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Juhani "Junnu" Aaltonen

saxophonist/ flutist/ composer

Kuva/ Photo: Maarit Kytöharju

Juhani ”Junnu” Aaltonen (b. 1935) is one of the most notable tenor saxophonists and flute players in the scene of Finnish jazz. Versatility has always been at the core of both his artistic scope and expression, which, combined with a powerful and captivating presence and stylistic intensity, has charmed audiences year in, year out.

Aaltonen got his first saxophone at the age of 18 and taught himself to play it. He tells that he would learn by listening to Stan Getz and Benny Goodman records and playing along by ear. A career as a professional musician was set in motion in his hometown, Kouvola, as he became a member of the Heikki Rosendahl Sextet in the 1950s. A few years later, encouraged by his friend Esa Pethman, he applied to the Sibelius Academy, was accepted and started his flute studies. These were followed by studies in The Berklee College of Music in Boston, the United States. After his return to Finland, Aaltonen began performing with various jazz fusion bands and international jazz artists, including Eero Koivistoinen’s group, Edward Vesala, Jan Garbarek and Charlie Mariano. Aaltonen has also been a major force behind such bands as Juhani Aaltonen Quartet and Tasavallan Presidentti.

Aaltonen, one of the founding members of the UMO Jazz Orchestra eleven years earlier, left the big band, having been awarded a 15-year artist’s grant from the Finnish state in 1986. In the 1990s Aaltonen was rarely seen on jazz stages. Instead, he preferred performing solo in churches and making duo recordings with his old friend Heikki Sarmanto. In 2000, however, the bassist Antti Hytti induced Aaltonen to join his collective, Suhkan Uhka, and it was with the old band mates, Ulf Krokfors (bass) and Tom Nekljudow (drums), rediscovered through Suhkan Uhka, that Aaltonen formed his new trio. In the autumn of 2002 the Juhani Aaltonen Trio went on a Finnish Jazz Federation tour and ended up recording several live albums for TUM Records on different occasions. The emergence and recognition of the new record label along with the trio’s frequent live performances helped catapult Aaltonen back into the forefront of Finnish jazz after ten years of low profile. The Juhani Aaltonen Trio’s album Mother Tongue (TUM 2003) was awarded the Jazz Emma prize in 2003 and the group got their share of the limelight abroad as well through a tour in Norway organised by FIMIC (the Finnish Music Information Centre). Furthermore, the trio featured in an international showcase event exhibiting Finnish jazz music.

Apart from free, improvisation-derived jazz, Aaltonen returned to his earlier collaborations in the beginning of the 21st century as Tasavallan Presidentti, a veteran band of Finnish progressive rock, reunited and released two new albums. One of Aaltonen’s most recently formed musical companionships is the trio Nordic Trinity with the guitarist Mikko Iivanainen and the drummer Klaus Suonsaari.

ed. Annamari Innanen 20.10.2013