Take Five With Mika Pohjola

AAJ Staff By

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Meet Mika Pohjola: Mika was born in Finland in 1971. He was an eager young pianist in learning Debussy, Gershwin and Grieg, but didn't want to practice his Beethoven. In 1987, his contract with Beethoven was released by jazz at an undisclosed sum. He moved to Sweden to study with the great Alvaro Is Rojas. While seriously studying tangible information of jazz harmony, improvisation and ear-training, he also graduated from the Royal College in Stockholm. In 1992-94, he was challenged by the beautiful ears, minds and hearts of Herb Pomeroy, Gary Burton, Ed Bedner and many others at Berklee. Starting in 1995, Mika started hammering the New York and international jazz scenes, and recording numerous CDs with Chris Cheek, Ben Monder, Miguel Zenon, Yusuke Yamamoto and others. In 2001, tired of booking gigs, he turned into writing vigorous arrangements of Scandinavian songs. He released four multi-track CDs, with each project lasting about a year (but played back in about an hour). In 2006, studies on musical form regained control in Mika's mind, and guess who was knocking on the door at that time? It was Beethoven who hadn't given up, although Mika once thought he had.

Instrument(s): piano.

Teachers and/or influences? Teachers: Alvaro Is Rojas, Sal Mosca, Gary Burton, Herb Pomeroy, Ed Bedner, Phil Wilson, Ed Tomassi, Hal Crook.

Influences: Claude Debussy, Paul Bley, Thelonious Monk, Weather Report, J.S. Bach, Duke Ellington, Lennie Tristano, Bud Powell (I could go on forever).

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... I noticed that I could play with two hands simultaneously and had figured out how to read sharps and flats, and not the least dotted quarter notes. Furthermore, being a musician was a lot better than anything else I saw opportunities in, so why not give it a chance.

Your sound and approach to music: I don't know, because I don't know when and where I'll play next, and with whom. All of that will show in due time; no reason to worry right now.

Your teaching approach: Keep up the interest and love for music. After that we can negotiate about anything.

Your dream band: Ben Monder, Miguel Zenon, Chris Cheek, Fernando Huergo, Franco Pinna, Matt Penman, Andrew Rathbun, David Ambrosio, Mark Ferber, Kyle Struve, Dan Loomis, Alan Ferber, Roberto Dani, Yusuke Yamamoto, Johanna Grüssner, Rigmor Gustafsson, Theo Bleckmann... and many more. The good thing is that I've played with all of these, which has been amazing experiences. All of these are my dream bands.

Anecdote from the road: Try to find food which doesn't kill you.

Favorite venue: Cheltenham Jazz Festival 1998, Viapori Jazz 2006, Brecon Jazz Festival 1996, Savoy Theater in Helsinki 2006, Fasching jazz club in Stockholm (many times), the Norwegian Seamen's Church in New York every week.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why? Sound of Village. It took eight hours of free improvisation, and in many ways this recording sounds better than several of my one-year long studio projects. It's all about the approach and who is recording with you.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? I don't know, hopefully something. Ask some analysts about the about the perspective. No matter what the outcome is, I'll stay around.

Did you know... That I had the greatest pleasure to be born the same day as Jaco Pastorius?

How you use the internet to help your career? In 1997-2000, I had an answer for all these questions. Today I have a website, a MySpace page and a telephone, and I don't really know anything. Luckily, I'm still doing music, and owe a big thanks to CDBaby for this. All About Jazz is also a great tool. I'm glad Michael Ricci took the time and energy to start up something like this.

CDs you are listening to now: Art Tatum, All his solo piano records; Miles Okazaki, Mirror (Independent); Olivier Messiaen, Turangalila Symphony; John Scofield, Blue Matter (Gramavision); Oxford Camerata, Masses and Motets by Palestrina (Naxos).

Desert Island picks: Glenn Gould, Bach's Goldberg Variations, 1981 version; Pierre Boulez conducting Stravinsky, Symphonies of Wind Instruments, Dumbarton Oaks Concerto and Scherzo Fantastique; Stevie Wonder, Music of My Mind (Motown); Oscar Peterson, Night Train (Verve); Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, The album which starts with "In A Sentimental Mood.

How would you describe the state of jazz today? Great. The problem is the amount of venues, but it's always been that way, so my answer is "great."

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? Opportunities like All About Jazz and CD Baby, which open their arms to all musicians, not just those who can afford advertising. The rest is up to the musicians themselves.

What is in the near future? Serious studies for a few years. I need to learn a lot more before opening "my mouth" again. But until then, I have about fifteen records, which I hope will get a listen every now and then. www.mikapohjola.com

By Day: During the days, I stay busy taking care of everything in music and communication that enables me to stay free as a musician. Sometimes I wonder how I'm so lucky that I can do exactly what I want. It wasn't always like that, but the problem was that I wanted the wrong things.

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