I was interviewed by Cindy Husein and Syah Abdurrachman of Radio Kita, 3ZZZ 92.3 FM Melbourne on 17 February 2012. The interview was in Indonesian, but for English speakers, I’ve translated it to English. Here it is.
Cindy: Radio Kita listeners, our guest tonight is ade ishs. He is a composer and also a pianist from Bandung [Indonesia]. Initially, he learned classical music from many teachers, one of which was Peter Ferdinandus. When he studied at Universitas Indonesia, he joined a band [Ensemble Band] and became their keyboardist and pianist. After that, in 2002, he moved to Melbourne. Afterwards, he stayed active, particularly in jazz, and involved himself with local musicians. One of his albums is called New Butterfly. Welcome, ade!
ade: Hi, Cindy!
Cindy: Tell me more. I heard that you were concerting at the Grampians Jazz Festival on 10 and 11 February?
ade: Yeah, I just got back to Melbourne last Sunday.
Cindy: How was it? Many people came? How was the audience?
ade: Yeah, it was so crowded. It happened to be the first time I went to the Grampians. I went there not only for the festival, but also to have a family trip. There were lots of people attending the festival. There were really so many jazz enthusiats, and I myself was rather surprised with the warm reception from the audience.
Cindy: How many musicians were involved?
ade: Oooh, so many that I couldn’t estimate. Perhaps around 50?
ade: There were a lot of bands from Friday afternoon until Sunday evening. It was so full of music in, if not mistaken, 8 to 10 venues. It was going on nonstop.
Cindy: Were the musicians from Australia only, or were there others from other parts of the world?
ade: I don’t know whether there were others from outside Australia. But I know for sure there were ones from outside Victoria. I watched someone from Adelaide. Even I saw listeners from outside Victoria.
Cindy: You started learning classical, right? What made you interested in jazz?
ade: Perhaps, initially it was family influence. I was raised in a family that enjoyed listening to music. Perhaps my early exposure to jazz was from my dad, who enjoyed listening to vocal, big band, symphonic kind of jazz. Frank Sinatra kind of stuff. Then, after I grew up a bit more, my brother took home much electric fusion jazz music, like Chick Corea Elektric Band, Lee Ritenour, Dave Grusin, and after that I looked for other jazz stuff myself, listened to jazz radio stations. It happened that when I went to high school, many of my friends liked jazz, and we borrowed each other’s cassette tapes.
Cindy: Was it hard transitioning from classical to jazz? Some people say that jazz is by nature free, imaginative, and it’s actually improvisation, whereas classical music has very strict rules.
ade: Yeah, we can say that. I personally feel that when I play or learn classical, I learn techniques, rules, discipline, theories, whereas jazz is the application, how I interact with other musicians without preparation like how we wake up from our sleep not knowing whom we’ll meet. And when we finally meet someone, we haven’t pre-arranged what we’d talk about, right? Jazz is like that.
Cindy: So, it’s more spontaneous.
ade: Yeah, there’s that spontaneity factor, and reading situations and how we behave in good manners playing with other people.
Cindy: According to you, can one who, for example, hasn’t learned classical music at all, learn jazz before learning classical? Most people learn classical before learning jazz. Can we reverse that? Jazz first before classical?
ade: I’ve heard people like that. So, if the question is whether one can, well, there are already living examples.
Cindy: Perhaps the better question to ask is, which one is more normal? Classical followed by jazz, or jazz followed by classical?
ade: This is my personal opinion. It is highly advised to just learn classical initially, as if we learn classical music from a very old era, say, Baroque, like Bach up to a modern era like Debussy, it’s rich in all kinds of techniques. Even all techniques that I currently use in jazz, or pop, or dangdut, or qasidah, all the techniques are there [in classical]. So, although not mandatory, it’s highly beneficial.
Cindy: What was the piece we just heard, ade?
ade: It’s called “Acceptance”, my own composition, performed by my trio, i.e. myself on the piano, Chelsea Allen on drums, and Daigo Nakai on bass.
