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The other West Coast: Jussi Fredriksson and the Turku jazz scene

by Santeri Kaipiainen

For more than a decade, jazz musician Jussi Fredriksson has played a significant role in building up the Turku jazz scene. The Baltic Archipelago Sea’s environment is featured on his recent solo album, both as a source of inspiration and as a cause for concern.

”I have been going to the Archipelago Sea since the age of one, when my parents bought a summer cottage on the island of Korpo. With each passing year, my own mental landscape has been shifting increasingly towards the archipelago. During the pandemic, it felt natural to leave the city and spend time there instead – both at sea and at the cottage – and around the same time, the idea was born to create an entire project around that theme”, explains pianist, drummer, composer and cultural advocate Jussi Fredriksson.   

This was the initial spark for the Jussi Fredriksson Trio’s third album Archipelago Sea Tales, released in 2021. During his composition process, Fredriksson spent time on different Archipelago Sea islands, each providing a unique source of inspiration – a particular natural element, or a colour. 

”I have synaesthesia, which leads me to associate each key signature and pitch with a specific colour, yet I had not really utilised this attribute in my previous compositions. This time round, I started thinking about all the different colouristic landscapes found in the archipelago and tried to combine them in my mind with the specific colours I associate with key signatures.”

Red Ochre, for example, refers to the typical red ochre paint that is a classic exterior house colour in the archipelago and which Fredriksson associates with E major, whereas Rock manifests itself through a grey B minor key. The polytonal Splatter depicts sunlight reflecting on sprays of water, creating a rich palette of colour combinations.

”I prefer to think of these examples as a smattering of colours, as opposed to some sort of systematic scheme permeating the entire album. Different locations also have their own meanings: my piece Käkkärämänty (Twisted Pine) came about after discovering an exceptionally fine pine tree on the island of Brännskär, and Rock was inspired by the flat rocks of Aspö”, Fredriksson says. 

”Instead of writing out entire stories, I opted for abstract references. I prefer my pieces to retain a certain air of mystery. However, many listeners with personal ties to the archipelago and the sea have told me of the connections with those familiar landscapes that they have discovered in my music.”

Jazz for the Baltic Sea

The Jussi Fredriksson Trio took Archipelago Sea Tales on tour last September through Jazz Finland’s touring scheme. The most fitting performance location in view of the overall theme was the Seili (Själö) island, where the trio’s gig was presented by Turku Sea Jazz.   

”The island is also home to an environmental research base, so the milieu felt very authentic vis-à-vis the album’s themes. The tour itself had an environmental angle, with Jazz Finland measuring and attempting to reduce the carbon imprint and environmental effects caused by their touring activities”, Fredriksson points out. 

The Archipelago Sea is the only area inside Finland’s borders that has been identified as a Hot Spot by HELCOM (Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area). The marine area has been classified as a significant eutrophication site, largely due to Southwest Finland’s agricultural nutrients leaching into rivers and subsequently into the Baltic Sea. The concern for the well-being of the archipelago can be heard on the album.

”For example, the track Dead Sea ties in with this concern – the name reflects a scenario where the sea has become dead. We are already experiencing the effects of pollution in our everyday lives, for example when you cannot go for a swim in the Baltic Sea because of blue algae. I am an active participant in the campaign to safeguard various protection measures, and to persuade farmers to adapt restorative practices available to them, such as treating their fields with gypsum.”

According to Fredriksson, jazz music audiences are not large enough for his trio and their environmental activism to really make a notable impact. 

”However, event organisers are better placed to influence. Through Archipelago Sea Jazz, a series of four festivals, we raise funds in conjunction with ticket sales towards environmental organisations such as the John Nurminen Foundation, as well as collaborating closely with the Keep the Archipelago Tidy Association.”

Jussi Fredriksson and drummer Mika Kallio. Photo by Jori Huhtala

From concert series to production organisation 

Ever since 2011, there has been a gradual infiltration of non-performance-related cultural activities into Fredriksson’s life. 

”That year, Turku was one of the European Capitals of Culture, and I was involved in founding the Flame Jazz event as part of the year’s programme. Our goal was to present high-quality jazz concerts and events in Turku throughout the year”, Fredriksson says. 

”I had a clear vision of what sort of gigs I wanted to see in the city, and having played gigs all my life I was more or less familiar with what it takes to organise them. However, I had no prior experience of any other aspects of event production, nor a business or association background.”

