The Yak interviews blind pianist Ade Irawan as he prepares for the Ubud Jazz Festival 2018.
Ade, you were born in Colchester in the UK? As an Indonesian how did that happen?
Yes, I was born in Colchester on 15 January 1994. At that time, my mom was doing her master’s program (International Economics) at Essex University.
You started teaching your self the piano at two and a half years old? Tell us whose piano and how did that come about?
My parents gave me a lot of toys as a baby, but it seemed that only a toy piano could attract my attention. I explored it by myself and tried to play it in my own way. My mom told me that I started to correctly repeat any tune I heard when I was only two and a half years old. After that, I was taught to play simple songs by my parents. My playing improved and my parents thought that I needed a bigger piano. So they bought a five-octave keyboard (61 key keyboard) when I was five years old.
From the UK you moved to where?
I moved to Jakarta after my mom graduated her master program in September ’94.
Performing at the Chicago Winter Jazz Festival. Would you consider this a turning point in your career?
Although only playing as the opening group, joining the Chicago Winter Jazz Festival meant a lot for me because it was not easy to be chosen as a member of the group and playing at the Jazz Festival has given me greater self-confidence. As a blind jazz pianist, I felt that I could play as good as normal musicians. From that time, I was braver in improvising any song I played in my way and in my interpretation.
What other moments in your career have been decisive?
Meeting with many famous jazz musicians in Chicago introduced by Ms Coco Elysses-Hevia, such as Mr. Robert Irving III, Mr. John Faddis, Mr. Ramsey Lewis and Mr Dick Hyman, had made me more open minded. At that time, Ms Elysses-Hevia was one of Directors of the Jazz Institute of the Chicago. I joined the Institute in 2006, and Ms Elysses-Hevia was like “my angel” for me as she had an instinct by seeing my music talent. She introduced me to many important, famous jazz and blues musicians in Chicago, and shared her patience and love with me. She still supports me very closely up to now.
Who was, or is, the most influential person in your musical journey.
I thank God that I have so many kind people who always loved and support me. Every one surrounding and supporting me, including my father, mother and sister, have done their crucial part in influencing my music. All of them are important in my musical journey.
Does your disability to see help or hinder your music compositions do you think?
In my opinion, I can’t see, but with my hearing I am able to focus more to any jazz song I hear or I compose.My disability has given me a musical sensitivity more than other musicians. People often tell me that I have the feel of playing jazz and blues. In fact, learning by myself and listening jazz and blues in Chicago has sharpened my talent.
Which jazz greats would you love to share the stage with and why?
I always dream of sharing the stage with many world jazz and blues musicians, not only because I want to learn from them, but also the experience of playing with them will give me more spirit to be better pianist.
What was it like to play a solo recital at the Sydney Opera House?
In the beginning, my mom was really afraid if I failed to play a solo recital at the Sydney Opera House, since no Indonesian disabled musician had done it before. So when I could do it on 31 May 2011, my family was so proud of me and it meant a lot.
If you could play anywhere where would you choose to play?
Any international jazz festival is challenging and I am interested in playing my music there. I do want to collaborate with international jazz and blues musicians as much as possible. I believe that playing with them could make my music more inspiring.
And lastly, with such challenges in your life do you have any advice for up and coming musicians, or even young Indonesians, which you would care to share?
For me, a musician should practice and never feel tired or bored to improve their playing. Never satisfied with our achievements; never stop to learn new things and improving our music. In our music journey, there is always a time that we feel like giving up. But, it is not right. We have to make an effort how to keep our spirit and never give up easily. I believe in God’s miracles. So it would be perfect when we pray and do practice our music as much as we could.
Many thanks Ade and see you at the Ubud Jazz Festival.