Younger by the year – jazz legend Eero Koivistoinen at 75

Finnish jazz legend Eero Koivistoinen celebrated his 75th birthday in January. Music Finland seized the opportunity to interview him for the occasion – read Koivistoinen looking back on some of the milestones of his career, as well as updating the here and now!

”Well, it was a different time back then” says Eero Koivistoinen, referring to his first recording session as a band leader in January 1967.

”For instance, we had a strict dress code of suits and ties, because that’s what we thought you should wear for a recording session” he laughs.

”Plus I was playing the alto saxophone.”

The session in question is Eero ”Jappa”, Koivistoinen’s debut. Born in 1946, he was 21 years old at the time, sharing the studio with bassist Pekka Sarmanto and drummer Edward Vesala, both legends of jazz in Finland on their own right.

That’s also how Eero Koivistoinen is referred to almost every time his name passes a conversation: as a legend. ”Jappa”, a very scarce 7” vinyl EP only possessed by the luckiest and most dedicated of jazz collectors, is topical again thanks to a reissue by Svart Records, alongside the other 3 EPs in the series of 4 releases entitled ”Jazz at the Polytechnicum”. It’s understandable that Koivistoinen views the session with only a distant affection and would probably rather talk about something more recent – it’s been, after all, 50+ years and a lot has happened.

That being said, Koivistoinen’s first release clearly holds the test of time, and as Atro ”Wade” Mikkola writes on the reissue liner notes, ”I would like to point out that the modernist jazz groups on the recordings seem to have laid a strong foundation for the future of Finnish jazz, because the musical concepts they espoused are still used by young musicians in Finland today, and are still considered modern and innovative.”

Age ain't nothing but a number

The most recent release with Eero Koivistoinen on tenor saxophone, the instrument he adapted soon after his debut release, is a recording by Nathan Francis Quartet, a local group led by a bassist only two years older now than Koivistoinen was in 1967. The situation is far from a new one to Koivistoinen, who has been seen on stage and heard on record time and again with up-and-coming musicians.

”I think it’s never a question of one’s age in music” he says.

”It’s all about the creative energy and how the group works together. I really like to play with these younger musicians, and my current quartet is also much younger than I am. Actually, I just realized recently that it’s my longest standing band to date!”

It’s all about the creative energy and how the group works together. I really like to play with younger musicians.

Having debuted in 2014, the Eero Koivistoinen Quartet includes Koivistoinen, pianist Alexi Tuomarila, bassist Jori Huhtala and drummer Jussi Lehtonen – a strong lineup consisting of key musician working on the local jazz scene in Helsinki. Their albums ”Hati Hati” (2015) and ”Illusion” (2017), both Svart Records' releases, showcase a band performing high-grade contemporary jazz music on top of their game, confident about where their strengths lie. On his various new millennium era recordings, Koivistoinen on tenor is nothing short of a revelation, playing with a tone deep beyond his years in the game, yet with innovation always renewed on the spot.

Return to the classics

Koivistoinen's music happens in the now, so no wonder it might feel funny to talk about reissues of early recordings. But who wouldn’t want to know which ones are his own favourites? Which Koivistoinen albums would ”Koippa” himself recommend for a newcomer?

”Well, there’s so many records it’s hard to say. Perhaps "Odysseus" (1967)” he says, name checking another stone cold scene classic thankfully still readily available and revered worldwide thanks to recent reissues.

”Another good one including some of my best big band work is "Arctic Blues" (Svart, 2016). There are actually some very good ones being reissued by Svart Records soon, the so called "New York recordings" from the 1980’s and early 1990’s, which will be released with bonus material.”

Indeed, ”Picture In Three Colours” was recorded in October 1983 at Vanguard Studios, New York, and features a star-studded cast of Koivistoinen, trumpeter Tom Harrell, guitarist John Scofield, pianist Jim McNeely, bassist Ron McClure and drummer Jack DeJohnette. It’s an a-list group on any scale imaginable, performing Koivistoinen’s compositions and released on his own record label, Pro Records. The other upcoming Svart reissue is ”Altered Things” recorded in New York in 1991 and originally released by Timeless Records.

Work is never over

The next new work is expected by Koivistoinen’s quartet in 2022 as the band is set to head to the studio in the fall.

It’s almost impossible to discuss the scene and what’s happening with a musician these days without name checking the ”c-word” and how the person in question views the current situation. Koivistoinen certainly has enough perspective to take a look at how the pandemic is affecting how music is being made and performed.

”One thing I noticed very quickly is how much I miss performing with my quartet” he says.

”That’s the thing, after all: interacting, being creative together. I have been able to practice quite a lot but sometimes it feels that it lacks direction when there are no gigs in sight. When I was younger, it was more about the technique. Nowadays, it’s always easier to rehearse for something upcoming, at least in my age…”

Pause, then laughter. Here’s to high hopes of catching another performance by the Eero Koivistoinen Quartet soon enough.


Eero Koivistoinen

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