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musician, composer, arranger, conductor, producer, educator
Eero Koivistoinen (born January 13, 1946), one of the all-time greats in Finnish jazz and saxophone, arrived in the Finnish jazz scene in the mid-60s. Ever since, he has been one of the most distinguished and trusted jazz musicians in Finland. He is known for his versatility and creativeness, his tastes ranging from pithy jazz solos to large-scale orchestral works.
Eero Koivistoinen’s interest in music began at an early age, his first choices being classical and the violin. At sixteen, the violin was put aside in favour of the alto saxophone. Later on he switched to the tenor and soprano saxophones. Barely in his twenties, Koivistoinen was already a familiar face in Helsinki’s burgeoning jazz clubs. At that time he was studying at the Sibelius Academy: saxophone with Eero Linnala and composition with the famous Aulis Sallinen.
Eero Koivistoinen’s first line-up was with Edward Vesala on drums and Pekka Sarmanto on bass. This improvising trio wasthe first to explore the possibilities of avant-garde and free jazz in Finland. In 1967 Koivistoinen's remarkable talents were rewarded as the newly-founded Finnish Jazz Federation decided he should be the first ever recipient of the Georgie Award and he was nominated Jazz Musician of the Year. In 1969 Koivistoinen was to continue on the winning trail as his group won the competition for ensembles in Montreux, Switzerland. This gave him an opportunity to perform at the Newport Jazz Festival in the US. This award was, in fact, the very first time Finnish jazz was recognised on this scale.
In the early 70s Koivistoinen refined his skills in composition with one term at the Sibelius Academy and three terms at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he had such teachers as Herb Pomeroy and Joe Viola. Towards the end of the decade Koivistoinen made several concert tours and recordings and his quartet attracted a great deal of attention.
In 1981 Koivistoinen won the Arranger’s Prize in the Nordring Competition held by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) in Jersey with his own orchestral work Ultima Thule. Six years later, in 1987, the Foundation for the Promotion of Finnish Music organised a competition for big band compositions. Koivistoinen won the first prize with a work entitled Kukonpesä.
The UMO Jazz Orchestra has played an important role in Koivistoinen's career ever since its creation in 1975. In the mid-90s, after gradually shifting his emphasis from saxophone playing to composing and conducting, Koivistoinen was appointed Artistic Director of the renowned group for a period of two years (1996-98). As a conductor, he is held in high esteem not only locally, but also through his appearances in Germany, Norway, Denmark, Hungary, Estonia, Lithuania and South Africa. Koivistoinen was the producer of the UMO’s first recordings for a label outside Finland (Umo Jazz Orchestra on Naxos Jazz label); he also acted as the conductor and arranger of Electrifying Miles with Tim Hagans as the guest star on A-Records label. The album was given four stars in Down Beat Magazine.
In the last few years, among other things, Eero has shown a growing interest in Africa and African based music. As a result, he recorded Eero Koivistoinen and Senegalese Drums (1998) and with the band performed on the Jazz Federation’s tour and in major jazz festivals in Finland as well as at the Stockholm Jazz Festival (2003). Sven Malm of Svenska Dagbladet wrote about the performance, ”…an enjoyable encounter of cultures with the sax veteran Eero Koivistoinen and a group of Senegalese drum virtuosos.Lovely group play, strong with colour, unusual and astonishing – such a thing gives a profile to the festival. ” In 2003 Koivistoinen also produced a record with Galaxy containing mbalax and other Senegalese musical heritage. A few years earlier he had produced records for Naxos World label in Africa: Mozambique Relief, Venancio Mbande Orchestra, Eduardo Durao Timbila Ensemble in Mozambique and Alexandra Youth Choir. Alexandra is a township close to Johannesburg, South Africa.The Jazz Federation’s tour in 2003 attracted the largest audiences ever when Koivistoinen put togethera band called Imbizo, with Gloria Bosman, Concord Nkabinde and Mabeleng Moholo from South Africa being among the performers.
What else should be added? Among other projects, Eero Koivistoinen’s extensive list of works contains the ballet Äiti Maa (Mother Earth), a suite inspired by Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal, a variety of vocal pieces, and music for several films and radio plays. For the Finnish Broadcasting Company Koivistoinen has made a radiophonic suite called Suomi - maailman majakka using documentary material, e.g. speeches of Finnish presidents, with musical samples and improvisations. Another recent large-scale work is a suite of Thelonius Monk’s themes called Round about Monk arranged for a symphony orchestra. The task was commissioned by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Koivistoinen has a reputation for melodically and timbrally rich orchestral technique, and as an arranger he is appreciated well beyond the circles of his jazz colleagues. Eero Koivistoinen has also encouraged various experimental combos as the chairman of the composers' Zone Society. As a producer, he has established a label of his own, Pro Records, which has released works both by him personally and by promising young musicians. In 1997 Bill Shoemaker of the magazine Jazz Times commented: ”Finland has an impressively large pool of diverse, erudite talents. Several, including Eero Koivistoinen, are among the world’s best on their respective instruments.”