Duo Laroo/Byrd Under Banyan Route: Indonesia Tour Report

Duo Laroo/Byrd 2016 Indonesian Tour Report: 27Aug16—07Sep16 

Saskia Laroo-Trumpet, Sax, Bass, Clinician Warren Byrd- Pianist, Vocalist, Composer, Clinician of Music 

1 After a decade's plus absence from this city of sweltering heat, struggling traffic, and hulking buildings we arrived in the airport met by our appointed Blue Bird taxi—enjoy did we such an uneventful passing through border patrol plus being promptly, pleasantly met for as smooth as was our plane ride it was also long. Our spirits and bodies further sighed with relief once our check-in at Puri Denpasar Hotel began. 

2 We'd rested, eaten, rested some more, and then it was soon time to meet with Suni and the Erasmus Huis crew. It was a mere 300 meters from the hotel so we walked amongst the zips of motorbikes, the roars of big sedans, trucks, and a sudden midday monsoon beneath the canopies of Kelapas, along trunks of Banyan, until we met a white gate. 

3 It was a very thorough meeting, a very professional vetting of needs and going over of concerns for the concert where we met not only with Suni Wijogawati, our tour organizer and Cultural Associate at Erasmus Huis, but also the stage manager, the sound engineer, several security people, and ogled the wondrous dimensions of the Erasmus Huis. We were convinced we were in good hands. 

4 Having planned to have some decompression time before any of the workshops or shows, we were advised to go see some of Jakarta's special capital district, especially the nearby shopping complexes ICT & The Ambassador Mall. We'd also discovered the local Apple store, both of us being Mac Book owners, at Lotte Shopping Avenue as well as inspected various batik wear shops ad infinitum, all once again, terrorized by incredible rain—our little adventure before the following day's first morning workshop at Erasmus Huis. 

5 10 am was the set workshop time; we had arrived about an hour earlier, greeted by the busy-ness of the tech crew, a sunny Suni, and eventually, the culture director at Erasmus Huis, Micheal Rauner. What was very clear was that outreach was plentiful and the turnout expected was auspicious. We waited and planned in the dressing room and were soon summoned into a hall filled with some 25 attendants for the workshop. 

6 For this workshop, we performed two numbers specifically to counterpose our acoustic and electric approaches, albeit on this occasion, with some modifications. Eventually we got to know each attendant by way of allowing him or her to reveal their wishes as aspirants. [Saskia] demonstrated her electronics and effects boxes and Warren discussed his autodidactic approach and experience. This soon gave way to rousing ensemble sessions involving shifting configurations of the attendants and the duo playing a few well-known standards. Of the workshop participants, their were was an assortment of singers, pianists, bassists, guitarists, and drummers, most of who attend a Jakarta-based jazz finishing school. They all exhibited a high intermediate level of jazz knowledge and general musical ability. A couple seemed to stand out in terms of leadership qualities helping to facilitate the workshop process. We ended the workshop, rather unexpectedly, with a piano solo giving way to a final duo performance. 

7 Performance day began with the usual rustlings out of hotel Puri Denpasar after breakfast, then into a flurrious jaunt to get to the soundcheck rehearsal. Elfa, the captain for the Jakarta contingent of musicians, had already arrived, and after some staggering of moments to and fro the whole unit was there and ready to begin. This unit was impressive in that they showed great professional diligence and ambition: they knew all of Saskia's selected material well and they had studied and prepared all of the appurtenant media well. 

8 The Erasmus Huis team, led by Suni, ______, and Micheal, had garnered a better than expected attendance. For us it was inspiring to see: a poshly lit and decorated hall speckled with a mass of individuals whose enthusiasm could be tasted. However, youthful energy seemed to set the tone for an evening of èlan and creative fire. Though we'd been told of those for whom this was all too much and, consequently, left the show, the power of this audience never flagged for us. We ended the show with a couple of encores and even as we received our gifts from Micheal and ______, we were soaked in the sweat of our musical passion. 

9...and afterwards, there was an unforgettable meet-and-greet (to which had seemed impossible at first to descend, in the din of post-show excitement...and chaos), where we proceeded to perpetually press flesh, pose for shots, and sign CDs, slips of paper, and, maybe, a bare hand(?)...all out in the courtyard of front of the Laroo/Byrd promo poster which the Erasmus Huis fashioned and had erected by the venue entrance to blast the date—more reasons to smile and to sweat. 

