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Juhani Aaltonen, 80 years young

For 20 or 30 years or so saxophonist and flute player Juhani Aaltonen has been called as The Grand Old Man of Finnish Jazz. And he made a great influence to many younger generations of Finnish saxophone players. What the heck, he was a ‘young man’ those days. But now he really deserves this nick name. He turned 80 on Dec 12th and plays stronger and more beautifully than ever.

Aaltonen started his musical career in the 1950s and became a prominent figure on the Finnish jazz scene in the 1960s playing ao. with Edward Vesala, Heikki Sarmanto, and many others. In early 1970s he joined the pop group Tasavallan Presidentti (The President of the Republic) led by the legendary guitarist Jukka Tolonen.

In 1974 he was one of the musicians founding The UMO Jazz Orchestra in which he played for a decade. In those times he internationally played for example in Graham Collier Big Band and, most noteworthly, with Arild Andersen Quartet, ao. on two ECM albums.

His collaboration with Sarmanto and Vesala, for example, has lasted a long time. The albums on his own name have earlier been rare but at least one has to be mentioned: Prana (w. Reggie Workman and Edward Vesala on Vesala’s label Leo Records back in 1981).

Since 1991, after a long hiatus out of jazz, he founded his own trio and since then, especially during this millenium, he has been more active than ever. Both recording and gigging. He has made several great albums for TUM Records like Mother Tongue (2003) and Illusions of a Ballad (2006) with his own trio and one, Reflections (2004) with Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille. And after those there have been a lot of others.

This fall, late September – early October, he made a long tour in Finland with his quartet together with Ulf Krokfors on bass, Reiska Laine on drums (both in his current trio) and Iro Haarla on piano. All of them very close musical collaborations to Aaltonen.

Warm congratulations to ‘Junnu’, 80 years young!

Text: Timo Vähäsilta

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