July 19, 2009

Heikki Sarmanto "A Nordic Vibe Part I"

Composer and pianist Heikki Sarmanto, born in Helsinki, Finland June 22, 1939, is a leading Finnish jazz scene figure who has been internationally praised for his symphonic, orchestral and jazz ensemble works.
During the early 1960s, Sarmanto studied at the Sibelius Academy in Finland. Shortly thereafter he won a prestigious award for the International Competition of Jazz Composition in Minneapolis, MN. He also performed in numerous Finnish jazz recordings including Christian Schwindt’s “For Friends and Relatives” (RCA Victor) and Esa Pethman’s “The Modern Sound of Finland” (RCA Victor)

Sarmanto entered the Berklee College of Music in Boston, in 1968 where he honed his piano and composition skills with coaching from Herb Pomeroy, Charlie Mariano and Margaret Chaloff. In 1969 he released the first recording under his own name in 1969 titled “Flowers in the Water” (EMI/Columbia), which was taken from a live recording at the University of Jyvaskyla.

In 1970, Sarmanto was chosen “Jazz Musician of the Year” in Finland. Back in Boston, he joined fellow musicians Lance Gunderson (guitar), Craig Herndon (drums), George Mraz (bass) and fellow Finn Juhani Aaltonen (saxophone) to record what would be released 38 years later as “Boston Date” (Porter Records). This quartet, with Pekka Sarmanto replacing George Marz, would be known as the “Serious Music Ensemble”. They would go on to record “Counterbalance” and “Like a Fragonard” (EMI/Odeon) in Finland. These two powerful recordings showcase both of Sarmanto’s amazing abilities as a piano player and composer. They incorporate elements of jazz, folk, improvisation and even rock to make a distinctive statement.

In 1971, he was awarded top honors at the Montreux Jazz Festival in both piano and combo categories. Sarmanto continued to record for EMI/Odeon with the big band recording “Everything is it”. Throughout the 70s, Sarmanto continued to record albums that ranged from big band to arrangements based upon poetry.

In the 80s, Mr. Sarmanto was chosen by Sonny Rollins to arrange and conduct his “Saxophone Concerto”, which premiered and was televised in Tokyo in 1986. Some of his key works include “New Hope Jazz Mass” dedicated to Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, which was received with unequivocal praise at the opening of Saint Peter's Church in New York, and also Suomi Symphony, which premiered to rave reviews at Carnegie Hall in 1988.

He was instrumental in founding the internationally lauded UMO Jazz Orchestra and was appointed its artistic director in 1999. Sarmanto headed the Jazz Studio at the Sibelius Academy which is highest institute of Finnish music and now home to the foremost jazz department in that nation.

Sarmanto's collaboration with Brazil's great lyricist, Fernando Brant, and the gifted guitarist-arranger, Juarez Moreira, resulted in the beautiful CD “A Lua Luara”. It featured one of Brazil's top vocalists, Claudya de Oliveira. Sarmanto is currently working with the famous French music publisher Alphonse Leduc to produce a CD and sheet music of his newest work titled “Impressions-Paris”, which includes 20 solo piano works. In 2008 Sarmanto composed the jazz opera “Manon”, which premiered in Estonia with great success.

He has toured the United States, Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa and continues to actively expand his musical horizons. Porter Records along with Heikki Sarmanto and EMI Finland have begun to re-release a substantial body of Sarmanto’s previously unavailable early work for both the enjoyment of new and old enthusiasts of jazz.

Sarmanto has more than 30 released recordings, numerous published scores, and songbooks, as well as several film scores to his credit. He has collaborated with jazz-legends such as Sonny Rollins, Art Farmer, Helen Merrill and George Russell in addition to his work in the classical arena with baritone Jorma Hynninen, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Tapiola Children's Choir.

To Visit Heikki's website CLICK HERE

“Heikki Sarmanto in East Village”
A Review by Bigtrigger

It’s a cool, crisp Ash Wednesday evening, the services at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, a historical 18th century edifice located in the East Village of New York City, have just ended. As the parishioners exited after receiving their spiritual fill, others, including myself, made our way in. An older, white haired, distinguished looking gentleman sat down at a black grand piano and began to effortlessly run the scales, only occasionally glancing up. The piano was surrounded by an upright bass, drums and a trombone alone on a stand.

The hostess for the evening a wonderful vocalist and musical director for St. Mark’s Ms. Jeannine Otis stepped up to the microphone and the transformation of St Mark’s was in full effect.