Cindy: The piece has such a calm mood. What inspired you to write this?
ade: It was my own thought on, sorry if I’m overly philosophical, humanity in general. It’s called “Acceptance”. Perhaps I should begin with my view on how human beings view each other, particularly their stances on differences they see in other people, either in point of view, religion/faith, or you know, race, anything.
Syah: What a deep meaning.
ade: <laugh> When many people talk about tolerance, tolerating the differences, I personally don’t favour the idea of tolerance, because tolerance kinda implies that “I’m right, the others are wrong. I’m just putting up with the differences.” But I, for one, feel it would be better if everyone can accept the differences. Not just tolerate, but accept others as they are.
Cindy: So, we admit that differences exist, and we don’t force everyone to be the same.
Cindy: Wow, that’s so nice. According to your Facebook page, you have your New Butterfly album that is available for purchase. It’s mentioned there that it’s suitable for meditation. Why did you choose that theme?
ade: It was probably because, well, solo piano playing style like that [in the album], and I tried to focus on anything, particular stuff that I felt or experienced or thought, and then expressed them in the form of music. The result was like New Butterfly or its predecessor, Visions. Let’s just say that the album was my attempt at sharing my meditation result.
Cindy: So, when you wrote the pieces in the album, did you have a specific purpose in mind, such as music therapy? You know, some people believe that music therapy can be very effective for treating, for example, mental illnesses or heartbreaks. Did you have such a purpose in mind?
ade: Oh, no. Nothing that particular. Actually, the tracks I chose to be in New Butterfly were written, if not mistaken, from when I was a teenager until the time of recording. Perhaps those were pieces that I often played. For example, the track Jakarta at Night 3 was written when I still went to high school in the 1990s.
ade: Yeah. Little Butterfly was written in 2005. So, yeah, the time span was from when I was a teenager up to 2005. Therefore, we can say that it’s a sample of my “life journey”. Well, perhaps to be more precise, the things I experienced in that period.
Cindy: When did you start composing?
ade: <sigh> I don’t remember.
Cindy: <laugh> So you were that young.
ade: <laugh> I really don’t remember. Maybe around 1990s. Or perhaps earlier, but really, I don’t remember. I’m trying to compile a database of pieces I’ve written including when I wrote them. If I can’t remember the year, I just write down “19??”.
Cindy: When you wrote music for the first time, was that because you were given an assignment by your teacher, or you just wanted to do it?
ade: Of course when I learned composition, it was because I was pushed to write something in 10 minutes, but of course, it was a desperately written song. But since around 1990s, I no longer studied composition, so noone gave me any songwriting assignment, and I wrote songs as I wanted. I got inspired, I wrote.
Cindy: When you went to college, what was your main subject?
ade: When I was in Indonesia [University of Indonesia], I majored in physics. <laugh> Yup. And then here in Melbourne [RMIT], I majored in IT.
Cindy: OK. So, you learned composition outside your university classes.
ade: Yeah. Actually, I learned composition as part of my music training when I was little.
Cindy: Oh, OK.
Cindy: That was Soil. What’s the story behind the song?
ade: The story is, one day I was walking on wet soil, or perhaps damp. I don’t quite remember.
Cindy: Then you started jumping cheerfully, wheee? <laugh>
ade: <laugh> I felt my foot steps, the air around me, and felt grateful for where I was now, on Australian soil.
Cindy: Yeah, sometimes we’re so rushed in living our life, not even having any awareness of our foot steps. OK, back to music. There’s an ongoing debate about music notation. Some say that a music learner should not use notation, but they should instead rely on their hearing, whereas some others say that the sooner a music learner learns about notation, the better it is. What’s your opinion on this topic?
ade: <groan> According to me, both are important. Why? Listening is important as music is something we listen to. And why is notation important? Because we need to communicate music in written form. For example, I can’t play the bass. How do I communicate my idea to the bassist? I write it by using notation, as I can’t play the bass, let alone recording myself doing it. And also, for educational purposes, ideally, by merely listening, all musicians can follow a given piece of music, but that’s a very hard thing for early learners. So, we need a kind of cheat sheet that is transcription. You know, say, many songs have lyrics we can all listen to, and many people still google the lyrics.
