Salihara Jazz Buzz 2014: Nial Djuliarso “Interpreting American Masters” and Nita Aartsen “From Baroque to Romantic”




Komunitas Salihara, the cultural enclave and private multidisciplinary art center located in Jakarta opens up its 2014 program with Salihara Jazz Buzz. Just like last year, this program fills the whole first month of the year with variety of jazz. If last year the program presented one band each week, this time the people of Salihara doubled it. We can enjoy two shows each week; the first time takes the 4:00 pm slot and the next one at 8:00 pm. The lineup of Salihara Jazz Buzz 2014 is mouth-watering. Not only big names that hold international reputation, but each of them bring a special concept too, either picturing important music eras or legendary artistes. That’s why they use “Persembahan (Presentation): Tribute to the Masters” as the theme.

The first week of Salihara Jazz Buzz 2014 has started last Saturday (January 11, 2014) with Nial Djuliarso and Nita Aartsen. Both are amazing pianists with loads of amazing stories and achievements to tell. While Nial Djuliarso interpreted the American Masters (and some songs from our own collections)  all by himself, Nita Aartsen took a trip down music history as she covered the most important era of Western Classical Music, the time when many ideas that make it up took shape and standardized which happened from Baroque era (1600-1700’s) to Romantic (1800-early 1900). What’s interesting is that she didn’t bring it the way Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert and so on did it back then, instead she sailed them on with a jazz-flagged ship by involving an ethnic and Latin banners. She was accompanied by an all-star cast. Different artists on different themes, but they showed mastery over each tribute.

Nial Djuliarso : Interpreting American Masters: Solo Piano

Nial Djuliarso got the first shot in the late afternoon. We remember once Hank Jones said as quoted: “When you listen to a pianist, each notes should have an identity, each note should have a soul of its own.” Nial did just that, an impression that we could clearly got from his solo piano recital. Nial Djuliarso started the show right after the gong hit by Salihara’s team with Duke Ellington’s  “Take the A Train”. “I’ll talk later, now its time for me to play”, said Nial to the audience. If you wonder why he decided to play alone, he explained that the reason is because it’s still rare to find in  Indonesia, including in Salihara. Jazz Music was born over a hundred years ago with so many essential artits through generation, so he could’t decide which artist to tribute if he could only chose one name. Luckily he didn’t have to do that. He could tribute whoever he wanted, therefore he took “Interpreting American Jazz Masters” as the subject.


After pinning Duke Ellington’s masterpiece he went straight to a song firstly published in 1924,  “It Had to Be you”. If you’re a movie fans, you’d recognize this song being used in so many movies like Humprey Bogart-Ingrid Bergman’s classic movie Casablanca (1942) even used as the theme of When Harry Met Sally (1989) where the song was got its new popularity through the voice and music of Harry Connick, Jr. What special in this song is that Nial also sang with his smooth vocal. This song shows how jazz repertoire could be famously known which mostly based on three things: From Broadway, by its composer and used in Hollywood movie. “It Had To Be You” is a very popular song that has been using as the bones of many movies and Broadway shows. So it’s a good pick by Nial. The next song’s was a Bebop from Charlie Parker’s collection. Nial showed not only how fast he could go speeding with his fingers but how he can let your body moved following the tunes he produced as well.

If usually Nial came to Jakarta for just only a month during holiday, this time he decided to stay in Jakarta to bring his soul of jazz until May. We asked him about what it feels to play with big cats in USA, and here’s his answer, “I can learn from what they are playing… like Roy Hargrove for example. He likes to play at a club in New York called Smalls. He also stated how happy he is to have the opportunity of gaining experience by playing together with many jazz legends in the world. We know that he gains so many great opportunities by pursuing his career in New York, but we do need a talent like him too in Indonesia.

The next song he played was from 1940 titled “Everything Happens To Me”. Nial demonstrated his taste over a very melodic rearrangement with a very clear and smooth ending. Nial carried on with “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm”, originally written by Wallter Jurman, Gus Kahn and Bronislaw Kaper. He played with so much passion which bagged him loud applause by the audiences.

Another surprise came when he suddenly did scat-singing while playing “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby” by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields. in this song Nial also played so deep like a man fall madly in love. He closed his eyes while reaching the last key, even out from the piano that made the audience laughed.


Then he played his own song “Moscow Morning” then continued on with “The Girl From Ipanema” with a very fast tempo. “Pemuda”, written by Candra Darusman and a theme song of Chaseiro came right after. From here, it’s time for this  young pianist to play a masterpiece from Indonesian’s composer, songwriter and musician, Ismail Marzuki. It was “Sabda Alam”. “Jazz, Broadway, and Latins were Ismail’s favourite. He can spend many hours listening vinyls. In America, people don’t know his songs, but from the melody and chords that he created, surely he’s a big composer that should stand at the same league with George Gershwin,” said Nial. Beautiful harmony on the piano were clearly made based on his love to jazz. Then Nial covered Thelonious Monk’s “Monk’s Dream”.

The next song was Charlie Parker’s “Au Privave”, unexpectedly made the audience felt warm. Again he made the crowds laughed when he played all the way to the edge, proceeding further than the number of keys.  His spirit of freedom and joy of playing were very well captured in every song. But then he got a request from an expatriate, asking him to play Bill Evans’ “waltz for Debby”. Segment from Charlie Parker came next brought in a lovely standard. After that, the audience requested another song from Ismail Marzuki, “Juwita Malam”. At first Nial pretended that he forgot the song but then finally he remembered and covered it up ellegantly. With “Juwita Malam”, the concert reached the end.

