Indonesia Expat
Arts/Entertainment

Jazz’s Latest Sensation Natasya Elvira Pays Tribute to Fitzgerald, Sinatra in New Album

Jazz's Latest Sensation Natasya Elvira Pays Tribute to Fitzgerald, Sinatra in New Album
Jazz's Latest Sensation Natasya Elvira Pays Tribute to Fitzgerald, Sinatra in New Album

Cinema, the Indonesian artist’s rendition of some of the most iconic American jazz standards, showcases both unwavering determination and awe-inspiring guts.

Natasya Elvira, after meeting her in person, is pretty much an enigma.

One would assume that, based on her latest album Cinema, the 23-year-old jazz songstress would show up during our interview with a glitzy, Swinging Sixties-esque charisma with a touch of a larger-than-life attitude. After all, Cinema finds the young artist re-interpreting jazz standards by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald with such confidence and gusto that her vocal performance in that record practically betrays her salad days. Instead, Natasya Elvira who stood before me was a nearly perfect picture of humility. Just a young woman who loves jazz to the bone.

How did she discover such passion in the first place? Well, it’s kind of a funny story.

“I was in the fifth grade, I think I was around 11 years old at the time. And I loved Lady Gaga — especially in her ‘Bad Romance’ era,” she reminisced, her face a mix of glee and bashfulness. “But afterwards, she released a record with [American jazz artist] Tony Bennett. I listened to their duets like ‘The Lady is a Tramp’, ‘Anything Goes’, and ‘But Beautiful’. Later, I was like, ‘These songs are so different from her usual stuff, but how come these songs can make my chest throb so hard?'”

Her introduction to the world of jazz might seem peculiar. Then again, so is Natasya Elvira. She even went so far as to humbly acknowledge that, compared to her peers, she has always harboured a unique taste in music.

“At the time, jazz was a genre of music that I had never heard anywhere before; a genre that had never penetrated my eardrums before,” she quipped, laughing. “I would say, growing up, I was a curious child. Not so much of that curiosity anymore, though, as I grew older. Still, sometimes I miss that childlike curiosity.”

‘Such a strange sensation’

Natasya Elvira‘s childlike curiosity at the time was potent enough to motivate her to discover different facets of jazz music. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s slinky, yet powerful take on “Dream A Little Dream of Me”, in particular, left a major impression on her teenage self. Little did she know at the time that the record would also influence her artistry as a future jazz musician.

“I remember listening to that record at school. I put on my headset, I closed my eyes, and it was as if I had been pulled back to the 1930s,” she looked back. “It was such a strange sensation in my heart. It felt like I was time travelling to a different era.”

Loving jazz music as an audience is one thing. Deciding to make a living as a jazz musician, on the other hand, is one hardcore move. She was 16 years old when she performed in front of the public for the first time, singing the legendary Ismail Marzuki’s jazzy classics such as “Juwita Malam” at Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM), Jakarta. She considered that performance “pretty life-changing” — at least, life-changing enough to set her on a path as a musician that we all know today.

Soon after, her friend-slash-future manager gave her the push she needed to commit to her passion.

“I met my [future] manager around the year 2022,” she recalled, “and he told me that there are many ways to obtain so-called ‘wealth’, which means you don’t have to follow what others are doing. In fact, the ones who have made the big time happen to be pioneers as well. They are the ones who managed to create something that did not cross most people’s minds.”

When all is said and done, is being a jazz musician a choice or a calling?

“In my case, I believe it is a calling,” she answered earnestly. “I mean, *maybe* it is a calling. Growing up, my biggest inspiration was actually Michael Jackson. But somehow, one way or another, I always end up in the jazz world. Whenever I sing a jazz song, somehow, it always feels so… Effortless.”

Natasya Elvira
Natasya Elvira
A jazz artist’s ‘name card’

So far, in a relatively young career, Natasya Elvira has always relied on her number-one asset: her vocals. The Jakarta-based artist, who received her first Anugerah Musik Indonesia (AMI Award) nomination last year for Best Jazz Artist, has impressed the music industry with her commanding, yet instinctive contralto. The release of her 2023 mini album, Lucky to be Young, personally made her feel that she is, indeed, a jazz artist not to be denied.

