Indonesia has thousands of islands, each with its own story. The country also has a rich folk music tradition, showcasing the diversity of dialects and languages heard across the various regions of Indonesia. As of late, the nation has also developed a jazz tradition.
Indonesia has some very talented jazz musicians, one being Indra Lesmana. Jazz became part of his life when his father, Jack Lesmana – also a
jazz musician — showed him some records. In 1976, at 10 years of age, he played his first concert with his dad in Bandung, Indonesia. His focus has been primarily on jazz fusion, which is quite popular throughout Asia; for example, in Japan, pianist Hiromi Uehera (a Berklee alum) has taken the music to a whole new level. When listening to Indra’s music from recent years, a lot of influences from Chick Corea Elektric Band, later Herbie Hancock, Steps Ahead, and Pat Metheny can be heard. In 1985, Indra moved to Los Angeles and worked with some of the top studio musicians there: Vinnie Colaiuta, Michael Landau, Jimmy Haslip, and Charlie Haden, amongst others. Later, in 2000, Indra released his first single, an instrumental jazz music video called Reborn, which saw heavy rotation on Indonesian television. Then, in 2002, he formed his first 17-piece big band to record his 17th album, an original soundtrack for a film called Rumah Ke Tujuh, produced by his sister, Mira Lesmana.
Another more recent singer, Sierra Soetedjo, is one of the big names on Indonesian music scene today. She studied music at WAAPA (Western Australia Academy of Performing Arts), where she completed an Advanced Diploma of Contemporary Music in 2005 and a Bachelor of Music (Jazz Performance) in 2007. During her years in high school, she received several awards for outstanding performance and commitment in different voice competitions for her vocal solo and trio work. Her voice is very smooth and comfortable to listen to; most of her music falls under the category of easy listening jazz.
One of the most remarkable stories of an Indonesian jazz musician is that of 11-year-old piano player by the name of Joey Alexander. The first time I heard his name mentioned was when I looked through the program for the Copenhagen Jazz Festival this year; I saw he was playing with well-established jazz musicians from Denmark, and as I learned more, I could not believe what I saw. I found Youtube clips of his performances with great musicians and pictures of him with Wynton Marsalis, Herbie Hancock, Christian McBride, and other legendary performers. Looking into the past, some of the great child prodigies have been Mozart, Stevie Wonder, and Tony Williams. In recent years, we have seen child prodigies such as the Slovakian guitarist Andreas Varady (age 16), Israeli pianist Gadi Lehavi (age 18), Georgian pianist Beka Gochiasvili (age 18), and saxophonist Grace Kelly (age 22). This kid has a bright future ahead of him and is already playing with many greats.
Bill Saragih (1933-2008) was one of the more traditional Indonesian jazz artists, inspired by Louis Armstrong and Tony Bennett. Saragih had a true passion for jazz and was a multi-instrumentalist, although he was most famous for his singing. Other Indonesian jazz artists include singer Dira Sugandi, guitarist Tohpati, guitarist Dewa Budjana, and pianist Nial Djuliarso.
Below you will find some of my favorite clips I explored while writing this article. I highly recommend checking them all out, especially those of Joey Alexander.
Joey Alexander on CBS
Joey Alexander plays Cherokee
Dira Sugandi Tribute to Lady Jazz
Sierra Soetedjo – The Only One
Indra Lesmana at Java Jazz 2010
Bill Saragih – Misty
Tohpati – Layang Layang
Dewa Budjana – On The Way Home
Nial Djuliarso – Aryati