Jazz - Musician/Composer/Producer

All that Jazz comes together As One

21 July 2007

Trisha Sertori, Contributor, Gianyar


A gig pulling beers for the band in a Los Angeles jazz club changed forever the life a Japanese psychology student, who today runs the coolest jazz club in Bali.

Japan's leading female jazz saxophonist Chika Asamoto said she knew nothing of the jazz that was about to sweep the world when she signed on as a waitress at Maiden Voyage Jazz Caf‚ Los Angeles. Asamoto took the job to make ends meet while studying psychology at the University of California-Berkeley.

"I knew absolutely nothing about music. The club had some of the greats playing there and one day, I had to serve the band drinks during intermission. It was the famous Art Pepper," she recalled.

"I told him I was impressed by his playing. I thought he was playing written music and I told him I was impressed he could remember all the notes. Art and his wife cracked up (with laughter) and (she) said, No baby - that's improv. He does it on the stage."


"I was so impressed that some human being made music on stage. That's when I got way into jazz," said Asamoto, who next day took a stroll along Hollywood Boulevard in search of a secondhand saxophone.

She later attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, with an application form backed by some of jazz's greats and a passion for music that has lasted more than two decades.

"I chose sax because that's what Art had so impressed me with his improv. I thought, `How do people do that!'"
she laughed.

And that serendipitous meeting of Asamoto, Art and all that jazz proved a boon not only for audiences across Japan, but also for audiences of the twice weekly jazz sessions that bring the house down at the jazz club-art gallery she runs in Ubud with artist husband Hutomo Ishii: the As One Lounge and Gallery.

The live music at the As One Lounge is knockout material. This is jazz at its finest, played by some of the region's best.


The club's Jazz Nights are alive with the sounds of artists such as the extraordinarily talented trumpeter and vocalist, Rio Sidik, and his quite awesome band, Rio Quartet; or the renowned American soprano saxophonist, Jo Rosenberg, and the Yuri Trio.


Asamoto has hosted music programs for television, made dozens of brilliant albums, run her own music label and produced some of Asia's finest musicians.


She is also much in demand in Tokyo as a musician, and regularly joins in the Jazz Nights, adding some seriously cool soprano saxophone magic to the mix.


Improvisation at full tilt is what audiences can expect at As One. Asamoto said this was one venue where song requests fly out the window, so guests need not fear the drawn-out caterwauling of spontaneous karaoke. This is where musicians play music.


"This is the only place people never make requests. Musicians here always say they like this place because people really listen. People really appreciate our music," said Asamoto.


She added that the lounge attracted some very famous musicians from Bali and around Asia because it was one venue where musicians know they can cut loose and really get down to playing with absolute passion. And the audience loves it.

Asamoto said it was rare that musicians were able to move away from playing the standard requests that audiences knew.

"When I was young, I wanted to play jazz straight ahead, but the record company wanted top 40's. I was young and that was the road," said Asamoto. "All the musicians here have gone through that type of tough situation where you have to play what others want. Here (at As One) musicians feel very free - they can show the soul."

And while many might feel jazz is difficult to understand because of the level of instrumentation, complex melodies and few lyrics, Chika says people don't have to understand the musical form.

"What the hell is improv? People get touched," she said.


"As a kid in Japan I listened to Judy Garland's Over the Rainbow. At the same time, people in America, Europe, India were also listening to that song. This is world music."

Asamoto added that the musicians' skills and their ability to bounce off each other, plunge into songs, dive and pirouette on a note - then spring back again to the original melody in mind - bending improvisation - carried the audience along, whether they were jazz aficionados or not.

Certainly during Rio's rendition of Over the Rainbow with Asamoto's dreamy soprano sax, the audience was lifted "way up high" that more than one damp eye was seen in the house. The word is out about As One's "musicians first" philosophy, and Asamoto says more and more musicians are keen to play at the club - gallery.

"Musicians can play with their hearts. They are not blocked, so As One is getting a big reputation among serious musicians. You never know if there is a great musician or two in the audience and they join," she said of some very fine artists who took time out of their busy schedules to play at As One.


Other stars sit twinkling in the audience, such as a holidaying Germany - based vocalist who brought the house down with her astonishing vocal range and power.

As for the lounge's audience, it is growing weekly via word of mouth. A couple from Jakarta caught Asamoto, Rio and the band recently, and was simply astounded.

"This is pure quality. It's all quality," jazz lover Rina said in awe.

Meanwhile, her guitar - playing husband watched the lead guitarist's fingers fly over the strings, making music so sweet it would not have been surprising to see a few angels dotted among the Sunday night crowd.


As One Lounge and Gallery
Jl. Raya Lungsiakan Kedewatan, Ubud
(0361) 975296
Art gallery : Open daily, 10 a.m - 5 p.m.

Jazz Night : Wednesdays and Sundays, 7:30 p.m -10 p.m.

The lounge-gallery has good food with excellent service, so get there early to catch every riff. For complete schedules, visit www.asone-bali.com or email info@asone-bali.com.