“I actually tried writing pop songs once, but it felt lacking,” she offered a funny behind-the-recording detail of her 2023 mini album. “I tried other genres as well. I tried R&B, but the result was terrible. But when I composed swing music, it felt, like, so easy. That’s how I knew jazz is where I’m meant to be.”

And then, along came her latest studio album, Cinema. True to its title, the eight-song catalogue is Natasya Elvira’s reinterpretations of the jazz classics that were made famous in the past thanks to being the soundtrack to the musicals dating all the way back to the Golden Age of Hollywood. For instance, Natasya Elvira perks up “Moon River”, a tune originally popularised by the late Hollywood starlet Audrey Hepburn in her 1961 feature film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Meanwhile, Natasya Elvira’s serene rendition of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” found its origin in the 1936 American musical pic Born to Dance — before enjoying a global phenomenon status thanks to Frank Sinatra’s 1956 rendition.

All the songs making up Cinema are originally iconic, unmistakable, and hence, difficult to re-interpret. Natasya Elvira knew, from the very beginning, that she had her work cut out for her. She is young, relatively new to the jazz music scene, and not at all American — how could she possibly do justice to legendary standards such as Billie Holiday’s “Easy Living”?

Turns out, such challenges were exactly the point. Natasya Elvira was aware that what she needed in her career was a “name card” — something that could show everyone, including the tough-minded jazz connoisseurs overseas, that her dedication to the genre goes above and beyond her age (or her nationality).

“For jazz artists, our ‘name card’ is the recording of our rendition of jazz standards,” she explained. “You can only be considered a ‘valid’ jazz artist once you have put your spin on those standards. If you go to the Netherlands or overseas, they would be, like, ‘You? A jazz artist? Show me your Spotify!’ And if they don’t see a song they recognise, they would be, like, ‘Well, you are not a jazz artist — yet!’.”

Cinema Album Cover
“Cinema” Album Cover
No guts, no glory

So far, Cinema has generated the result that Natasya Elvira was hoping for. At the 2024 Jakarta International BNI Java Jazz Festival which took place last May, several jazz artists from overseas, who also graced the festival’s stages, took notice of the young songstress once they discovered her latest album.

In a bigger picture, she also felt that Cinema harbours a much bigger significance than being simply a “name card” for herself.

“Beyond my intention of making, for myself, a ‘name card’ by releasing my rendition of these jazz standards, I would also like to let those international musicians know that there exists in Indonesia jazz standards with remarkable qualities as well,” she gushed. “A rendition that can stand toe-to-toe opposite the work by those international musicians.”

Furthermore, she hopes that Cinema can show her peers — including the younger aspiring artists out there — that a more classical and traditional take on jazz still has a place in the modern era. All it takes is a clever track list to entice Gen Z’s curiosity.

“I understand that, among young people here in Indonesia, songs like these are not so accessible in the ears of the mainstream,” she continued. “But that’s why, in Cinema, we chose the songs that were also recognised as pop culture. Unlike strictly jazz standards, the soundtrack of the films back in the 1930s would hopefully trigger the listeners’ curiosity.”

But of course, all of this could only go according to plan if Natasya Elvira committed to the high bar of quality that she had set for herself. Fortunately, re-interpreting those iconic jazz tunes was not as stressful as I had initially imagined. After all, she already had years of preparation.

“These songs in Cinema are the ones that I genuinely love, and I have sung them on a daily basis,” she explained her bond with these songs. “Hence, these songs had already been embedded in me. That’s how big my love is for these songs.”

Arguably, Billie Holiday’s “Easy Living” must be the most treacherous mountaintop among all the mountaintops that Natasya Elvira tried to conquer in recording Cinema. The song alone is considered difficult to master. On top of that, Billie Holiday’s stamp on “Easy Living” might be too scared to shake off — especially by a jazz rookie such as Natasya Elvira.

But hey — once again, the young prodigy could not resist.

“It’s so ironic that someone as broken as Billie sang a song as dreamy as ‘Easy Living’ in the first place,” she enthused. “That irony is what makes my heart tinged.”

And just like any journey of artistic daredevils out there, Natasya Elvira’s journey has just begun. As the old saying goes: no guts, no glory. Poetic enough, in the world of jazz, the young songstress has learned that guts must always supersede everything else.

“Guts is the most important,” she concluded. “You’ve got to dare to be different.”

All photos courtesy of Natasya Elvira’s management / Kuatimane Records.

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