Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Janne Huttunen. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Janne Huttunen: – I grew up in Kerava, a small town near Helsinki, the capital of Finland. As almost all kids at that time in our neigbourhood I started playing classical piano at the age of five. I also went to a music oriented class in elementary school.
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the saxophon? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the saxophon?
JH: – On the eigth grade my music teacher asked the class if anyone is interested in playing saxophone. That´s when I got really interested in music. I was suddenly asked to play in bands, which was a lot of fun. When later studying at the music focused Sibelius high-school in Helsinki I got to know a lot of talented young musicians and it started to feel that maybe being a musician could be my thing.
I had good saxophone teachers from the start. Playing and practising started to be fun. I guess the best thing was the cassette given to me at the first saxophone lesson full of different kind of saxophone playing, including pop, funk, old and new jazz, latin etc.
After high-school in went to study saxophone at the Helsinki Polytechnic, Stadia.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
JH: – The whole time I was studying my main instrument was the alto sax. I really had a struggle to develop a good solid sound. But in the end I think practising long overtone notes every day and playing simple melodies started to help with the sound. I guess playing many different kinds of gigs has also developed my sound over time.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
JH: – Playing daily scales and arpeggios with the metronome slowly is the thing. The boring nature of it makes you more aware of what you are doing and getting into the technical side of your instrument.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
JH: – I guess I´ve always loved lydian harmonies and the some bluesy stuff in different forms.
JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2018: <Janne Was Here>, how it was formed andwhat you are working on today.
JH: – First of all I´m really happy that I did it! I´ve been producing a lot of records for years, writing songs for other artists, writing film scores, arrangemets & playing gigs as a freelance musician, but now it was time to do something on my own.
I rented an old Villa for two weeks in the middle of the woods in Finland to write the material for the album. I wrote about fifteen jazz tunes and picked the best of them with my band members to fit the album. I´m also lucky to have the best players in town in my band.
JBN.S: – Which are the best jazz albums for you of 2017 year?
JH: – I would pick maybe Kamasi Washington´s Harmony of Difference and Verneri Pohjola´s Pekka.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
JH: – For me the soul is the most important thing in music. The modern contemporary jazz is quite often too intellectual or too complicated for me to enjoy. If you combine complex rhythms and time signatures with complicated harmonies the soul connection can be lost somehow.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
JH: – Last Thursday I had my album release gig at Koko Jazz Club in Helsinki. The biggest snowstorm of the winter arrived in the morning and the whole town was in a chaos, the busses and trams were late or not working at all. So I was really worried if anyone could come to see our gig at all. My bass player was an hour late for the soundcheck because of the trams not moving. But in the end all the tables were full at the club and we had a great gig.
JBN.S: – Many aspiring musicians are always looking for advice when navigating thru the music business. Is there any piece of advice you can offer to aspiring students or even your peers that you believe will help them succeed and stay positive in this business?
JH: – I´m an all-around music guy. I´m not the best in everything, but I can do many differet things well enough to survive somehow in the business. For some people of course it´s better to focus on one thing only. If you really want to be the next Michael Brecker you should just practice, practice, practice. Believe in yourself and do your own thing.
JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?
JH: – I just founded my own label for my album. So let´s see if it´s just an expensive hobby or a small business! Finland is a small country – so if you want to make a living with jazz music I guess you need to combine it with an international career, teaching or freelancing as well. But I still have good friends who are succesfully doing it.
JBN.S: – Which collaboration have been the most important experiences for you?
JH: – I was asked to join a student big band called Boston Promenade (not from Boston, it´s a Helsinki based band… named after a tobacco brand in the 60´s) in the beginning of my music studies. First I played the first alto and we had great gigs and trips to many different countries. Later I was asked to do some simple big band arrangements for the band and after a few years I became the conductor. That also led me to producing. The first album productions I ever did were for the big band and I learned a lot.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
JH: – I think there´s some quite interesting things going on in rap and hip hop music. For example Kendric Lamar´s stuff and Black Eyed Peas – Street Livin´ single have some elements of jazz. Also bands and artist like Snarky Puppy and Jacob Collier can bring some new young audiences for jazz music.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
JH: – That´s a difficult question to answer. I don´t see myself a spiritual person but music has intangible ways to make you cry, it can heal, it can make you happy. It´s always a goal for me to create music that makes the audience feel something.
When listening to music I´m not that interested in the skills of the soloist – how fast or how difficult chord changes someone can play. Of course it´s fun to listen to the acrobatic virtuosos sometimes.
JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?
JH: – I hope that people like my debut album and my band could have some nice gigs at some jazz festivals and jazz clubs. The next step with my album project is to make a music video for one of the songs. I´m really exited about it, it´s gonna be a cool video if everything goes as planned.
I don´t worry too much about the future or the situation of the music business. I´ve survived so far and I think I´m gonna be in the business still for the next twenty years at least.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
JH: – I hope that the digital music services (Youtube, Spotify etc) would pay the songwriters and artists more.
JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?
JH: – I´m starting to write a score for a feature film in the next weeks.
JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?
JH: – Yes, they all are tied together. There are similar rhythms, harmonies, melodies etc. I don´t personally like to categorize different music styles so much. For me a good song is a good song even if it´s world music, jazz or heavy metal. On my album you can hear some musical influences for example from African music, Finnish folk songs, blues, hard-bop and latin jazz.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
JH: – I need to listen to all kinds of music all the time because of my work as film composer and music producer. But when I´m at home in the weekend having a cup of coffee I find my self listening to the old classics. Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, Aretha Franklin, Nancy Wilson / Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Bill Withers etc.
JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?
JH: – My tenor and alto are both old Selmer saxes (Super Balanced Action) and soprano and baritone are Yanagisawas. My tenor has a metal Ponzol mouthpiece. With alto I´m using a Meyer 6 mouthpice and mostly Rico Jazz reeds.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
JH: – I guess it would be cool to see Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley and Coltrane live somewhere round 1958-60.
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself …
JH: – Of course, I´m interested in what you think of my album?
JBN.S: – Thanks very much for answers. I have your new CD. Тhe gorgeous, especially when in the background are the pianist Henri Mantyla, bassist Ville Herrala and drummer Jaska Lukkarinen. An excellent example of this can be found in the section “You´ll Be There Soon”, where you certainly convinces.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan