Jarkko Hakala speaks like he plays trumpet. Concise, sometimes witty phrases spring forth fully formed from thoughtful silence. The phrases’depth then further impregnates the inevitable pauses with more meaning. These long pauses in conversation show Hakala to be very much from Finland, a country where silence is welcomed, and one does not speak unless one has something meaningful to say. Hakala might attribute the speech pauses to, in his evaluation, his sub-par English, and he might evaluate his own playing as still developing, rarely reaching the honest self-expression for which he strives. He says, “It's about touching people and getting into their hearts.”
His contributions to Kari Ikonen’s Karikko (see concert review ), his subtle, yet effective playing with Rodent (see album review ) and a recent premiere of his big band works all testify to a musician whose meditation on sound and form have resulted in an instrumental and compositional voice that speaks volumes with its economy. “Music expresses things you can’t define,” he states. He has learned to speak the language of music, but due to its slippery nature he is still trying to make it sing.
On Music Education
Born in 1977, Hakala started, as many children do, playing piano. A trip to a music store with his grandfather presented him with the choice of a white or black accordion (he chose black), but it was the trumpet that eventually won him over. At age fourteen, his father traveled to Germany, and at Hakala’s urging returned with Miles Davis’ Walkin’ ; from there the path was clear. For the past four years he has been studying in Denmark’s Rytmisk Musikkonservatorium, from which he will graduate this spring.
About being a formally educated musician Hakala harbors a few reservations. When he says, “I doubt that Ornette Coleman would get into one of these schools with the way he plays, and still his music touches so many people,” he’s expressing his belief that, above all, music should connect emotionally with listeners. He does acknowledge that “one can get a lot of great tools and meet a lot of other musicians by going to a school,” but he also wonders if the money spent on making the musician (most music education is free in the Nordic countries) could be better spent. “Why is not some more of this money used on supporting the music, the musicians, composers and the venues?” he asks, and at a time when regular gigs for jazz musicians are scarce in Finland, he has a point.
On the Trumpet and Defying Audience Expectations
Hakala chose the trumpet, he says, for its “sonic flexibility.” He never cared for the more masculine sounds of Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan, favoring the more nuanced approach of Davis and Tomasz Stanko, an approach that focuses on the sound. He also cites the Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen as an exciting contemporary, saying he “plays the horn in a way that people are not used to.” By defying audience audience expectations, Hakala feels you can play with their conceptions of good and bad, and raise questions in their minds, questions which might open other doors.
Hakala’s tone often plumbs the trumpet’s lower reaches, where the line between musical tone and voice blurs. During a solo he might construct a brassy, full-bodied phrase, then dive into sentences of slurring exhaling and inhaling - one can almost hear the spittle spraying through the tube. With such contrasts he brings the listener closer, first grabbing one’s attention, then whispering delicately, intimately.
On Composing and Creating Form
But unexpected and unique sounds only go halfway, so Hakala, like Davis, Stanko and Henriksen, looks to present his voice within intriguing forms. He declares, “I believe that a note gets it's meaning by being part of a larger form, a phrase, a melody, etc.”
He likes to create contrasts in his compositions and leave space for individuals to interact. “Pasquale,” his contribution to Rodent’s Beautiful Monster , progresses in scenes, as a stark, wavering melody makes space for each member to respond to it alone. Expanding this idea of switching scenes, his big band piece “Some Small Pieces” strings together three pieces with free sections, creating a parallel development that engages the listener, as one must navigate and create connections.
Such questioning by the audience is one that Hakala tries to achieve. He says he wants to “raise questions in the listener’s mind” and create some kind of “awakenings.” The nature of the questions and the substance of the awakenings, however, are left up to the listener, as Hakala’s compositions again point out how music creates an abstract space that listeners enter, but what we do in that space is left undetermined.
Hakala’s insistence on engaging forms affects what excites him about other music. “I have a low tolerance for pop music,” he declares, finding its forms dull. He has a similar problem with much electronica, which he finds focuses too lightly on form and too heavily on sound experimentation.
Hakala, however, does experiment with electronics. In the past he has used them with Punainen Voima (a Finnish quartet with bassist Tero Tuovinen, saxophonist Henri Haapakoski and drummer Olavi Louhivuori) and more recently he recorded material for a forthcoming trio album of improvised electronica with Samuli Mikkonen contributing synths and Kari Ikonen on keyboards and sampler. He is not interested, though, in making his horn sound like a guitar or any other instrument; he feels the electronics should act as a separate instrument, supplementing his sound and the music’s formal development.
On Britney Spears, Ski-jumping and Improvising
Humanity, and Hakala, cannot live on brooding introspection alone, and the trumpeter finds space for finely-timed barbs, in person and while playing. When asked why jazz is not as popular as other forms of music these days, he quickly replies, “It would help if I looked more like Britney Spears.”
By email, he offers an illuminating perspective on improvising, quoting ex-champion Finnish ski jumper Matti Nykänen. The quote, originally in Finnish, is a charming mix of Finnish and English. “When you start the jump, you are completely alone. On the edge of the jump, you have to make your own decisions completely by yourself. You are up there completely up yours.”