Jazz In Finland

The Dutch in old Amsterdam do it,
Not to mention the Finns …

Cole Porter: Let’s Do It

The Republic of Finland is the eighth largest country in Europe and the most sparsely populated country in the European Union. Norway lies to the north, Sweden to the west and FinlandRussia to the east. At one time a part of Sweden and then part of Russia, Finland became independent in 1917, and joined the European Union in 1995. The capital Helsinki lies in the south on the shores of the Gulf of Finland, a part of the Baltic Sea

Right up in the north of the country the Northern Lights can be seen in the winter and midnight sun in the summer. There is also the legend that the mythical mountain of Korvatunturi is the home of Santa Claus, and in Lapland, a region that stretches across Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Russian Kola Peninsula, there is a busy tourist industry catering to Santa fans.

Music in Finland is influenced by the traditional Kerelian folk melodies and folk music has enjoyed a revival over recent years. There is a very active classical music scene and today the country also boasts a range of pop, rock and jazz musicians and music. When the Finnish heavy metal band Lordi won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2006, Helsinki arena was proud to stage the Contest the following year. Lordi



Click here if you fancy watching a video of Lordi’s winning song Hard Rock Halellujah (not compulsory, but a little different to the UK's long-ago hit Puppet On A String! As Terry Wogan said: ‘Some of the worse cases of broken veins I have ever seen’).

Seppo LemponenWe appreciate the regular correspondence we receive from Seppo Lemponen and Jari Salo in Finland, and from their messages there is clearly an active jazz scene there. (In another article this month, Jari looks back at the music of Ernie Felice).

Seppo Lemponen

The excellent website A Short History of Finnish Jazz (click here) points out that during the 19th century, the influence of German marches and Russian melancholy waltzes caused problems for Finnish musicians in grasping the rhythms of jazz. It wasn’t until 1926 when an American band from ship Andania arrived in Helsinki that Finnish musicians were able to hear the tunes they knew played at more swinging tempos.

Names mentioned as early jazz recording artists in Finland include trombonist Klaus Salmi and his Ramblers Orchestra, Eugen Malmstén, Toivo Kärki and Ossi Aalto. Eugen Malstem Orchestra


(Click here for Eugen Malmstén and his band playing Broadway Rhythm in 1936).

Accordion jazz was also very popular in Finland in the 1920s with the band Dallapé becoming very popular playing foxtrots with accordions, banjo or violin, and drums and later adding saxophones. Accordion jazz returned to popularity in the 1960s and given the name “humppa”.

In 1934 the jazz magazine Jazzrytmit (meaning jazz rhythm) was established and continues to be published today (Seppo and Jari have both written articles for the magazine).

It was not until 1949 when Louis Armstrong came to Helsinki that jazz really took off. After the war, foreign radio stations were picked up by young people as they were in many countries, and jazz records became more widely available through neighbouring Sweden. Just as in other countries many people followed traditional jazz music whilst others embraced swing or bebop.

Two names from the 1950s are particularly well known – alto sax player Antero Stenberg and pianist Teuvo Suojärvi, and other players were being recognised through jazz competitions. (Click here to listen to Teuvo Suojärvi playing Summertime with singer Sinikka Oksanen: Antero Stenberg tenor sax, Juhani Aalto trombone, Teuvo Suojärvi piano, Heikki Annala bass, Martti Äijänen drums).

In the 1960s and 1970s more jazz musicians emerged playing jazz at an international level, more top jazz musicians visited Finland and the Finnish Jazz Federation was founded. Esa Pethman


In 1965, the album The Modern Sound Of Finland was released which featured the music of Esa Pethman (click here to listen to The Flame from the album and click here for a more recent video of Sanna Pethman singing the number with her band)

Esa Pethman

Public authorities have increasingly awarded financial awards to jazz since the 1970s and education has recognised jazz more and more. The Oulunkyla Pop/Jazz Institute offers courses and summer camps, as does the Sibelius Academy. The Pori Jazz festival now takes place annually and dates for 2012 have already been announced on their website (click here).

Nevertheless, it has been said that places to perform jazz have been few and far between, although the Helsinki restaurant Groovy has been a key jazz venue from 1977.

In 1975, the UMO Jazz Orchestra was established and has been a prominent showcase for developing and promoting Finnish jazz musicians. (Click here for a great video of the UMO Jazz Orchestra playing Gillespie and Fuller's Manteca and showing the talent that they nurture).

In recent years, Finnish big bands have sprung up and there are now around fifty across the country. Jazz record production in Finland has been somewhat limited and the translation of jazz literature into Finnish has also been slow to emerge – although more books are beginning to be produced.

The Finnish Jazz Federation continues to work to promote jazz through lectures, concerts, Five Corners Quintetjam sessions and the Yrrjö Prize for the nominated jazz musician of each year.

Five Corners Quintet

Bands around today that are worth sampling include the Five Corners Quintet (click here for a 2009 video, click here for more of their music and videos), the Teddy Rok Seven with their approach to NuJazz (click here) and this solo by Finnish pianist Iiro Santala at the Outreach Festival in 2010 (click here).

Further reading:
A Short History of Finnish Jazz
and the article Finnish Jazz


© Sandy Brown Jazz 2011-2014

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