10 Now, the details to rue of any tour is the early morning after rally to flight check-in: wake-up, pack, some breakfast, checkout, and roll into the the Golden Bird, with Suni as acting tour manager in tow—not exactly in that order—in route to our flight to Surabaya. Braving Soekarno–Hatta's wondrously renovated domestic concourse, we boarded the plane at Noon and arrived in the next town around 2pm met by Lisa Nugraha, our gracious hostess in this gritty ol' city (often foiled by burgeoning trendiness). We were then ushered to a f-i-i-i-ne hotel (why can't I remember the name) where we had a brief, needed recharge before we took our car to the evening's Masterclass sponsored by Sekolah Musik Melodia. 

11 We arrived and faced a supportive crew of people who aided us with proper set up and staging and did all they could to welcome us as we all managed our uncertainty about attendance with breezy child-like confidence (perhaps even some lethargic confidence). Perhaps we were astonished as well with the consistent pairing of the rustic with the fresh, even in this context. It would all give way to the business at hand, as little by little, a seemingly poorly-attended masterclass would blossom into a session with about 5 different configurations of ensembles of various strengths and accomplishment, musical interests, and ages, including several of the members—to our surprise—of the accompanying band of the following night's concert to be. It felt like we'd built a railroad when we finished—more reasons to smile and sweat (powerful AC notwithstanding)--but it was so rewarding. Leading members of Sekolah Musik Melodia also were present including the chairman, who Warren insisted was a dead ringer for jazz piano and composition great Horace Silver. 

12 We would enjoy a fine meal, thanks to Suni, at a local restaurant in Surabaya, where one best be resigned to greasy hands, a burning mouth, and a full belly when the feast has ended—an apt repast for the job completed and the following day's advent. 

13 It had been planned that the soundcheck/rehearsal and the concert would span from the afternoon to the latest evening and jet lag hadn't yet abated. The morning was a foray into the hotel's glorious buffet, for some it was further dust-billowed jaunting to the nearby mall, for others a tad more slumber, then off to Spazio, lustrous setting of our concert's venue. The hall would prove to be a task for the sound crew but our musician collaborators, led by Karel Williams weathered both the room and the charts well. In getting to know these people, I couldn't help but to think that we were with real artists, not swashbucklers, not status grubbers (perhaps I too easily generalize). After completing the rehearsal, we went to supper to feast on good Indonesian grub at one of Spazio's eateries and took rest to the sounds of Indonesian youth competing on myriad notes of pianistic wisdom in an adjacent room and brazen top-40 playists blast over an enclosed distance in yet another room...Byrd managed his jet lag through it; each of us found tranquility in our own style...soon, Ms. Nugraha joins the chill out with the energy of things to come, and steely gladness for the attendance in progress. 

14 Ushered into the glorious pre-show, maelstrom, Byrd conjured some confusion by taking wing to the area behind the stage, whereupon a minor search for his whereabouts ensued, in anticipation of a prompt and uneventful event's start. Once he was found, the duo, after some ceremony and announcement, did a pair of pieces, honored their applause, then invited the local musicians to join them. It dawned on the duo that all ages came out for the jazz. This fueled the show and despite some real kinks, the show was a touching, humane, but also hot success, including sterling performances by all the guest musicians. The ubitquitous presence of Sekolah Musik Melodia the sponsoring group was also a bushel of the charm. A brief post-encore ceremony, an unplanned meet-and-greet and pressing of enormous volumes and varieties of flesh, pics, signings, then soon we were shuttled back to the hotel. We had to horde some rest before another early departure—this time by train—to Yogyakarta. 

15 Met and ushered yet again by a stirring member of Sekolah Musik Melodia, Suni, Saskia, and I were set off on a well-refrigerated 5-hour rail ride to our next destination. A place highly touted as the cultural center of Java, Yogyakarta's rail route from Surabaya was a cinematic tour of Javanese contemporary life, its vistas of old Indonesia and newer, rice fields, large meadows of quiet, foiled by sudden, rustic squalors and bustling towns of wood, mud, and people, displays of marquis bolstering hodge-podges of merchandise both food and wares...we all found our ways of taking cover from the preserving coolness of our railcar's AC, some eating, some sleeping, some other, until, finally, a somewhat sunny arrival, a disembarkment into warmth and bustling of the city's midday, and lush blueish-gray nimbus looming northward. Soon, a youthfully dressed gentleman pulled up in his SUV ready to take us to Tembi Rumah Budaya, our paradise at this interim (despite rather bodacious little mosquitoes). 