He might miss the music in New York, the Big Apple where he can feel the melody of masters from Oscar Peterson to Ella Fitzgerald every night, but here he can show all his shining experiences and skill to his own people. Nial still has the time to get in touch with fellow musicians in his own homeland, finding out what they play and work on. We hope he will extend his stay because there are so many things he can do in here, things which will be beneficial for our jazz development. Speaking of his show in Salihara Jazz Buzz, Nial Djuliarso surely did a brilliant job.

Nita Aartsen : From Baroque to Romantic

When Nita Aartsen was about to perform, Jakarta soaked with rain. But still, almost all seats were full with audience. After an opening video, Nita began in a trio formation with Jalu  G. Pratidina on kendangs and Adi Darmawan on bass. The lights went off, but then shone onto Nita. Nita scatted smoothly then few minutes later the bass sound came in. Piano followed the bass and when the rhythm became fast kendang joined the party. At the end of the songs she scatted and played her keyboard. Such a mystical opening scene that was.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven and Johann Sebastian Bach are her favorites and source of inspiration. Realizing Nita as a lady who rose to fame by placing her feet on Classical and Jazz, we know that this show would be different. What we got is actually much, much more than that. Jalu is a senior kendang player that have been really familiar with jazz. This time he didn’t just use kendangs, instead he also brought many other traditional percussive instruments including darbuka, djembe and gete. In a trio formation they played “Turkish March”, a composition of Mozart attractively. “In Sukabumi, Beethoven is unknown. What is it, Pet Open?” joked Nita to Jalu that made the audiences laughed. That was the introduction before Nita played “Für Elise”, a classic composition of Ludwig van Beethoven.

We can’t help but wonder, is it hard to translate these classical repertoires to jazz? Nita said no, she take it as a challenge. Besides both have different structure, ‘habit’ and discipline, both came from different culture and part of the sphere. Eventhough her background is from classical, she also learned jazz. So she knows how to combine both world into one stunning creation. We should also realize that today the crossovers happen here and there. Like for example Maxim, he played  Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee in house music manner. Therefore, Nita took the old theme but presented it in a totally different approach. She also told that the music is always dynamically progressing over the ages. If before 1900 people only learned classical the way it is, today there are many approach can be don like New Age for example. Thus,the evolution still continue and it has to be applied. So, its is not hard actually for her to translate classical to jazz, but she’s got to put her best, if not her all, in bringing the concept into life. As a result, she even brought more than just breathing classical into jazz by infusing the touch of Sundanese which has a whole different roots than the already different cores. They tried to find the harmony and kept the red lines.

Back to “Für Elise”, Nita included the feel of Samba and Salsa along with kendangs action. The audiences started clapping their hands together all the way until the end. The next song she played was “Air on the G string” and “Minuet in G Major” both taken from Johann Sebastian Bach’s shelf. Nita then asked Arif Dharma to sing with her in a duet “Kau Hidup Dalam Hatiku”.  Uniquely this song was sang in trilingual: Spanish, Indonesian and English.

In the next songs Arif suddenly appeared at the left side on the second floor when Nita played songs about his father. This time Nita didn’t only play jazz but also took a little rock pattern and introduced Muhammad Iqbal on drum to accompany her in Franz Schubert’s “Serenade” by Franz Schubert. Iqbal’s solo drum performances was remarkable. He can even play with his two magic hands without using drum sticks.

Nita believed that her student and all children would love the next tune, “Fröhlicher Landmann” by Robert Schumann. Idham Noorsaid’s trumpet blow really brought the joy for us to feel. At the last presentation, Nita invited the man who introduced her to jazz, none other than guitarist Donny Suhendra who gave a very rich texture into the song. Since the audience still wanted to see more of her, she played the legendary Mozart’s masterpiece, “Symphony No.40” .

Nita believes Salihara has its own magis feels. She also realizes that every place has different type of audience and character. Nita gave us example about this. “In another places a musician could played so good but in this place the story could be different”, she said. According to her, one of the reason is perhaps the place is a “theater”, so the successful musician has to bring some theatrical element inside their performance. She has seen musicians from Korea and America brought in bon fire and other props in their musical performance. But bands or musicians in Indonesia rarely thought about it. Eventhough she has to think out of the box for Salihara’s gig, her spirit is still the same. “What the audience need is important” she said. That means a musician has to differ when they perform in front of the kids or adults. She also stated that Salihara is a place where educative people gathered, therefore she could let herself free in creating artistic concept.


We felt really blessed to be able to watch Nita’s “From Baroque to Romantic” concert. It was a very ellegant tribute to the most important era of Western Classical Music, presented in a very ellegant way, rich in sounds and variations, something that all ages would surely able to enjoy.

So that’s the story of the first two concerts of Salihara Jazz Buzz. Two brilliant concerts in one day with so many stories to tell. There are still 4 bands/projects to come with their own theme: Glen Dauna Project: “The Little Wing of Jimi Hendrix”, Indro Hardjodikoro and the Fingers “This is Only The Beatles”, Sri Hanuraga & Adra Karim : “Thelonious Monk’s Blue Note” and Indra Lesmana Group “To Chick Corea” (Click here to see the complete info Different theme, different group, different way of playing and different concept will bring different experience to you. If you came to Nial and Nita’s shows, don’t forget the rest throughout January. If you missed these previous ones, make sure you won’t miss the upcoming concerts.

See more pictures:

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Reporter: Reita Wijaya
Photographer: Fennysia Wijaya
Editor: Riandy Kurniawan