Birthdate and place: 8 December 1974, Helsinki

Place of residence: Helsinki

Education: Master of Music

When I was a child I wanted to be a chef.

I admire Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Ella Fizgerald, Miles Davis, James Brown…

I love all the previous + Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Ben Webster, Cannonball Adderley, Curtis Mayfield, Sam Cooke…

I would like to get more beetle to my sound.

SAXOPHONIST, composer and bandleader Timo Lassy is a central player in the booming Helsinki jazz scene. With credentials including Five Corners Quintet and U-Street All Stars, Lassy has been at the forefront of the contemporary jazz movement in Finland, salvaging the music from critical ivory towers and fostering new audiences. His new album Round Two illustrates Lassy’s passion for the soulful sound of the golden age of jazz. SixDegrees asked the sax man why 1960s modern jazz is the bee’s knees.

You started out playing the piano, why did you decide to switch to the saxophone?

I think a lot of people start out with the piano. I think one important reason why I switched to the sax was that we had one at home, because my father played it as a hobby. It was there, so I just gave it a try.

Did you have any favourite sax players who got you excited about the sound?

I had, and still have several favourites, but all in all I veered towards the older stuff, starting from Charlie Parker. His influence on pretty much all of today’s jazz musicians is undeniable. Plenty of players caught my attention, pretty much from each end of the spectrum, but mostly Parker’s descendants: Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Stanley Turentine, all those soulful players from the 50s and 60s. They’re incredibly inspiring.

Your music draws a lot from that “golden age” of jazz. Why is it so appealing?

Well, first of all it happens to be my own favourite music. But I think there’s also a sort of clarity of expression: the style of playing and the melodies of that age still sound contemporary. It was somehow the core period of this kind of music. It’s fascinating to bring that style up to date with modern means, seasoned with today’s influences and played by today’s musicians. I guess ultimately it’s about the strength of expression, soulfulness and the vintage sound of that age, which you can find on some of the best Blue Note or Atlantic records.

How come older jazz geezers tend to look for something progressive, but the younger crowds all get into the kind of dance floor jazz that takes its cues from the older stuff?

I think partly it has to do with an overall retro phenomenon that’s been going on in the past decades. Trends go around in circles and in popular music people always look to the past for influences. It’s interesting how a lot of young folks have gotten into jazz music. For instance, some folks who listen to rap have gotten interested in jazz through samples of old jazz records on hip hop tracks. In the last few years DJs have started to play old jazz records. Some call it dance floor jazz, but in essence it’s the modern jazz of the 50s and 60s, which for some reason sounds really trendy and stylish.

What do you think about today’s Finnish jazz scene?

“Good music
is always

These are good times for sure. It’s been interesting to see how things have evolved since the early 2000s, when I first started to professionally play and perform jazz music. We’ve been getting new audiences interested in jazz, younger crowds in particular, and new musicians are coming up. There’s a clear sense of a generational shift going on. Still, to a lot of people jazz is something of a curse word: “Oh, it’s really difficult, I definitely don’t understand it at all…” We have a lot of work to do on that front. But I think the really good times are still ahead. We’ve started a good thing here, built a new kind of scene, but now we need to work on it to make it grow. And part of that is to go abroad and make our sound known outside of Finland.

Is there such a thing as a Finnish jazz sound?

I have to say I can’t name too many Finnish jazz bands with international renown. In the end I think it’s mainly Five Corners Quintet and a few other bands with the Ricky-Tick label, and that’s about it. It’s not a huge phenomenon. There’s really nothing Finnish in the music itself, it’s jazz music that’s based on an Afro-American tradition. I for one want to make good music that moves people. I’m not interested in bringing a kantele in there and putting Finnish flags on the cover.

Jazz has a reputation for being difficult and abstract. Why?

It’s a misconception created by elite critics, the so-called “Coltrane-illusion”. John Coltrane made massive leaps forward in jazz music in the 1960s over a short period of time, and it’s as if that development should go on forever. I think it is an illusion, good jazz music is not difficult. You can listen to it without decades of education under your belt. Myself I’ve always tried to make tracks with catchy melodies and rhythms, I think they’re basic values in any music. To me good music is always approachable, be it jazz or something else entirely.

Round Two is out now.

Matti Koskinen