Cindy and Syah: <laugh>
ade: Because even though they can listen to them, it doesn’t necessarily mean they get them. And also, the tradition in jazz, we use the thing called lead sheets. They are sort of the blueprints to give the idea of how songs sound like approximately. It’s up to the player to change a bit here and a bit there. And players play the solo parts differently. And every time a player plays them, they do it differently. Usually, a jazz lead sheet is only one page long for a song that plays up to 8 or 9 minutes.
Cindy: So, the same song is never played the same twice. Every time you play it, you do it differently.
ade: Definitely. Back to the debate, both listening and notation are important. Notation is important for written communication. Listening is important as music is something we listen to, and we can get an idea of what’s written, like, “Oh, so, this is how the expression is like.”
Cindy: So, in your opinion, the combination of both.
Cindy: Say, a child who’s an early music learner. Is there anything perilous if they depend so much on notation? So, for example, if they’re suddenly required to play without notation for an example, they become nervous. Is there such a peril? What I mean, is, is there anything perilous if they don’t depend on their listening and intuition, but they only depend on notation?
ade: The peril is just the music becomes boring.
ade: As they only read whatever’s given in front of their eyes. They become so occupied in doing so that they neglect their expressions. I think that’s it. They bore their listeners. Not a drama if no-one else listens to it.
Cindy: Any strategy to avoid that? Like one can perhaps start by learning by notation, but after playing the piece for 10 times, lose the notation. What do you think?
ade: I agree with that. Personally, when I’m given a new song, yeah, I look at the given cheat sheet. Or in my capacity as a player in a band, I ask for either the chart or lead sheet, or the audio so that I can transcribe myself. For me, both are effectively the same. I personally try whenever I play, I do so by heart and not get distracted by the chart.
Cindy: So, yeah, don’t depend too much on charts.
ade: Yeah, particularly with jazz, if you depend too much, you’re a dead meat.
Cindy: Because you need to listen to the others, right?
Cindy: Even more when you’re in a group. If you’re not in tune with the others, you’ll be in trouble.
ade: That’s right.
Cindy: Speaking of jazz groups, you have a trio, right?
Cindy: So, your trio is with Chelsea Allen and Daigo Nakai.
Cindy: How did you guys begin your collaboration? Where did you meet?
ade: Last year, I began frequenting a place called Guildford Lane Gallery. It was on Guildford Lane, City [Melbourne CBD]. Unfortunately, it has now been closed down. At that time, every friday night, there was a workshop led by Australian pianist Steve Sedergreen. I met Chelsea for the first time in June. My intention going there initially was to meet more people that I could form a band with, but I wasn’t really desperate. I wanted to find ones who could play well and I felt suitable playing with. So, that night, Chelsea came for the first time. At one point in time, I was about to just play a piano duet with someone else. Suddenly she said, “Can I join you?” And I said OK. We played [Sonny Rollins’] “St. Thomas”. After I heard her play, I was <gasp> “I’m officially her fan now”. Then we exchanged contact details, and we both committed ourselves to forming a band. The problem at that time was, “Well, we need a bassist.” We agreed. And the plight at the time was that a good jazz bassist was an endangered species in Melbourne. So hard to find. We tried looking for one for quite a while but never got one. One day, out of the blue, the guy called Daigo Nakai came to the place. And it was, “Wow, his playing is cool.” So, we asked him to join us, and here we are now.
Syah: Oh, unfortunately, we have so little time left. So, we have to end this chat. We’ll continue it next time, as I’m sure there must be some other interesting stuff to talk about.
Cindy: If you fan wants to find out more about you, how do they do that?
ade: Please visit my website: http://adeishs.com.
Cindy: Where do you usually play?
ade: Depending on bookings. <laugh>
Cindy: Listeners, if you’re interested, go straight to ade’s website. Unfortunately, time’s up. Good evening, and thanks to ade for the chat.