The most prestigious prizes in the Finnish jazz industry were given at Tampere Jazz Happening festival on Friday the 1st of November. Jazz Finland granted the annual Yrjö Award to pianist Riitta Paakki. The award art piece was created by Anita Naukkarinen. Jazz Finland honoured the life’s work of Yle Radio’s music producer Veli-Pekka Heinonen by Andania award. Yle Jazzradio’s Varjo-Yrjö recognition was presented to Jyrki Laiho, a seasoned promotor and label manager Jyrki Laiho.

The Yrjö Award is an annual jazz prize 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 pianist, composer, band leader and educator Riitta Paakki. – Riitta Paakki has made an impressive career on the top of Finnish jazz scene, summarizes Jussi Fredriksson, a member of the jury, which consists of the Board of Jazz Finland. – Her refined pianism draws from the traditions of jazz. The groovy and distinctive expression is branded by playfulness and ease.

Riitta Paakki (b. 1971) began her studies in the Pop & Jazz Conservatory in Helsinki and got her Master’s Degree from the Sibelius Academy in 2002. She mentions Seppo Kantonen and Jukkis Uotila as her most influential teachers. After the Masters, she continued to doctoral studies. In her doctoral diploma work she studied the Blue Note era in the 60s and specifically pianist Herbie Hancock’s playing on saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil album. In 2016 she became the first Finnish pianist to receive a Doctor’s Degree in jazz. In addition to making her own music, Paakki teaches jazz piano at Sibelius Academy.

Paakki played for the first time in UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra soon after starting her studies at the Sibelius Academy. She quickly made her way to become an important member of many bands of her fellow students, and to lead her first own band, Riitta Paakki Trio. Her first album, self-titled Riitta Paakki Trio (Texicalli/Impala 2000) was noticed well both in Finland and Japan. Later she has released four more albums with her ensembles Riitta Paakki Trio and Riitta Paakki Quartet. The latest – and first – quartet album Live At Koko Jazz Club came out on Koko Records in 2018, and it has also been well received in Japan. Paakki is touring Finland with her quartet right after the award ceremonies, in November 5–16, 2019.

The Yrjö Prize itself is a work of art commissioned by Jazz Finland from a different artist each year. This year’s piece was created by Anita Naukkarinen. Naukkarinen is finishing her Master’s at the Helsinki Academy of Fine Arts, yet already she has had her work featured in many galleries and exhibitions. The piece is called “Occur” and the technique is oil on canvas. Naukkarinen says her playful painting was created to reflect Paakki’s music. – I lean on bodiliness in my work. I felt it was, in fact, the music, which was forming the dialogue of vulnerability, melancholy and positive rhythm on the canvas, describes Naukkarinen.

Andania Award is granted to a person or a group for long-term, perseverent work for the promotion and establishment of Finnish jazz music and culture. The first Andania was given in 1988, and Jazz Finland’s Board has granted the recognition 14 times after that. The prize is named after the Andania ship, on which jazz music allegedly arrived in Finland in 1926.

This year the Andania was awarded to Veli-Pekka Heinonen, the long-term producer at the national broadcasting company Yle. Heinonen has also been a member of Jazz Finland’s board in 1976–1982. Mikkomatti Aro, a member of the current board, describes Heinonen as a character who has made his mark in the Finnish jazz scene: – Veli-Pekka Heinonen’s love for jazz and particularly for Finnish jazz has been crystal clear to everyone. The jazz musicians who have recorded material at the Yle studios have had the privilege to work with a passionate, thorough and dedicated producer.

Yle Jazzradio, 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 promotor and label manager Jyrki Laiho.

Laiho has run his record label Karkia Mistika and Validi Karkia club in Pori with passion for over a decade. Yle Jazzradio’s Markus Partanen is especially taken by Laiho’s dedication to marginal music and artists, who have always gotten room in Laiho’s productions.

Read more about the Yrjö-awarded musician and artist behind the artpiece: Riitta Paakki Anita Naukkarinen