The gentleman at the piano was introduced as none other than Finnish musical legend, Heikki Sarmanto. Heikki spoke to the anxious audience with a strong Scandinavian accent, smiled and promptly sat and performed three beautiful compositions by Laura Clayton on solo piano. The sounds were hauntingly surreal as they resonated through St. Mark’s church. As if on cue the other musicians, Wei Sheung Lin from Taiwan on bass, Seiji Ochiai from Japan on drums and native New Yorker Arthur Baron on trombone, joined Hekki and began to play. In spite of the fact that the quartet only had one practice together, they performed like a well oiled machine. They went from smooth and subtle to straight ahead in their approach, flawlessly attacking their instruments.

Heikki then stood and re-introduced Jeannine, with whom he had recorded the CD “Magic Songs” back in the 80’s. They performed “Long Lost Love,” “It’s Summer,” and “This Is How I Feel.” These songs were explorations of the poetry of Eino Leino as translated by the late Aina Swann Cutler and realized through Sarmanto's music.

This was truly a wonderful concert, performed in a marvelous sanctuary led by one of the most gifted pianists in the world.

Jeannine Otis is a wonderful actress,singer, educator and pianist, whose musical roots are founded in the pure sounds of Gospel, Rhythm & Blues and Jazz. She is a graduate of Wellesley College [Presser Music Scholar], the first and only African-American to win that award and she also holds a Masters Degree from Emerson College in Boston where she was a teaching fellow. With her strong musical foundation, Jahneen moves effortlessly and convincingly through the genres of classical, American Pop, jazz and traditional and contemporary Gospel.

She first toured as a vocalist with the group Kool and the Gang. One of the group’s founders, George Brown, continues to be one of her musical mentors. Another important collaborator and supporter has been saxophone legend Grover Washington, Jr. Her talents can be heard on the recording Do Dat, a smooth jazz classic she performed with Washington. Likewise, she has worked with trumpeter Donald Byrd, folk hero Pete Seeger and Oscar winning film composer Eliot Goldenthal (Juan Darien) to name a few. Her recordings include the recently re-released “Magic Song”, which was performed with the Helsinki Philharmonic. Her dance rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” with the group Paradise reached the Top Ten on the High Energy Dance Charts in the United Kingdom, Italy and Australia. She is also a featured vocalist in ‘ It’s My Party’, a Warner Film production about aids which premiered at Sundance. Her music continues to evolve she has recently experimented with works combining Gospel, R&B, Hip-Hop, Jazz and sometimes classical music.

Also a gifted actress, Jahneen has appeared in numerous plays, including the musical theater review “This Joint is Jumpin’”with Larry Marshall at New York’s Supper Club and in Las Vegas and various tours of ‘Porgy and Bess’ throughout Europe in the role of the Strawberry Woman. As Strawberry Woman she has appeared at many world famous Opera Houses including the legendary Rome Opera.

In addition to teaching music at the Trinity Lutheran School in Staten Island, she is the musical director for Theatreworks USA’s production of Freedom Train currently touring the US including Town Hall, The Fox Theatre in Atlanta and the Grand Ole Opry and the Director of Music at historic St. Mark’s Church in the East Village of New York where she both performs and directs the Choir. Jahneen is the coordinator of both Safari East Cultural Productions collaborating with the world renowned bassist, VishnuWood. Safari East Productions explore the roots of the African-American Culture of the diaspora through concerts and workshops presented nationally and internationally including Lincoln Center, London, and a current on-going program in the New York City School system sponsored by the United Way of New York. She has been the coordinator of the Marymount College Arts-in-Education Certificate Training Program. The Three Kings, a piece composed by Ms. Otis in collaboration with Lois Bohevesky of the Hudson Vagabond Puppets and Liz Swados, noted composer for Broadway, film and television, is held annually at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine and serves as a vehicle for outreach to provide young people living in homeless shelters their very own holiday celebration.

July 04, 2009


If “esperanza” is the Spanish word for hope, then bassist, vocalist and composer Esperanza Spalding could not have been given a more fitting name at birth. Blessed with uncanny instrumental chops, a multi-lingual voice that is part angel and part siren, and a natural beauty that borders on the hypnotic, the 23-year-old prodigy-turned-pro might well be the hope for the future of jazz and instrumental music.

“She is an irresistible performer,” says The Seattle Times. “She sings and plays bass at the same time and does a sort of interpretive dance as she plays…Her analysis of what’s going on in jazz today is perceptive.”

