Mika Pohjola is a Finnish-born jazz pianist and composer, who resides in New York City. He is one of the most prolific Scandinavian jazz musicians in his generation.
Childhood in Helsinki, Finland 1971-87
Mika Pohjola was born in Helsinki, Finland, and grew up in the neighboring city of Vantaa. He received his formal education in a Steiner school, where his first instrument was violin. He then studied drums, and in 1979 piano and basic music theory with his father, Heikki Pohjola, who is a notable Finnish jazz guitarist. In 1982, young Pohjola entered the Helsinki cathedral boy choir, Cantores Minores under the direction of Heinz Hofmann. At the age of ten, Pohjola had started studies in classical piano, music theory and counterpoint at the Vantaa Conservatory, while also starting to play jazz. His early classical influences were Claude Debussy, Edvard Grieg and Johann Sebastian Bach, and Finnish prominent composers, such as Selim Palmgren, Oskar Merikanto and Aarre Merikanto. Pohjola was introduced to the music of Art Tatum, Charlie Parker and Oscar Peterson by his father, who played his large record collection at home. Pohjola performed music by Mozart, Beethoven and Debussy at regional recitals and received a shared second prize in the classical piano competition of Vantaa in 1987, and represented his city and conservatory at the Ilmari Hannikainen Piano Competition.
Studies in Stockholm, Sweden 1987-92
In the Fall 1987, Pohjola moved to Stockholm, Sweden to study jazz and classical music at the Södra Latin Music Gymnasium. It was in Stockholm where he met his mentor and long-time friend, jazz pianist Alvaro Is Rojas, who taught him piano improvisation, jazz harmony and ear-training for five years, spanning his high school and studies at the Royal Swedish College of Music. Pohjola received a Master's Degree in Jazz Improvisation and Education at the age 20 in the Spring of 1992. His senior recital included his first recorded adult compositions, after which he was invited to join STIM, the collecting society for songwriters, composers and music publishers of Sweden.
Berklee and Boston 1992-95
After graduating from Stockholm, Pohjola moved to Boston, Massachusetts to study under a scholarship at Berklee College of Music. His continued studies were also supported by his Swedish college, where he had performed his studies with a Summa cum laude. His Berklee professors included Herb Pomeroy in line writing, Gary Burton in improvisation, Phil Wilson in big band, Ed Bedner in classical piano, and Hal Crook in theoretical improvisation studies. It was at Berklee where Pohjola met several of his performing and recording collaborators of the 1990s and 2000s, such as vocalists Jill Walsh, Johanna Grüssner and Sophie Dunér, bassists Fernando Huergo, Matt Penman and Bruno Råberg, drummer Roberto Dani and multi-percussionist Yusuke Yamamoto. Pohjola graduated from Berklee with honors in 1994. That same year he recorded his debut album, Myths and Beliefs (GM Recordings), which featured guitarist Mick Goodrick and was produced by Gunther Schuller.