Pekka Pylkkanen – Mini Interview

Pekka is currently on tour in Japan through the end of May.

  1. Where are you from and how did you first get into jazz/music?

I’m from Helsinki, Finland. I grew up in the suburbs of Helsinki, there was no musicians in the family, but we had some records of New Orleans jazz and Latin -American music, and musical soundtracks, such as Fiddler on the Roof, plus some classic 78’s – with music of Gene Grupa, Benny Goodman etc. I think listening to music became my hobby, at around 4 years old. Soon I wanted to play also myself, and there was a guy living next to our house (or actually, there was two of them), who played tenor sax and clarinet. Both were also members of a big band that was experimenting with jazz-rock fusion, and which became very famous. The leader of that group, Mr. Klaus Järvinen, alto sax and clarinetist, who was in charge of the music program in the Oulunkylä Secondary and High School, named this band as ‘OYK Brass Band’- the name that lasted at least 5 ‘generations’ of this big band. Klaus Järvinen also started the first jazz/pop (or rock in those days) music academy in Finland, called Oulunkylä Pop and Jazz Institute- that had their premises at this very same school already mentioned.

 As per myself, I did finally get my parents convinced to take up an instrument, but all the advisors told them, that I should start on the piano, which didn’t prove to be that fruitful, after all. I was 6 years old at that point, and didn’t really like the teacher that much, a classical pianist who was mostly concerned in teaching reading music. It wasn’t fun, and due to that, and the fact that I had to attend an afternoon/evening- school, after our won school burned down, made me to give up those lessons.

2.Why did you choose the sax and who were your first influences? 

In the end it could be because of this guy in the neighbor, and their band, since we didn’t have much saxophone records at home, if I remember right.

But there was lots of clarinet and trumpet recordings anyway. I had this dream of playing first clarinet, and then switching to saxophone (which was the goal from the beginning, but everybody told that ‘you have to start with clarinet’. Bulls.J

Anyways, I got my first clarinet a bit before turning 10, and a couple of years later I got an alto, not own, but a Yamaha from the school’s instrument ‘library’. There was actually quite a few Mark VI’s and similar, really fantastic instruments there.

 My first influences: hmmm. I loved the stuff that big band was playing (the rock-influenced big band sound, as well as Basie, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw and similar bands. I’m not sure if I had a real idol on the saxophone at that point, I just loved all that music. At that point I was already playing in that same band *OYK Brass Band’- I guess in the second/third generation- and finally in the fourth generation. My teacher wanted me to listen to Johnny Hodges and Basie lead altoists (I didn’t know the name Marshall Royal at that time), and I liked that, but wasn’t totally overwhelmed by it.

 I guess the biggest impact were the recordings I had listened to when younger: Pete Fountain and Al Hirt. I could listen to that stuff all day long..

 Later on I started taking classes at that already-mentioned Oulunkylä Pop/Jazz Institute and was playing in many different groups simultaneously. That school became finally the Pop and Jazz Conservatory – and part of Metropolia University-  it provided also a degree-based education in jazz and pop music (Bachelor Degree) . As far as I can remember, that course started at the same time as the Sibelius- Academy’s Jazz Department (that provided Master’s and nowadays also Doctoral Degrees).

3. How did you first come to Japan and what were your impressions of the jazz scene here?

 Well, I have always had an interest in Japan, but hadn’t had an opportunity to perform there, although had been playing tours in China with my own group (the first one in 1999, at the Beijing Music Festival), and had toured as part of a big band in Australia and Thailand etc.

Then – finally in the end of 2006 I had the chance to bring my group to Tokyo for a few days, to finish off our 4-week-long tour in China. I had a promoter who arranged that, along with Naxos Japan (as far as I can tell): we played two nights at Pit Inn, and it was pretty fantastic, have to admit. But also realized really soon how tough the business side of performing in Japan was. We actually also recorded those nights, the pianist Kenichiro Shinzawa was doing the recording with an engineer. For some reason I didn’t approve the takes – or something- cannot really remember, and it hasn’t been released.

 But my impressions of Japan- I was really excited! I loved pretty much everything here. I guess I became some sort of Japan-freak! Pity that I still cannot speak the language, save for some phrases and so..

 The music scene in Japan still didn’t open up very easily for me. I couldn’t just travel to Japan to find out things by myself, so mostly I just surfed the internet and actually did  get some sort of picture of the club scene. I did put a lot of effort to manage a ‘real’ Japan tour with different cities and many clubs, and I guess I learned along the way a lot.

 The music scene is lively, of course, but during these last 9-10 years I have been in close contact with Japanese and the clubs, festivals, etc, I have noticed some sort of – well- maybe deterioration is a bit harsh word – but still- in the quality of music, at least in some places. It’s not only been seen as commercialization, partly that too, but as a bit more not-so-interesting projects bathing in the lights, if you know what I mean..

 Many club owners tell me that the economically hard times have hit the music scene the most, and it probably is the reason, at least partly.

4.What are your current and upcoming projects?

 I have several projects for the moment, some are more active than the others, but I’m trying to find at least some concerts/tours or recordings for each, every now and then.

Here’s some:

*Global Unit – with Ronan Guilfoyle, Carlos Ezequiel and Greg Burk. We did a recording two years ago and I should get it released soon now. We also toured in Asia- also Japan- and a some tours in Europe.

 Tube Factory – although I don’t much use that name anymore, and the ‘crew’ has already changed more times than I can tell. My so far still latest album ‘Listen’ was however by ‘Pekka Pylkkanen Tube factory’

  • Hi-Fi Quintuplet – half UK-group ( with Ronan Guilfoyle, Nick Smart on trumpet )
  • Superior Hi-Fi – with the great South African musicians Kesivan Naidoo and Kyle Shepherd, as well as Ronan and Nick)
  • A project with the great Venezuelan, but NYC-based pianist Benito Gonzalez, who couldn’t make it to Japan this time.
  • I’ve had projects with Danish musicians Thomas Walbum, Niclas Campagnol and Andreas Hatholt, but it is not active at the moment
  • Projects with my Brazilian friends Carlos Ezequiel, Lupa Santiago (great guitarist) and many others.

 I’ve also had a project in Portugal, with the great guitarist Bruno Santos. And another one in Italy, with the pianist Francesco Negro. And there’s a new project probably coming up with the great trumpetist Gerard Presencer, and some duo-projects as well.

 5. Three favorite albums

That’s a hard one!! Ouch.. There is too many, really! But let’s put it this way:

-       one has to be a Trane recording- one of these: Ballads, Crescent, Coltrane Jazz, Love Supreme

-       One from these: Rollins: Newk’s Time, Miles: Kind Of Blue, Four and More, ESP, Sorcerer, Kilimanjaro, Silent way, :

-       One from these: Herbie Hancock: Empyrean Isles, Cannonball, Garrett, Brecker, Jesus, cannot do this.

-       And where are my Cuban and Brazilian recordings, especially Hermeto Pascoal’s ( I am a devoted fan of his, incurable one)????

-       Hancock: Thrust, …

-       Sorry – I am no good in these!!:)