Irresistible. Interpretive. Perceptive. Such words are very much at the core of Spalding’s life story, but the story is anything but typical. She was born in 1984 and raised on what she calls “the other side of the tracks” in a multi-lingual household and neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. Growing up in a single-parent home amid economically adverse circumstances, she learned early lessons in the meaning of perseverance and moral character from the role model whom she holds in the highest regard to this day – her mother.

“She was very strong-willed, very independent,” says Spalding. “She did a million things. She was a baker, a carpenter, she worked in foster care homes, she worked in food service, she worked with Cesar Chavez as a labor organizer. She was an amazing woman. She was hip enough to put a lot of negative things I saw as a child into some kind of context – even before I fully understood what she was saying.”

But even with a rock-solid role model, school did not come easy to Spalding, although not for any lack of intellectual acumen. She was both blessed and cursed with a highly intuitive learning style that often put her at odds with the traditional education system. On top of that, she was shut in by a lengthy illness as a child, and as a result, was home-schooled for a significant portion of her elementary school years. In the end, she never quite adjusted to learning by rote in the conventional school setting.

“It was just hard for me to fit into a setting where I was expected to sit in a room and swallow everything that was being fed to me,” she recalls. “Once I figured out what it was like to be home-schooled and basically self-taught, I couldn’t fit back into the traditional environment.”

However, the one pursuit that made sense to Spalding from a very early age was music. At age four, after watching classical cellist Yo Yo Ma perform on an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the roadmap was suddenly very clear. “That was when I realized that I wanted to do something musical,” she says. “It was definitely the thing that hipped me to the whole idea of music as a creative pursuit.”

Within a year, she had essentially taught herself to play the violin well enough to land a spot in The Chamber Music Society of Oregon, a community orchestra that was open to both children and adult musicians. She stayed with the group for ten years, and by age 15, she had been elevated to a concertmaster position.

But by then, she had also discovered the bass, and all of the non-classical avenues that the instrument could open for her. Suddenly, playing classical music in a community orchestra wasn’t enough for this young teenager anymore. Before long she was playing blues, funk, hip-hop and a variety of other styles on the local club circuit. “The funny thing was, I was the songwriter, but I had never experienced love before. Being the lyricist and the lead singer, I was making up songs about red wagons, toys and other childish interests. No one knew what I was singing about, but they liked the sound of it and they just ate it up.”

At 16, Spalding left high school for good. Armed with her GED and aided by a generous scholarship, she enrolled in the music program at Portland State University. “I was definitely the youngest bass player in the program,” she says. “I was 16, and I had been playing the bass for about a year and a half. Most of the cats in the program had already had at least eight years of training under their belts, and I was trying to play in these orchestras and do these Bach cello suites. It wasn’t really flying, but if nothing else, my teachers were saying, ‘Okay, she does have talent.’”

Berklee College of Music was the place where the pieces all came together and doors started opening. After a move to the opposite coast and three years of accelerated study, she not only earned a B.M., but also signed on as an instructor in 2005 at the age of 20 – an appointment that has made her the youngest faculty member in the history of the college. She is the 2005 recipient of the prestigious Boston Jazz Society scholarship for outstanding musicianship.

In addition to the studying and the teaching, the Berklee years have also created a host of networking opportunities. Since her move to the East Coast, Spalding has worked with several notable artists, including pianist Michel Camilo, vibraphonist Dave Samuels, bassist Stanley Clarke, guitarist Pat Metheny, singer Patti Austin and saxophonists Donald Harrison and Joe Lovano. “Working with Joe was terrifying,” she recalls, “but he’s a really generous person. I don’t know if I was ready for the gig or not, but he had a lot of faith in me. It was an amazing learning experience.”

The newest chapter of Spalding’s journey begins with the release of her forthcoming international debut recording for Heads Up in May 2008. The album will be the first opportunity for a worldwide audience to witness her mesmerizing talents as an instrumentalist, vocalist and composer, but it’s just the start of what she hopes to achieve in a career where the creative opportunities are almost limitless.

“I think there are some outside forces that have blessed me with creative talents, and I don’t want to disrespect whatever plan the cosmos or the heavens or God or whoever might have for me,” she explains. “But based on what I know about myself right now, what I really want to do is reach people. I want to make great music, but I also want to use that talent to lift people up, and maybe show them some degree of hope where there might not be any in their lives. My name means ‘hope’ in Spanish, and it’s a name I want to live up to.”