The Yrjö Prize is an annual jazz award given to a Finnish jazz artist in acknowledgement of their outstanding contribution to Finnish jazz music. The award was launched in 1967. This year’s winner is Jussi Lehtonen, an internationally acclaimed drummer, composer, arranger, band leader and educator, who released their fourth solo album just a day before the Yrjö ceremonies. The Jazz Finland board describes Lehtonen as a hard-working and ambitious professional:
– As a musician and composer, they are daring, resolute and very diligent. Lehtonen’s expertize and understanding of jazz is something exceptional in the Finnish, if not even international scene.
Born in 1977, Lehtonen started their studies at the Helsinki-based Pop & Jazz Conservatory, and from there he continued to Sibelius Academy in 2000. After his graduation they have returned to his alma mater to teach jazz rhythmics and ensemble work. Drummer Lehtonen has performed actively throughout his career, alongside the Finnish greats like pianist Jukkis Uotila and saxophonist Eero Koivistoinen, and top international names such as Dave Liebman and Randy Brecker. Their debut album Firstborn was released in 2009 and his fourth, Jussi Lehtonen Quartet – Live at Koko Jazz Club (Koko Records) came out on the first of November, 2018. The Finnish-Estonian quartet also performed at Pakkahuone on Friday after the awards.
The Yrjö Prize itself is a work of art commissioned by Jazz Finland from a different artist each year. This year’s Yrjö was designed by street artist Ines Sederholm (b. 1991). The piece is called Ikirummutin (”Eternal drum”) and the technique is spray and acrylic paint on plate. Sederholm says their colorful and graphic painting was created to reflect Lehtonen’s music:
- I listened to Jussi’s music while painting. It had a very positive and good vibe to it, and I wanted to hang on to that. I tried to convey the energy of the music through the color choices, and the sensitivity through small details. I also wanted the composition to be rhythmic and in constant motion, like Jussi, says Sederholm.
Jazz Radio, a long-running jazz programme of Yle, the Finnish Broadcasting Company, also handed out their annual Varjo-Yrjö (”Shadow Yrjö”) award at Tullikamari on Friday. Varjo-Yrjö is given to a person, event, company or a phenomena in recognition to valuable contribution to the Finnish jazz culture, usually behind the scenes and not onstage. This year the prize went to producer Raisa Siivola, for 15 years’ work in producing and promoting Finnish live jazz culture. Their employers include UMO Jazz House, UMO Jazz Orchestra, Tampere Jazz Happening, with their current post being in Jazz Finland organization. Varjo-Yrjö was awarded now for the 16th time. In 2017 the prize was received by the Helsinki-based jazz venue Koko Jazz Club and in 2016 photographer Maarit Kytöharju.