On the 1st of September all six of us came together at Frankfurt Airport and from there took the long flight directly to Jakarta. With the financial sponsorship of the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the enormous support from the Austrian Embassies, we had a tremendous welcome in Jakarta – nicely rounded off by the absence of Johannes’ baggage...
On the first evening we were invited to dinner at the legendary jazz club "JAMZ" in Jakarta. The first concert was a Sunday brunch session at the Shangri La Hotel in the Cafe de Margaux. Many representatives of the press, and Jakarta’s VIP’s, had been invited to this beautiful hotel. There is a huge discotheque in the hotel’s basement that offers live jazz every Sunday. The keyboard unfortunately broke down twice during the performance that night, and Bruno had problems with the drums.
As the manager, I spent more than five hours at the Malaysian Embassy to obtain visas. This was not a simple undertaking for there were a couple of bombs planted at the embassy and the place was crawling with policemen – such is the lot of a manager. We enjoyed a very nice concert in the evening at "JAMZ." There were again problems with the piano and I decided that we would never again undertake such a tour without the band’s own instruments.
A trombone and trumpet player joined the concert and jammed with the Quintet. The highlight of Jakarta was the Kesian Gedung Culture Festival. We were announced on enormous posters and in most of the newspapers, and the venue, a wonderful 1000-year-old theatre, was totally booked out. The concert was grand and the Quintet had standing ovations for nearly half an hour. The musicians received beautiful flowers and the Austrian Ambassador, Dr. Segalla, invited us all with the embassy officials to the famous Cafe Batavia.
We flew on the morning of September 26 to Kuala Lumpur. At the airport our "personal Butler" Edwin was waiting to guide us through all of the immigration formalities and drove us to this stupendous 115-star hotel, with only seven suites (the H.v.Hermann Quintet occupied five of them).
The luxury of this hotel at first hypnotised the musicians, fortunately Hermann, the fantastic husband of the Austrian Ambassador’s secretary, Mrs. Moosbrugger, arrived on a welcoming visit bearing three bottles of "Grünen Veltliner." He organised a city tour and on Tuesday he went with us into the Malaysian jungle.
We would like to take the opportunity here to offer our heartfelt thanks to Hermann for spending so much time with us and giving us such a wonderful day. Unfortunately, the search for instruments was to begin again, this time in K.L. Yamaha finally provided us with a keyboard and a drum set, which we were also permitted to take with us to Langkawi Island.
The manager of the Carcosa Seri Negara Hotel, Mr. Leo Kuscher, organised an Austrian Evening for our first concert and we played three pleasant evenings to an extraordinary audience in a very noble ambience. On Friday we held a Charity Workshop at the International College of Music in K.L. This school has a partnership with Berkley (USA), and the students listened with open ears (and mouths) to the five musicians and their teaching of European jazz.
On Sunday morning we took off on the short flight to Langkawi Island, in nearby Thailand, in the Strait of Malacca. We played a wonderful, fully-booked concert in the beautiful Hotel Andaman, with all of the island’s VIPs present. The Andaman is one of the five best hotels in the world, and we enjoyed a wonderful rest day there. Johannes spent the entire day on a bicycle tour, and late evening we began to wonder if the Quintet would become a quartet.
Johannes finally arrived but was obliged to sing a couple of songs instead of playing the trumpet – he had damaged his lip drinking from a damaged bottle. On Tuesday the 12th of September we left Langkawi and travelled on to Singapore. A totally different world.
Frank and Iris Wong, a Chinese drummer and his lovely wife, gave us hospitality for our stay in this huge city. On the first evening Frank invited us to Harry’s Bar, the top jazz venue in Singapore, where the Quintet jammed with a local band and a very good singer from Chicago.
On Wednesday we held a lunchtime concert in the MITA building at the Arts Council in Singapore. We were originally meant to play in the Atrium, but the echo there was multiplied by six and the Quintet decided to play in the main building. On Thursday we had another lunchtime concert in the Creative Technical Centre.
The audience was between four and 80 years old and I’ve never seen such disciplined children. In the evening the Quintet went back to Harry’s Bar and was welcomed by the audience as old friends. How good it is to know that music shares the same language throughout the world. It was not easy to say goodbye to Singapore, but the most exciting stop on our tour was just before us.
Friday the 15th of September was our arrival day in Hanoi. And what a difference to Singapore, what a chaos in the streets. How lucky I felt to have the Austrian Embassy behind me, sending Mrs Hong who was the best helper and friend imaginable. Mrs Hong managed the transportation from the airport for us, including our luggage which had grown at every stop of the tour, through streets awash with a wide river of moped and bicycle riders who knew no road regulations whatsoever.
The Hilton Hanoi Opera Hotel was like an island in a vast wild sea. We began with our normal checking of the instruments. I thought this country, where everything is constantly in motion, would be the hardest place to effect organisation, but it turned out to be the most flexible. Whenever problems arose there were helping hands, instruments, smiles, and somehow the problems seemed to solve themselves. The alto-sax player, Quyen Van Minh, virtually gave birth to jazz in Hanoi. He and his family run Minh’s Jazz Club, and he also teaches at the Hanoi Conservatory, where we held our first concert in Vietnam.
This old building has a wood interior, very good acoustics, and the only properly-tuned piano in the entire Conservatory. It was a fully-booked concert and packed to the roof. The Charity Workshop we held in the Conservatory was something very special. The pupils there do not even receive the basic requirements – no saxophone reeds, no notes, and there is a great lack of instruments. But they gave great attention to the teachers from Europe that afternoon and were able to follow all that was offered.
It was a wonderful day for us all. The musicians enjoyed teaching these open-minded and enthusiastic young people. On our last day Bruno, Heinz and myself went to Ha Long Bay, one of the world’s wonders – 1969 islands in the wild world of Asia – undertaken on a four-hour boat trip.
In the evening, the Austrian ambassador, Dr. Müllner, pleased us by attending our final concert of this Asia tour. He introduced us to the vice-director of the Hanoi Opera, who invited us to play at the Hanoi Opera on our next visit.
At this point the Heinz von Hermann Quintet and myself, Katrin Kowalski, wish to express our thanks to the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Austrian Embassies with Dr. Segalla, Mag. Moosbrugger, Dr. Müllner, Mag. Kratzer and special thanks to Hermann (the jungle man), Frank and Iris, Sara Fang, Minh, Mr. Leo Kuscher, Yen, Thierry and Mrs. Hong. We sincerely hope that this tour through Asia was not our last, and that we will be able to reciprocate all of the enthusiasm given to us by all those we met.
Jazz in Asia.