16 We reached the resort, established respective lodging, and were sated with a tasty Javanese lunch. After some more resting, we, Saskia and Warren, decided to take Suni's suggestion and see some of Yogyakarta's special sights. With our driver leading the way—who we'd discover was also a musician—we saw the old temple, now a Catholic church, and the old fort, which had already closed, then went straight for the batik shop and discovered many fine garments. We finally returned to Tembi Rumah Budaya well after dark. 

17 We came to really love this place, hewn in the ol' Javanese style, with palpable, low-lit tranquility set off by the quibbling of parakeets, giant beetles, the krilling of crickets...and somewhere in all this, the regulating of air conditioning often took the starring position, as though nights were nearly cool enough, we were not, especially for ideal sleep...we came to look forward to the morning routine: an early swim in the pool by our rear exit, while the dew was still settling, misting away, then to a breakfast table with AM tempeh and gado-gado, and two small barrels of Indonesian coffee in the Turkish style (Warren loved him some sweetened-condensed milk with it). The first full day was for the workshop, the preparing of gear, sound, and backline was by then already in progress; we'd rest more, meet the proprietor of Rumah Budaya, Ajie Wartono, and other members of Warta Jazz, all in the context of “breaking tempeh together” (and of course more little barrels of kopi), before we'd assemble in the on-site museum of Tembi Rumah Budaya for the afternoon workshop. 

18 We respectively were led to the museum. Finally, on route, I saw a think of fascination and wonder up close, even if only for a few seconds: the rows of authenic gamelans and bells near the outer canopy sitting on the floors like walnut shells waiting to be admired...and played with...In the museum, waiting were the keyboard and the various amps, drums, the sound crew, and it had been determined that there was no bass. We started the workshop as we had the others: we spoke of our origins as individual artists and as a tandem, rendered some pieces, and opened the floor to the attendees that we'd learn of who they each were as well as of their artistic aims. In this, we were helped by a translator--_____--whom we also discovered would be our singer in the next day's concert. It was here we note that we were presented with a challenging admixture of professionals, aspirants, and amateurs. 

For the first half of the ensemble session segment, though no bass was yet available, the workshop could avail itself by way of its trove of keyboardist participants, wherein one keyboardist would run the bass, while the other could concentrate on “comping” chords. Soon , the bassist for the next day's concert, Danny, arrived and lent his axe. So for the second half of the session, with this added barb of energy, several full rhythm sections would take wing, talented bassists bolstering a few strong singers, guitarists, and, of course, freeing up the keyboardists, and us. The session was very lively and cathartic and, in fact, ran overtime. 

19 [Monday Nite Jam]First entreated by Danny, our bassist, then by singer/translator, ___, we were invited to the weekly Monday night jam at a club/restaurant in town. We refreshed ourselves after a mini-hang at Ruhmah Budaya's dining benches, then we left escorted by our driver for the jam. 

We were pleasurably astounded by what we saw: a well-attended, well-conducted, entertaining, musical event out in a canopied patio; many youth were present both male and female, balanced by the occasional baby-boomer or older denizen. People, especially those whom we came to know as stirring members of Warta Jazz, went out of their way to honor us, however, once we joined in the jamming, we got ugly (“getting ugly” is merely an expression which describes what happens when people “get passionate engaging their passion”). 

Ultimately, we came to love this experience; it gave us hope: we were moved by so many youth whose love of creative music, namely jazz, seemed congruent to ours. 

20 [Day/Night of Yogjakarta Concert; “a jazz scene with heart”] The days in Java were rather warm yet tempered often by moments of rain,(although I, the writer, can't remember whether there was rain or not in Yogyakarta), and the humidity commanded respect, and as a result clothes would get wet from sweat. You can see in some snapshots of the Yogyakarta show, that we had drenched ourselves in sweat, I believe by as early as the duration of the first 5 songs. 

