New Breed: Panu Savolainen
by Matti Nives :: 2012
Vibraphone player Panu Savolainen (born 1990 in Lahti) has quickly risen among the top prospects in the jazz circuit both home and away. In his native Finland, the young man has notched several accolades and given an uplifting spin for his ensembles HERD and Ohne, which should resonate strong for the years to come.
In 2011, HERD was awarded the first prize at the ”European Jazz Competition” organised by the influential North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands. The previous year saw HERD occupy the house band slot at Finland’s premiere jazz fest, the Pori Jazz Festival, where the vibes man was also noted as the ”Artist of the Year”.
An additional highlight for Savolainen was his concert as a soloist with the prestigious UMO Jazz Orchestra, alongside sax man Jukka Perko, one of the legends of Finnish jazz. Savolainen also currently composes and leads the Proprius ensemble, which recently debuted at the Viapori Jazz Festival in Helsinki.
In addition to jazz, Savolainen has studied classical music.
Taking the big step
Playing abroad and studying in Berlin, Savolainen represents the new generation of Finnish jazz musicians who are close to the international jazz circles already at an early stage in their career. The leap into the unknown is still not an easy one to make, notes Savolainen.
”Having a lot of gigs in Finland can make it easy not to even try living and working somewhere else”, he notes. ”For example I’m now playing most of my gigs in Finland, even though I stay our here. In Finland you get to the jazz circuit quite easliy, so that might be hard to leave behind later on.”
”Of course for me it’s different, because there are no financial pressures due to my studies. Essentially, this is a trip for me to grow during, there’s not necessarily such a big need to make things happen fast. But I do understand those who want to remain there as the jazz scene is quite professional and vivid. In the end it’s also a matter of wanting to get some variety into one’s everyday living.”
Savolainen agrees with the notion that an increasingly large amount of Finnish jazz musicians have the ability necessary to make it abroad as well, and therein lies a possibility for progression. ”I think that it’s important to get influences abroad to bring them back home”.
The Berlin way
What seems to characterise the jazz scene in Berlin, at least when comparing it to that of Helsinki, is the spirit of impromptu jam sessions and lo-fi concerts, where most professional musicians find it hard to make ends meet. After staying in Berlin for some months now, Savolainen has noted this.
”I can’t really see myself making a long-lasting career here. At least the basic jazz circuit here is not too lucrative for a musician, although it has to be noted that it is relatively easy to make new contacts in Berlin. It seems that most of the musicians I have met here mostly make their wages outside of the city.”
”Instead of forming collaborative projects just to stay international, I would really be interested in bringing the best Finnish players abroad and to see how to find new ways in making an international career as a Finnish jazz musician”, Savolainen adds.
Of studying jazz in Berlin, Savolainen has noticed some differences in comparison to his home turf. ”I think in a way there is a greater distance between the students and the teachers here, while in Finland the two can be quite close and friendly, playing in bands together and so on. Here it’s also easy to see some more diversity among students because there are more options to study music, whereas in Helsinki most jazz players come through the mill of the Sibelius Academy.”
Savolainen's central vehicle of expression has lately been HERD, the trio which just recently released their debut album, recorded live on the tour organised by the Finnish Jazz Federation. Thinking beyond the aforementioned accolades, the band seems determined to make it to the next level.
”We released the album ourselves and are currently looking for ways to take things abroad”, Savolainen says. This means looking for an agency to represent the trio internationally, as well as a possible licensing deal for the album. ”We are just figuring out what we should do, so it’s all still quite open”.
HERD seems to represent a new-ish way of thinking in the Finnish jazz world. Self-releasing albums, actively handling their own management, winning prizes and perhaps most importantly, sticking to the core unit and not making any alterations to the lineup even due to overlapping schedules.
”We have achieved some good results early on, but also the realisation that we need to go beyond just playing the gigs while making things happen came quickly”, Savolainen notes of the band’s active stance. ”What we aim for is something which works in the long run. The band has to evolve as a unit."
Bands rather than players
It is fitting, then, than Savolainen, when prompted to name some of his younger generation Finnish jazzers, thinks of a band rather than individual musicians.
”The band Mopo is the first one that springs to mind. I really like what they’re doing and they deserve all the attention they can get.”
”The quality of players in Finland is very high, perhaps many of the players are so close to me that it’s hard to think of them. There are many great upcoming players, but Finnish jazz still has a long way to go to become a real commodity in the jazz world. And there’s lots more beyond that, I for example have only recently discovered how great the folk scene in Finland is”, Savolainen says.
Savolainen's central vehicle of expression has lately been HERD.
© Maarit Kytöharju