How relevant is a big band today, especially in a far away country from the origin of jazz like Indonesia? It’s far from the current trend, we don’t hear or see it often on TVs or radios, yet you’ll be surprised to see how many audience a big band could get in a concert. This Salamander Big Band‘s 8th Anniversary Concert in Bandung again got huge crowds, at least around 500 people or even more. Many of the audiences had to stand since all seats were taken, and many of them were youngsters. Another huge success for Salamander Big Band. Well prepared, great choice of songs, wonderfully executed, all resulting an epic concert.
Let’s see the case of this highly successful Big Band in Bandung for example, the Salamander Big Band. They don’t make concerts that often, only two to three times a year. But once they make one, it’s always that good or even sensational. For us who have covered their concert since 2008, we have seen tremendous progress of it. They keep the traditional formation of a Big Band like Count Basie’s ensemble, they are absolutely great in swinging, but they can cover more musical horizons too like fusing in some traditionals or going European style. They have served many collaborations with legendary musicians from Europe like Dieter Mack or Thorsten Wollman. Not only have them in concert, but the Salamander Big Band has been fortunate to learn from them as well. This year once again they got the previlege to have it from a legendary Dutchman from The Hague/NL, Mr Ack van Rooyens. Organized by Goethe-Institut Indonesien in corporation with Erasmus Huis, Salamander Big Band’s 8th Annivesary’s served grand in 3 locations: Bandung (Bumi Sangkuriang), Jakarta (Erasmus Huis and GoetheHaus). The program is a part of the initiative “Culture & Development” which was set up by the Goethe-Institut in 2009, with the mission to provide professional qualifications and support the intercultural networks as well as to create cultural and social platforms.
Maybe you don’t hear the name that often in Indonesia, but Ack van Rooyen is actually one of the most important names in European music scene especially in jazz. Ack van Rooyen was born on New Year’s Day of 1930 and already started playing flugelhorn since he was only 7 years of age. On a trip to US with brother Jerry van Rooyen and Rob Pronk, they heard jazz in New York and were among the first to introduce it to Holland. When he moved to Germany, Ack joined SFB Big Band in Berlin, also the SDR Orchestra in Stuttgart. He toured with Wolfgang Dauner and Albert Mangelsdorff all the way to Asia and South America. He’s also a charter member of United Jazz and Rock Ensemble plus Peter Herbolzheimer’s Rhythm Combination and Brass.
Not many of today’s generation know it, but Ack van Rooyen is closely related to Indonesia. In 1946 when the van Rooyens were members of a big band, interestingly they made music here in Indonesia. It was also here in Indonesia when Ack heard bebop for the first time. According to him, it became one of the most important milestones in his life, something that inspired him for the rest of his life. Speaking more specifically about one of the cities he’s going to visit, Bandung, this capital of West Java was the place where he made the acquaintance of Rob Pronk, the prolific Indonesian-born musician, composer and arranger who was later on working extensively with the siblings. A lot of nostalgia and memory must this be for him, therefore this year’s series of concert tour will also be used as a tribute or to pay respect to brother Jerry van Rooyen and Rob Pronk. A very important tribute to Ack van Rooyen’s life, could be the most important one, and Salamander Big Band is the ensemble for him to go with.
We came to the Salamander Big Band meets Ack van Rooyen: “A Jazz Life” (8th Anniversary Concert) in Bumi Sangkuriang Bandung on the lovely night of Monday (September 8, 2014). The concert began a few minutes after 7:30 pm and sailed directly after the opening speech from Verena Lehmkuhl, Coordinator for Culture & Development Southeast Asia. The famous song written by Frank Foster for Count Basie, “Shiny Stockings” was the first choice. The singing pianist Imelda Rosalin took it to the top, creating a glorious opening. The founder Devy Ferdianto himself stood as the conductor.
Then he called Ack van Rooyen that directly told the audience that he was here in Bandung for the first time in 1948. “There’s a song I played back then that I still remember until now,” he said, and it was the ever-lovely “Moonlight Serenade”. They were like setting up a time capsule, sending more than 500 audiences to the swingin’ era in the 40’s. It was magic!
In “Walking Tip Toe”, Ack introduced the trumpeter to stand in front, Brury Effendi. This man matched Ack with his flugelhorn in the front row. They spread harmony, backing each other up and exchanged punch lines. Once again loud applauses were given to the team. Another Ack’s original song came next, “Autumn Bugle”. It’s a sentimental song, sweet and touching that could bring happy tears to those who hears it.
While Mr Ack took some rest, Devy Ferdianto introduced his vocal lines, the Salamander Voices. Four singers (Devi Remondi, Lia Amalia, Sekar Teja Inten and Adi Sigerra) joined the 18-piece big band. They covered an Indonesian evergreen song written by Maladi, “Di Bawah Sinar Bulan Purnama” very, very beautifully. Since “Di Bawah Sinar Bulan Purnama” means “Under the Light of the Full Moon”, something strange happened tonight. We don’t know if the musicians and audience realize this or not, but a shiny full moon actually graced the night sky outside the hall. Speaking of coincidence.
