"I feel that, both in my personal life and as a musician, I have often overcome the odds. Even some of the unlikeliest of my dreams and goals have come to pass, and music has always been the force to carry me through." And through the years that he has followed his calling Juhani Aaltonen has worked with all of the leading musicians in the burgeoning Nordic jazz scene from veteran Norwegians Jan Garbarek and Arild Andersen to the hottest of Finnish musical iconoclasts like Raoul Björkenheim.
Aaltonen’s first public appearance was in1957 with a local band led by trumpeter Heikki Rosendahl and he began to work as a free-lance musician in 1961. Initially he also studied at the classical flute at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki but soon stopped to work as a full-time jazz musician. The Finnish jazz scene in the 1960s was even more limited than the Danish and Swedish, but as a consequence cooperation between musicians from these countries became more extensive over the decade. By the end of the decade Aaltonen performed regularly with the Nordic All Stars led by trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg and a constellation of prominent Nordic artists, including Garbarek, Bertil Lögren and Terje Rypdal.
However it was with three fellow Finnish musicians, trumpeter Henrik Otto Donner, pianist Heikki Sarmanto, drummer Edward Vesala that Aaltonen’s roots go deepest. More a composer than a trumpeter, Donner recognises that Aaltonen is his alter ego on the saxophone. Both men are of a more reflective disposition and, since their earliest cooperation in the nascent Finnish scene in Helsinki, both have been at home in the other’s orbit. The 2003 album of Donner’s compositions, Strings Revisited, shows that the two are still on the same wavelength. Pianist Heikki Sarmanto is an even closer associate of Aaltonen’s, with the two producing over 30 albums under shared credits or Sarmanto’s name over the 40 years of their cooperation. During the 1990s, they worked extensively together on a number of concert tours and recordings of extended works, such as an eight-part suite for flute called Pan Fantasy and a composition for flute and piano titled Silver Spell. During this time Aaltonen also found time to perform and record two discs of religious music on Footprint Records.