UMO JAZZ ORCHESTRA is the only professional orchestra in Finland specialised in jazz and new rhythm-oriented music. The orchestra plays a diverse range of modern music that is on the pulse of the times. UMO is a creative group that works to make Finnish music in particular known throughout Finland as well as abroad. Our orchestra is regarded as one of the world’s leading big bands. By commissioning and presenting as much new material as possible, UMO encourages and supports Finnish jazz production. As a result, UMO has been recognised all over the world.
The orchestra consists of Finland’s leading jazz musicians, and acts as another kind of music school, offering musicians hands-on training in popular and jazz music.
UMO was established in 1975
In the middle of the 1970s, strange news spread from Helsinki – UMO was established in 1975! The founders included Heikki Sarmanto and Esko Linnavalli, the creators of the Finnish Jazz Music Workshop. In 1975, the group started working on an album which was to be called Our Latin Friends, taking its title from Heikki Sarmanto’s composition. During the recording process, the name of the orchestra changed. The workshop became Uuden Musiikin Orkesteri and was soon registered as an association. The name came from Markku Johansson, a founding member of the orchestra.
During its first year in 1975 – 1976, Uuden Musiikin Orkesteri looked to the government for financial support as well as to the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE), and attempted to become the regional orchestra in the Uusimaa Region. Success, unfortunately, was hard to come by. For the next couple of years, the orchestra closely observed the situation, hoping their calls would be answered. Despite the lack of official support„ world-class stars performed with UMO right from the start. At the time, Esko Linnavalli, a founder of UMO, was in Jorma Panula’s conducting class with the currently world-renowned conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen.
At the end of the 1970s, the orchestra’s difficult financial situation started to turn for the better. A UMO concert featuring Dizzy Gillespie was the sign of a new start: it was the first joint project between UMO, the City of Helsinki, YLE and the Ministry of Education. This formed the financial and administrative basis for the future of UMO, which, to this day, the orchestra is based on.
UMO operated as a part-time big band until 1984, when it became a full-time professional orchestra. This resulted from a tripartite agreement between the City of Helsinki, YLE and the Ministry of Education. The orchestra was no longer an experiment – UMO was here to stay. It can reasonably be said that the City of Helsinki saved UMO. The work of Deputy Mayor Heikki S. von Hertzen for the orchestra and the support of Veijo Varpio, the new Festival Director of the Helsinki Festival, were crucial for UMO’s operations.
UMO in the 1990s and now
UMO has toured successfully in the United States, Canada, Norway, Italy and Germany. In 1994, UMO made a significant European tour together with Natalie Cole. Two years later, the orchestra went on a six-week European tour with the world-famous vocal group Manhattan Transfer. Most recently, UMO performed a concert as part of the promotion tour for its album, Sauna Palaa!, in Canada in the summer 2007.
The orchestra was given the Finnish Music Award in 1991, and the Finnish Jazz Federation’s Yrjö Award has been granted to many orchestra members. In addition, UMO engages in musical education with school children by teaching in schools and playing samples of various rhythm music. The orchestra is also actively taking part in international events for exporting music and developing cooperation with other art forms.
UMO found a home in August 2001 as UMO Jazz House was opened in the heart of Helsinki, providing a long-desired meeting place for lovers of live music. The orchestra’s office was located in the same facilities, which acted as a rehearsal space and concert hall for UMO, but also as a venue for other groups and clubs. In February 2007, the orchestra had to abandon the popular Jazz House because of significant moisture damage in the building and, since then, the orchestra has rehearsed and given concerts in various venues.
Currently, UMO’s repertoire consists of more than 2,200 compositions. This unique compilation expands every year as foreign orchestra leaders and soloists work with UMO. The orchestra’s visiting conductors and soloists have included such famous jazz names as Thad Jones, Dizzy Gillespie, Gil Evans, Joe Williams, Mercer Ellington, McCoy Tyner, Maria Schneider, Michael Brecker, John Scofield, Tomasz Stanko and many others.
International cooperation has been very important for UMO and the development of jazz music in Finland. Since its inception, the orchestra has released 22 albums and taken part in a number of other recordings. UMO’s albums have been exceptionally well-received internationally.
The orchestra’s Artistic Directors:
Esko Linnavalli (1941 – 1991), 1975 – 1991
Esko Linnavalli was invited to become UMO’s first conductor upon the founding of the orchestra. At that time, he was already a renowned pianist and arranger whose charts were used by a number of pop stars. Esko formed relationships with world-renowned jazz musicians, such as Mel Lewis, Dizzy Gillespie, Thad Jones and Bob Brookmeyer, all of whom have been visiting artists with UMO. It was Linnavalli who helped kick-start UMO’s development, which got another boost in 1984 when the orchestra turned professional.
Markku Johansson, 1992 – 1993
Markku Johansson was a natural choice to succeed Linnavalli as artistic director. After all, Markku was a founding member of the orchestra, a skilful conductor, and, we should not forget, a formidable trumpet and flugelhorn player. His skills can be enjoyed on the album Selected Standards, recorded during his tenure. One of Johansson’s most significant projects was his extensive cooperation with composer Eero Hämeenniemi.
Rich Shemaria, 1994 – 1995
Rich Shemaria, from New York, met Linnavalli in 1989 and visited UMO as a composer some years later. UMO was impressed with his skills as a composer and arranger. Thus, Rich was invited to be the orchestra’s artistic director after Johansson. He composed a big band series for UMO as well as the piece “Road to Bilbao”, which was created on a late-night bus ride in the Basque Country in Spain during the Natalie Cole & UMO tour. In addition to the sauna, Shemaria has said that he found something new for his compositions during his time with UMO.
Eero Koivistoinen, 1996 – 1998
Eero “Koippa” Koivistoinen is one of Finland’s most noted jazz musicians. He is also one of the orchestra’s founding members. Two of the orchestra’s most successful albums, UMO Jazz Orchestra (NaxosJazz) and Electrifying Miles – which garnered a four-star review in the distinguished jazz magazine Down Beat – were recorded during his tenure.
Heikki Sarmanto, 1998 – 2000
Heikki Sarmanto is one of the best-known Finnish jazz composers internationally. Like Koivistoinen and Johansson, “Hesa” was a founding member of UMO. As artistic director, he was instrumental in leading UMO into the 21st century. Several international concert visits were made during Sarmanto’s tenure, to the United States, Germany, France and Spain, among other countries. He also oversaw the launch of the orchestra’s church concert series, “Silent Music”,. The series proved to all doubters that UMO could also play quietly and beautifully.
Artistic Committee, 2000 – 2009
In 2000 – 2009, UMO has not had a single artistic director, but an annually selected artistic committee consisting of orchestra members. Together with the executive director, the committee is responsible for UMO’s artistic style and repertoire.
Kirmo Lintinen and Kari “Sonny” Heinilä, 2010 – 2011
Kirmo Lintinen and Kari Heinilä act as UMO’s artistic planners.
Kirmo Lintinen, Kari Heinilä, Antti Rissanen, Eero Koivistoinen and Aija Puurtinen, 2012-2013
In 2012-2013 UMO had a group of artistic advisors who are listed above.