A song from Rob Pronk, a legendary Dutch musician with Indonesian blood (he was born in Malang, Indonesia) was the next piece. It was a pentatonic-based song called “Sinta”. Not an easy repertoire, yet they all did very well in bringing it back alive. The sweet night continued on with Imelda Rosalin back on vocal. She sang another standards, “It Could Happen to You”. Then the first session reached the end with the song everyone know so well, “Route 66″. The guitarist Bramania Bachtiar did a cool rock n roll solo, while the Salamander Voices was captivating.
The second session started with Matt Ashworth on flute stood right beside Ack. The ensemble played “Elusive” really well. Then Ack conducted everyone to hum along with some guitar lines, and that was the opening of the next song, “Sometime Ago” in swingin’ Blues. Bram once again showed his tasty blues line on guitar, but many other musicians got their own round too, from Imelda on piano, Brury on flugelhorn, Matt Ashworth on saxophone, Gallang Perdhana on contrabass, to Agustinus on drums, they all had fun with Ack’s flugelhorn who once again involved the audience’s humming sound brilliantly in this song. No wonder this song got the biggest applauses up to this point.
“Day In, Day Out”, a 1939 song by Rube Bloom and Johnny Mercer took a fast swing lane with Imelda’s vocal plus Brury’s solo run in the middle, followed by a very old standard, “For Heaven’s Sake”. “Time to visit Brazil”, said Ack before the Salamander Big Band pinned Ivan Lins’ song, “Commeçar de Novo”. A piece written by Jerry van Rooyen “Tailspinning” took us back to the jazz path. Matt Asworth gave a cool improvisation lines in this composition which is probably the most difficult piece they play this year. “Because I Love You” brought back the sentimental mood to us. Devy introduced the whole players before serving up the last song, a Jimmy Dorsey’s piece, “Tangerine”. Trumpeter Egi Bayu who got promoted from Sangkuriang Youth Jazz Orchestra (SYJO) to Salamander Big Band did very well in it. More solo runs and energetic playing sealed the official show with an ace.
Since it was very beautiful, the audience of course asked for more. So they brought one last song, Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” by involving all players. One interesting thing about Mood Indigo, this was the song that made Rob Pronk fell in love with jazz for the very first time. Also because of this song, Duke Ellington became his role model). As much as we loved it, the concert finally reached the very end.
With Mr Ack van Rooyen, the Salamander Big Band sent respect to Jerry van Rooyen and Rob Pronk as well as treating the audiences with a very special and beautiful package. Last year they explored many difficult terrains, playing complex compositions that showed how far a Big Band can stretch its concept under the guidance of Dieter Mack (read the report here: http://jazzuality.com/jazz-event-report/salamander-big-band-7th-anniversary-latin-night-the-report/). This time they came back to the mainstream, embracing the true heart and real spirit of Big Band, just like the moment it was born and changed the course of music. Ack has taught them how to play as an ensemble. How they should blow the brasses to create an ‘alive’ sound. So tonight, we saw the whole team of Salamander Big Band involved their souls in creating a ‘warm’ tones with heartfelt dynamics on any given piece. We always know that Salamander can take up repertoires with high degree of difficulties but can make the more simple ones sound rich and majestic. Thanks to Ack, the Salamander has taken one step higher in producing lively dynamics throughout the performance.
Ack is the perfect one to do it. He has a very long experience, more than 60 years at least. There are many flugelhorn players, but it’s rare to find someone who still can play it like Ack. The sound he produces with his flugelhorn is naturally beautiful, it feels like having a heavenly sweet caramel candy melts in your mouth. The brass section of Salamander Big Band should be proud to learn it from him. But Ack gave a lot of space to the rhythm section too to shine.
For you who live in Jakarta, you can catch their next performances on Erasmus Huis (Tuesday, September 9, 2014) and GoetheHaus (Wednesday, September 10, 2014). Both show will start at 7:30 pm without taking any charge. The first concert in Bandung was very beautiful, you people in Jakarta should not miss this one.
We sincerely thank the Salamander Big Band, Ack van Rooyen, Goethe Institut, Erasmus Huis and everyone else (persons/institutes) behind this event. Happy anniversary Salamander Big Band! So happy to witness your tremendous growth for 8 years and look forward to see more updates from you. And long live, Mr Ack, may you be blessed with the best of health and keep bearing much fruits for many more years. We hope to see you again in Indonesia and give another unforgettable round with Salamander Big Band like the one we got tonight.
See more pictures:
Repoter: Riandy Kurniawan, Titus Firmanto
Photographer: Mia Damayanti