the proper festival. Gala Dinner organized in a huge, post-colonial Hotel Borobudur (also hosting, without exception, all the participants of the festival, including the biggest stars). Dwiki & his Polish Friends gave a fantastic, energetic concert in the company of Indonesian dancer wearing the ritual masks, which warmed up the elegant audience (black ties required). Cameron Smith with his usual verve announced festival. and hostesses dressed in colorful costumes opened a huge door to the great banquet hall. The decor of the place was breathtaking. Dark ceiling illuminated by thousands of stars, the stage was shining with many colors of spotlights adorned with a huge Indonesian architectural accent, buried in darkness tables glowed with the whiteness of tablecloths, waiters were wandering silently with silver trays filled with sophisticated dishes and drinks. Event was attended by many distinguished guests, such as the Polish Ambassador, HE Tadeusz Szumowski with his wife, US Ambassador HE Robert Blake Jr. and the Indonesian minister, Rizal Ramli.

The most important thing, however, during that evening, and during the next three days was the music. It sounded with a full power. List of the bands and celebrities during the gala was remarkable. All continents, all varieties of jazz. Among others: Berget Lewis, Eric Benet, Candy Dulfer, Joey Defrancesco, Afgan and Chance Howard. When it came time to Wotek Pilichowski’s show, I knew that the hall will rock. Applause after his virtuosic solos wasn’t fading out. Another, completely unconventional event was a short performance of Dr. Mark Kruk, guitarist and singer, but mostly the physician of Indonesian ambassador and creator of the festival – Peter Gontha. Such a nice, little private greeting of His Excellency on the great gala. Ambassador himself also gave a sample of his jazz skills playing Hammond organ in the company of Indonesian trio Be3. Then HE Peter F. Gontha in his short speech said, among other things, that “in the past 12 years, more and more people in Indonesia appreciate jazz music. Today we have 17 jazz festivals in Indonesia, among them are held in Bromo, Manado, or the current Java Jazz”. Unforgettable gala was closed by the performance of fantastic Ron King’s big band crowned with a show of playing the trumpet by the master and conductor in one person – Ron King himself.

But it was not the end of the attractions of the evening. Musicians and jazz fans gathered in one of the postcolonial cafes of the hotel to take part in a jam session. Who was not there! Making music together had ended with the crack of dawn. The Polish musicians were brilliant and they were delighted to play with the musicians of Sting’s band. Candy Dulfer, the undeniable star, made a fantastic impression: she had patiently waited for her turn on stage holding her saxophone, and finally when it was her time, she gave a wonderful concert. I even dare to say that she was better during the jam session than during her performance in the festival. She was totally easygoing and she showed all her art. And her beauty.

Too much to write about what has happened in the following days of the festival, which took place at the Jakarta International Expo (JIEXPO). Hundreds of bands and performers occurred on several stages. It was impossible to see and listen to everyone. Interesting concerts often held simultaneously and you had to choose one. I wanted to listen to my favorites, like for instance Buena Vista, who gave a show of artistry, charisma and spontaneity. They welcomed the audience with a real feast of Latin dance. All of the people sang and danced to the pieces of the legend of Cuban music. I wanted to listen to Indonesian bands, where the reaction of the audience was extremely lively, for example on a fantastic Tohpati Ethnomission’s show. I was curious about the audience\’s reaction to the performances of Polish musicians. My pride of being Polish grew with each beat. I wanted to discover something new for myself, and I found the Yellow Jackets ? they received a standing ovation. I watched an exuberant show of the Japanese band Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra. They repeated it in the morning on a jam session, almost bursting the old walls of the hotel.

I wanted to be present at the concert of Sting and Chris Botti. And so I went to both of their concerts. It was a long time I haven’t sing and dance so much! Saying they were great, it does not say anything. Botti kept harping on as usual and he was really good while accompanying Sting. Botti was making a history performance, where he was coming down to the enthusiastic audience area from the stage and playing his music to them.

In addition to the major concerts, in the passages between the stages on the stands of the music companies and of the sponsors of the festival, small concerts were held. Many of them were very interesting. Our musicians also had played here. It was a pity to waste time even to eat, but even the choice of food was attractive.

Many of the concerts ended after the midnight – it was necessary to catch one of the buses between the Expo and the hotel Borobudur, take a quick shower and continue enjoying music in the jam sessions. Until the morning. And so for three days. But then again, the festival is about feasting! So I’m going to sleep on the plane. To Bali.

Jerzy Pawleta

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