Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Java & Jazz

The Jakarta International Java Jazz Festival wrapped up March 5, and from on-line accounts, it was a great success and source of pride for Indonesians. Had I been able to jet down for it, I probably would have been more interested in the local musicians playing. Most of the international artists looked to be more smooth-jazzy than my tastes run, but I’d have tried to catch Hiromi, Bob James, and Tony Monaco.

Regardless of the talent line-up, the Java Fest produced good on-line buzz for an Islamic country struggling with its international image. It’s exactly the sort of enterprise we should be supporting through the State Dept. and USIA. Jazz was among the most effective cultural programming produced by those agencies during the Cold War. It’s an art form that speaks directly about personal liberty and free expression. For too many in Islamic countries, the only American culture they are familiar with are the soft-core porn films that play to packed houses in the Mid-East.

In truth, jazz has proven quite compatible with Eastern forms of music. Coltrane’s late groups often featured two bassists to attain a droning effect. Jazzmen like Bud Shank and Paul Horn regularly improvised with Ravi Shankar. There’s no reason to think the average person in the Middle-Eastern street can’t relate to jazz. They just need to be exposed to it. Once exposed, jazz seems to have a life-affirming, but subversively democratizing effect, which is exactly what the region needs.