During the inaugural year, Jazz Finland oversaw all event administration and finances, leaving Fredriksson in charge of production and marketing. 

”I found myself in the deep end rather quickly. The Cultural Capital Foundation had provided us an initial capital of 50,000 euro, which is unusual for a new cultural organisation. Our Flame Jazz brand enjoyed high visibility during the Cultural Capital year, which was a great help going forward the following year, when our funding base collapsed. We were desperately trying to come up with alternative ways to raise funds, and one of our ideas was to organise special Flame Jazz cruises, which since 2013 have been a regular feature at the Turku-Stockholm cruise ferry Viking Grace”, Fredriksson reveals. 

Fredriksson was born in Turku and Flame Jazz gave him an incentive to move back to the city. 

”In my youth, the Turku jazz scene was pretty much non-existent save for the annual Turku Jazz Festival which was the only event where you could hear professionals perform. Ville Herrala and I were the only Turku kids from our generation who ended up becoming professionals in jazz music.”

In 2012, the Turku Jazz Orchestra was founded and 2017 saw the inception of the Jazz City Turku project, where Flame Jazz, the Turku Jazz Festival and Turku Jazz Orchestra pooled their resources in terms of publicity and marketing. Since 2020, the three organisations have been operating as one joint association.  

”Each year has been better than the previous one, and now for the first time in history we have a Turku-based professional jazz industry organisation, which has made everything easier – starting from securing collaborative partners and managing salary and fee payments. We are not just an orchestra, a festival or a club, but a versatile production platform with public funding.”

Similar trends are emerging in other Finnish cities as well. The April Jazz Festival, established by the Espoo Big Band, has expanded into a concert series, while events such as the Oulu Music Festival and the SaloJazz Festival offer a jazz concert series outside their main event dates. Jazz City Turku has also undertaken the marketing and programming coordination for four Baltic Archipelago jazz festivals, under the umbrella title Archipelago Sea Jazz. 

”Each festival organisation is an independent association, but on the operational side we have close, weekly collaborations between producers. We plan a distinct program for each festival so as to strengthen each event’s unique profile. We wish to preserve the individual identity of each festival and make sure that everyone benefits from the collaboration.”

Making music through changing roles

Participating in municipal politics has proved to be an organic continuation of Fredriksson’s work with associations promoting the Turku cultural scene. He is a member of the city of Turku’s Cultural and Youth Committee, and a deputy member of the City Council. 

”After moving back to Turku, I actively sought to participate in politics after identifying certain shortcomings in the cultural sector, particularly around funding structures. Unless you personally know and are able to influence those politicians who defend culture, you must assume an active role in order to change things”, Fredriksson contemplates.  

Is today’s Turku an interesting city culturally?

”Increasingly so each year, but it hasn’t always been the case. In the past there have been times when the city’s illustrious cultural history has been overly highlighted, at the expense of actually fulfilling all those fine plans for concrete actions and activities. Now we are seeing new investments in culture, with the culture and business hub Logomo operating since 2011, followed by the opening of the Taiteen Talo arts centre this year and the upcoming development of the Turku Concert Hall.”

According to Fredriksson, living in Turku comes with certain professional perks. 

”Simply the fact that the city is compact, living expenses are lower and distances are shorter means there is more time left to make art.”

Despite his work for organisations and through elected positions, Fredriksson makes sure to allow time for his own music-making and maintains strict boundaries around his artistic work, blocking out diary dates for intensive free periods earmarked for tours and recordings.

”As a musician, I only accept work which is genuinely appealing to me. Over the past few years, my own trio has felt like the perfect vessel for fulfilling my visions both as a composer and pianist. In addition, I have toured with Pope Puolitaival this year, and Mika Kallio’s Gong Odyssey album tour is scheduled for next spring. Saxophonist Max Zenger and I have recently started a band called Freezer, which marks the comeback of my alter ego, the lizard-costumed drummer Fredator”, Fredriksson says.

”I have no idea of what kind of music I will write next. It always takes a large chunk of time to create new music, as well as choosing a new direction of sorts. I concentrate on one project at a time: I get a new idea that I want to realise, without thinking too much about whether I am being a musician or an event organiser. For me, the two are effectively the same thing: to be involved with interesting music, whether on or off stage.”

Translation: Hanna-Mari Latham