Most likely it was the continuation of sweating which had begun during the soundcheck and rehearsal, which for comparison's sake was a “clinic” in itself. This group of musicians consisted of an existing group of passionate artists, well, musicians who were advised to choose specific pieces from our repertoire, and had learned them verbatim from existing media, namely, from Saskia's you-tube links and early CDs. Rather than limn the folly, let's praise the rainmaker: Ms. Laroo's penchant for making the most of what's afoot turned an adequate formation with high potential to an atomic force (yet, the author gushes a bit here). Byrd had had a hard morning, and a lagging countenance for this rehearsal/soundcheck, but held steady and ever inspired; and further energized by the eager, creative personnel from whom Saskia would forge masterful performances... 

Thus, all perspiration was doubled by inspiration, and a lot of heart, for our Yogyakarta show, rife with heat, light, musical daring, and audience èlan, and the adroit guidance of the ever-present Warta Jazz team—that was glorious. 

21 There was not much for the rest of that night. For sure, we lost weight, and while there was some mild reveling in the midst, mostly the Warta team and the musicians of the gig fellowshipping in the dining area of Rumah Budaya, we were spent and chose to retire into the lekker duisternis with the well-functioning AC, mosquitoes, warbling parakeets, and crickets, etc, ever near. Here is the song of the swan: time to pack, restore, and regroup for the long, long flight back to Schipol...uneventfully made it to our driver's care the next morning, after a hearty breakfast complete with several little barrels full of muddy coffee, and during all, we discovered that a few members of Warta Jazz and the owner of Rumah would most likely be on the same flight to Jakarta. We were kindly ushered by a member (not flying) to Yogyakarta airport in our driver's car; he and our driver seemed to know each other somewhat well and, all of us, aboard with Suni it made for a cozy departure from this rustic paradise... 

22 We hope that we touched lives while we were there because we know well that humans easily underestimate the significance of each other. We all get so mired in our self-importance, as well as our promises, duties, and standards, that we often misread situations in a cloud of automated conditioned responses we may have concocted just to help us get efficiently from one day to the next (whether spurious or earnest). There was at least one noticeable difference between the last time we were there--2005--and this time: few city dwellers or musicians we met were complaining that there was no jazz school. That alone made the trip invaluable. 

Furthermore, in meeting communities of jazz supporters in artistic-ecosystems far from our own, it's easy to identify the universals, but it's really rewarding to discern contrasts in each unit, such as the artistic Surabayans vs. the ambitious Jakartans or the passionate Yogyakartans (these generalizations especially used in referring to the group character of the musicians with whom we have performed and to some degree, attendees of the workshops/masterclasses), although, one must always yield some prudence and defer somewhat to possible distortions in perspective. 

Another facet which heartened us was the presence and enthusiasm of young people both male and female who showed interest in jazz/improvisation process as a topic and sparkle as aspirants. We take note of the young people who gave it all they had to take part, whether it was traveling some hours to perform with us, and/or other sorts of self-deprivation and effort as a route; we take note of some exceptionally talented and precociously accomplished young artists who contributed “awesome fire” to our concerts; and we were enriched by so much true humility and charmed by unbridled modesty in some obviously gifted others. 

We also feel that the organizations in Java who've dedicated themselves to the promotion of jazz or even just darn good music—the Erasmus Huis as well—are crucial to the evolution of the music in that landscape, especially in light of the upswing of jazz education in various regions of Java, it is important to cultivate a garden of educational options in jazz...and in all artistic endeavors. Ultimately, this garden is the grassroots of cultural evolution. 

23 Not that we are saviors, but if indeed we did make a difference or not, it's nice to know that many people at least enjoyed our energy and our fusions with these various musicians. In fact, on the flight from Yogyakarta back to Jakarta, we sat in a row adjacent to the younger brother of the owner of Rumah, CEO of his own successful business in Jakarta and a supporting member of Warta Jazz. He was reading Kompas, a national newspaper of Indonesia, when he spotted a expo photo of us—Saskia Laroo and Warren Byrd—and showed us. When we asked him if we could have his copy of the newspaper, since we were not sure where we could obtain another copy, and he gave it to us. That about says it all and raises a fleering question: where would we be without our music?

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