by Petri Silas :: 1998
A truly unique voice in the Finnish jazzosphere, Jarmo Sermilä has been active since the early 60's. As a composer he is, however, quite a late starter with the first work dating to the year of his 30th birthday. Sermilä's undaunted vision has been instrumental in his finding his own niche in the global web of music makers.
Already before the beginning of his compositional career Sermilä made an impact on the local jazz scene as a truly original trumpet and flügelhorn player in the beginning of the 60's. Simultaneously with his career as a musician Sermilä held the post of the artistic director at the Finnish Broadcasting Company's Experimental Music Studio.
As his interests slowly began to swerve towards scoring music rather than performing it, The Varése-influenced Jarmo travelled to Prague to study with František Kovaricek. In 1975 he graduated both from the Sibelius Academy, where he studied composition with Joonas Kokkonen, and the University of Helsinki, where he studied musicology.
Collective improvisation and experimental line-ups
During the most hectic years of his compositional studies Sermilä laid the brass to rest, but in the late 70's the rising European improvisation scene got him interested in playing again. With newly revitalised joy in performing he researched the possibilities of using collective improvisation as a tool — or starting point — for composing. From those days onwards Sermilä has worked arduously writing music for jazz groups, chamber ensembles and symphony orchestras.
His extensive output contains electro-acoustic works and experimental pieces for highly original line-ups: 'Pentagram' (1972) for solo trumpet, six cellos, two double basses and a symphony orchestra, 'Rotations' (1981) for two trumpets and two trombones, 'Quasi Come Quasimodo' (1997) for tuba and percussion. An uneducated onlooker might suggest that these exotic combinations are set up just for shock value, but in Sermilä's case that assumption couldn't be more misguided. All of this truly adventurous sonic sculptor's works are coherent statements.
Jarmo Sermilä is too seldom heard playing live, but whenever he appears on stage, the audience can experience a wonderful mix of traditional jazz sensibilities combined with new classical and improvisational elements. The vanguardian composer/brassman is heavily influenced by Czechoslovakian music, and often embellishes his tonal escapades with a somber Slavic flurry.
Apart from his musical career, Sermilä is also involved in the administrative side of Finnish music. He has worked as a director of the Finnish Music Information Centre (1971–1976) and as an artistic director for the world-famous annual Viitasaari Time of Music festival (1987–1999). He has been a member of many committees and has since 1976 run his own recording and publishing company Jasemusiikki.