Ryoshi’s House of Jazz: Pioneering a New Live Music Scene in Bali

The owner of Ryoshi, Mr. Saigon Togasa’s speech is subtle at first then interspersed with outbursts of excitable words. The enthusiasm is contagious. Being the pioneer in distilling the sound of jazz, and helping to jumpstart the live music scene in Bali, the jazz aficionado aims for a Blue Note-level fame at his venue where little-known prodigies display their musical prowess before leaping off into widespread stardom. We’d say he’s already there…
Were you initially worried that a jazz joint might be too limiting in terms of finding an audience?
I realized that the live music scene that makes money here are the ones playing pop and Top 40 songs, and especially in Bali where the live music scene is probably 95 percent DJ (music) and the five percent left goes to live music, with the one percent being jazz (laughs). But I do it for the love of it.
So how did you come about establishing a jazz club in Bali in the first place?
I felt that there was a missing jazz culture in Bali, and wherever I go—from New York to Singapore—the first thing I always looked for was the jazz club. Then I founded Blue Train in ’98 that plays jazz seven days a week in Double Six, Seminyak, which unfortunately failed to find an audience so I had to close it. After that I kind of layed low for a while, until Ryoshi moved to our current place, and Rio Sidik, who performed at the opening of the new place (and still performs there today), suggested why don’t we do it every week? And so that’s how it became a weekly jazz event.
Tell us what do you love most about having a jazz venue?
Oh it’s the energy of it. Many people may not notice it but when the musicians are up there on the stage they’re interacting with each other. The bass player might suddenly do something new and the other members would be like, WTF—and then in the end they’ll try to blow each other’s mind! And seeing new talent is also great; we have this young kid from Yogya named Hiro who plays a killer saxophone or when Joey Alexander (at age 7 and 10, pre-Grammy nominations) performed with Sandy Winata and Indra Lesmana and that kid drove those two to their maximum potential!
How did you set your jazz club apart from the others?
Though we started small, I don’t want to compromise the gig—we set the standard high. We encourage musicians who play here to express themselves; if they play a cover song I want them to do it with their own unique style, not like some karaoke version of it. We often stage jam sessions where we will have senior musicians to play with the new ones. That’s how we have musicians like Iwan Fals, Indra Lesmana or Dewa Budjana, and international artists such as Incognito and Earth, Wind & Fire, up on our stage and have jam sessions. Now we have people from all over curious about the jazz scene in Bali then they come to Ryoshi.
So what’s the difference between the jazz scene then and now?
Of course compared to when I first got here in ’86 now Bali has everything! Before there was nothing here—not even fresh milk! Today the jazz community is growing, and though there are some jazz clubs, I think we’re still the only one that allows the musicians to just play and be themselves. We have an average performance of about 20 minutes for each set or more for jam sessions.
Any new goals for the future?
You know, there aren’t that many jazz clubs in the world but the ones that exist have long term stability and are now considered legends like Blue Note because many famous jazz artists play there before they become a big star and make their own history. I want Ryoshi’s House of Jazz to be known like that: as the place where Balawan started, or Sandy Winata or Joey Alexander or Indra Gupta. I want it to make its own history.  [Sahiri]

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