The Finnish Jazz Federation awarded pianist and composer Riitta Paakki with the Yrjö Jazz Prize on Friday 1 November at the Pakkahuone venue in Tampere. Paakki is noted for her long and impressive career in Finnish jazz music.
Riitta Paakki (b. 1971) began her studies in the Pop & Jazz Conservatory in Helsinki and got her Master’s Degree from the Sibelius Academy in 2002. After the Masters, she continued to doctoral studies. Her specialty is the Blue Note sound of the 1960s, in which she has immersed herself deeply. In her doctoral diploma work she specifically studiedpianist Herbie Hancock’s playing on saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil album. In 2016 she became the first Finnish pianist to receive a Doctor’s Degree in jazz.
"Her sophisticated playing stems from jazz traditions; her swinging and personal expression is characterized by effortlessness and playfulness", explains Jussi Fredriksson, a member of the Jazz Federation's award jury.
Paakki played for the first time in UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra soon after starting her studies at the Sibelius Academy. She quickly made her way to become an important member of many bands of her fellow students, and to lead her first own band, Riitta Paakki Trio. Her debut, the self-titled Riitta Paakki Trio album (Texicalli/Impala 2000) was received well both in Finland and Japan. Later she has released four more albums with her ensembles Riitta Paakki Trio and Riitta Paakki Quartet.
The Yrjö Prize itself is a work of art made by a different artist each year. This year’s Yrjö is a painting named Occur by Helsinki-based visual artist Anita Naukkarinen. The piece, inspired by Paakki's playing, was commissioned by the Finnish Jazz Federation specifically for Riitta Paakki.
The Varjo-Yrjö Prize, granted by the Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle, was given to Jyrki Laiho, who has revitalized the jazz scene in the city of Pori with his Validi Karkia live club and album releases on his label Karkia Mistika Records.
Since 1988, Finnish Jazz Federation has also awarded the facultative Andania Prize for long and meritorious work for Finnish jazz. This year, the Andania prize was give to Veli-Pekka Heinonen, who made a long career between 1980–2015 as a jazz producer at Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle. Now retired, Heinonen started as a jazz musician and journalist in the 1970s in Turku and served on the board of the Finnish Jazz Federation from 1976 to 1982.
The Yrjö Prize is an annual jazz award given to a Finnish jazz artist in acknowledgement of his or her outstanding contribution to Finnish jazz music. The award was launched in 1967.
The awards were given at the Pakkahuone club in Tampere on November 1, 2019 as part of the Tampere Jazz Happening festival.