Kuva/ Photo: Jori Grönroos
Composer and pianist Heikki Sarmanto (b. 1939) is a leading Finnish jazz scene figure who has been internationally praised for his symphonic, orchestral and jazz ensemble works.
During the early 1960s, Sarmanto studied at the Sibelius Academy in Finland. Shortly thereafter he won a prestigious award for the International Competition of Jazz Composition in Minneapolis, MN. He also performed in numerous Finnish jazz recordings including Christian Schwindt’s For Friends and Relatives (RCA Victor) and Esa Pethman’s The Modern Sound of Finland (RCA Victor).
Sarmanto entered the Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1968 where he honed his piano and composition skills with coaching from Herb Pomeroy, Charlie Mariano and Margaret Chaloff. In 1969 he released the first recording under his own name titled Flowers in the Water (EMI/Columbia), which was taken from a live recording at the University of Jyvaskyla.
In 1970, Sarmanto was chosen as the Jazz Musician of the Year in Finland and received the Georgie (Yrjö) Award. Back in Boston, he joined fellow musicians Lance Gunderson (guitar), Craig Herndon (drums), George Mraz (bass) and fellow Finn Juhani Aaltonen (saxophone) to record what would be released 38 years later as Boston Date (Porter Records). This quartet, with Pekka Sarmanto replacing George Marz, was later known as the Serious Music Ensemble. Later on the quartet released two albums, Counterbalance and Like a Fragonard (EMI/Odeon), in Finland that showed both Sarmanto’s amazing abilities as a piano player and a composer. Sarmanto's works combine elements of jazz, folk, improvisation and even rock.
In 1971, Sarmanto was awarded at the Montreux Jazz Festival in both piano and combo categories. Throughout the 70s, Sarmanto continued to record on albums that ranged from big band to arrangements based on poetry works. In the 80s, Sarmanto was chosen by Sonny Rollins to arrange and conduct his Saxophone Concerto, which premiered and was televised in Tokyo in 1986. Sarmanto took also part in founding the prestigious UMO Jazz Orchestra and was appointed its artistic director in 1999.
Sarmanto's collaboration with Brazil's great lyricist, Fernando Brant, and the gifted guitarist-arranger, Juarez Moreira, resulted in the beautiful album A Lua Luara that featured one of Brazil's top vocalists, Claudya de Oliveira. Sarmanto is currently working with the famous French music publisher Alphonse Leduc to produce an album and sheet music of his newest work titled Impressions-Paris, which includes 20 solo piano works. In 2008 Sarmanto composed the jazz opera Manon, which premiered in Estonia with great success.
Sarmanto has toured the United States, Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa and continues to actively expand his musical horizons. Porter Records along with Heikki Sarmanto and EMI Finland have begun to re-release a substantial body of Sarmanto’s previously unavailable early work for both the enjoyment of new and old enthusiasts of jazz.