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Jazz Finland International: My Daily Bread Around The World

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There has been a lot of discussion about international market for Finnish jazz in the Jazzpresso series too. Finns are known to be concerned about how the rest of the world sees us, and jazz field isn't any different. Annamaija Saarela is one of the frontwomen for Finnish jazz abroad, and well known figure in the European jazz scene for her work as an agent, and also as the President for Europe Jazz Network. Her Annamaija Music Company leads a new jazz export project called Jazz Finland International. How does she feel about the current pathway to European arenas? Are we marching in waving a blue-and-white flag?

It is my honour to be the first woman to contribute to the Jazzpresso series. Before me, eight very competent men have shed light on the Finnish jazz scene from their individual angles in what is becoming a very valuable anthology about the present state of our field. Having reread the whole series, it was especially the texts by Verneri Pohjola and Dave Stapleton that inspired my own writing. Indeed, I would like to thank each and every previous writer for sharing their thoughts and the Finnish Jazz Federation for giving me the opportunity to add to this number.

The Finnish Jazz Federation recently received an export grant from the Ministry of Education and Culture to promote the internationalisation of Finnish jazz music. The project, Jazz Finland International, involves eleven Finnish companies operating in the field and my own firm, AMC, coordinates it.

The internationalisation of Finnish jazz is hardly a question unique to the 2010s. Jukkis Uotila, who opened the Jazzpresso series, and Jukka Perko, who responded to him; the path breaking Edward Vesala and his associate Iro Haarla; guitarist Raoul Björkenheim and The Five Corners Quintet, not to mention Trio Töykeät and Iiro Rantala – all of these artists and groups have made a significant part of their careers in international jazz circles. Since the late 1960s Finnish artists have released music on such international labels as Columbia, EMI, ECM, ACT and Edition Records. As for Finnish jazz businesses, the agency Free Voices Free Sounds has built bridges to the Continent already for twenty years.

Given these examples, it is rather surprising that Jazz Finland International is the first strategic export project that focusses solely on jazz music. Thus, it is natural that it is greeted with lots of expectations and that many pin their hopes and wishes on it.

Since my background lies in networking and organising international events, it comes naturally to me to consider the scene as something that transcends national borders. The country of origin of music does not really play a role but whether or not it succeeds to speak to me does. It is useful to keep this in mind when talking about the export of Finnish jazz, too: there is no special demand for Finnish music, but for good and tasteful music there always is.

Therefore, blue-and-white wash does not necessarily do the trick when aiming at international markets. A more effective option is surely to direct resources to networking, to establish international teams and to ensure that the necessary know-how is available for musicians and their backups. It is only in this way that we can catch up with, say, our Norwegian colleagues.

Time after time Finnish jazz artists and groups prove that it is not the artistic quality that is the problem; on the contrary, the level of musicianship is generally very high. But how to embark on an international career in a situation where the number of top musicians is on the increase while the funding available in the field is being cut?

Jazz Finland International aims at fortifying export plans that have been drawn up by artists and their teams themselves. Since internationalisation means building up personal networks it makes sense to build on what is already there and focus on markets that have already proven fertile. Simultaneously, helpful tools and information will be provided to enhance musicians’ and companies’ skills in management, sales and marketing.

As Verneri Pohjola stated, each artist’s career path is unique. There are no fool proof steps that open the door to the international jazz circles. One thing, however, is for sure: the more professional the team behind the artist, the easier it is for the artist to focus on creating art. When each member of the team can concentrate on what they can do best the outcome is more than the sum of its parts.

Dave Stapleton sums up our key strength beautifully: “For me Finnish music is not about money or fame but achieving individual personal goals, being honest to yourself and respecting the talent of like-minded people.” Great values to lean on when going international.

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