Today, there is a continuing internationalization of the music as more tangibly advanced by musicians from all over the world getting together to solidify and advance the jazz tradition. KLAUS SUONSAARI learned from that tradition and eventually crossed the Atlantic to first study, and then become an active contributor to the music as a sideman and, now as a leader-composer-arranger. His story illustrates the power of jazz to reach out and capture one’s heart and mind, no matter where the music is heard. Born in Helsinki, Finland on November 7, 1959, Klaus found himself part of a musical family. “My mother played piano, my father sang in the choir and my sister was an excellent classical pianist and church organist, but none of them pursued music as a profession,” is the way he describes it. Klaus began classical piano lessons at age 6, switching to his main instrument at 14. “There was always a lot of music at home,” he remembers. “My parents had Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald records and I learned a lot of standards by listening to them.” In the summer of 1974, he attended the Helsinki Pop/Jazz Conservatory summer program and received his first formal lessons. He was also exposed to earlier drum masters such as Baby Dodds and Big Sid Catlett. “The summer program was a great inspiration to me”, he relates. “I started checking out Kenny Clarke, Papa Jo Jones, Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones and Art Blakey in order to learn my instrument and tradition.” Today he still includes these artists as main influences: “Kenny Clarke for his sound and conception; Max Roach for melody and for always playing the right thing at the right time; Philly Joe Jones for melody and hard swing: Art Blakey for feeling and conception.” In the fall of 1974, Suonsaari began studies in classical percussion at Lahti Conservatory and later at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. He found studying tympani extremely beneficial for developing touch and sound on the drum set. “I feel that the tone on the drums is even more important than technigue in establishing stylistic identity.” At age 16, he found himself working with a quintet called “Blue Train” and gained a lot of solid playing experience with this group at the Pori International Jazz Festival and touring Finland. In 1978, “Blue Train” was named Finland’s Number One Jazz Group. After graduating from high school in 1979, Suonsaari enrolled at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston and, he studied privately with Joe Hunt and Alan Dawson, and immersed himself in the school’s arranging and composing program. “Composing and arranging helped me to be more musical and think about the drums more compositionally.” His talents were recognized when he received The Buddy Rich and The Quincy Jones Masters Awards. Suonsaari, who has written music since 1982, likes to write for different size groups from small combos to symphony orchestras. In 1984, in memory of pianist Bill Evans, Klaus wrote “Suite for Bill” for 27-piece orchestra featuring Niels Lan Doky. He feels his “own compositions have a distinctive character and express a variety of moods.” This is graphically illustrated by his writing for his debut album Reflecting Times on the Storyville Records label. In 1992, The Artist Of The Year Award for excellence presented at the Pori International Jazz Festival, was given to drummer-composer Klaus Suonsaari who has made an international career on the New York jazz scene. He has toured the United States, Canada, France, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Finland, England and Scotland. Performances in these countries have included numerous radio and television appearances and major jazz festivals such as Montreux, Copenhagen, Pori, Montreux/Detroit, Lugano, Greenwich Village Jazz Festival, as well as some of the top jazz clubs in the world: Sweet Basil, Blue Note, Village Vanguard, Birdland, Village Gate and the Montmartre.
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