"Heikki Sarmanto, a musician of outstanding versatility and merit, is undoubtedly the most eminent ambassador for Finnish jazz today." (Hannu Lahtonen)
Composer and pianist Heikki Sarmanto
, also called as the cornerstone of Nordic jazz, has been internationally praised for his symphonic, orchestral and jazz ensemble works.
During the early 1960s, Sarmanto studied at the Sibelius Academy in Finland. Shortly thereafter he won a prestigious award for the International Competition of Jazz Composition in Minneapolis. Sarmanto entered the Berklee College of Music in Boston, in 1968 where he honed his piano and composition skills with coaching from Herb Pomeroy, Charlie Mariano and Margaret Chaloff. In 1969 he released the first recording under his own name in 1969 titled “Flowers in the Water”.
In 1970, Sarmanto was chosen “Jazz Musician of the Year” in Finland, in 1971 he was awarded top honors at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland in both piano and combo categories. In the early 80s, Sarmanto initiated a collaboration with Sonny Rollins on a major project. It resulted in the creation of “Saxophone Concerto”, a massive opus composed by Sonny Rollins, arranged and orchestrated by Heikki Sarmanto. The work was premiered in Tokyo with great success in 1986, and was thereafter performed in Ravenna and Parma, Italy.
Some of his key works include “New Hope Jazz Mass” dedicated to Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, which was received with unequivocal praise at the opening of Saint Peter's Church in New York, and also his symphonic jazz poem"Suomi", which premiered to rave reviews at Carnegie Hall in 1988. In 1995 Sarmanto premiered and recorded "Hearts", his concerto for symphony orchestra and jazz ensemble, with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. In the same year, at the Savonlinna Opera Festival in Finland, he premiered his "Perfect Harmony", a massive work for soloists, mixed choir and jazz ensemble, in collaboration with librettist Gregory Allan Freelon, featuring New York's Opera Ebony. „Perfect Harmony“ was later performed (and televised) at the Worlds Largest Snow Castle in Kemi, Finland.
Since 1991, Sarmanto has been working closely with New York based lyricist/librettist Kim Rich, creating hundreds of songs and several larger musical theater works and dramas, such as „Carnival of Shadows“, „Manon in Manhattan“, „Foxfire Fable“, „Winter War“, „The Bridge of Dream“ and the „Birth of the World“. Sarmanto's oratorio, „John the Baptist „premiered in Helsinki in 2016.
Later in the 90s, Sarmanto worked in Paris creating new songs with the beloved French poet Allain Leprest and signed a publishing contract with French publisher, Éditions Alphonse Leduc. In 1997, The University of Minnesota arranged The Heikki Sarmanto Festival, a week of Sarmanto's music and master classes. At that time, the university established the Heikki Sarmanto Fund to give grants to budding American composers.
Heikki Sarmanto was instrumental in founding the internationally lauded UMO Jazz Orchestra and was appointed its artistic director in 1999. Sarmanto headed the Jazz Studio at the Sibelius Academy which is highest institute of Finnish music and now home to the foremost jazz department in that nation.
Heikki Sarmanto has collaborated with jazz-legends such as Art Farmer, Helen Merrill, George Russell, also Claudya de Oliveira, Brazil's great lyricist Fernando Brant in addition to his work in the classical arena with baritone Jorma Hynninen and Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra among others. Sarmanto has toured the United States, Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa and continues to actively expand his musical horizons.
Sarmanto did a major solo piano project during a three year period between 2011-13, where he recorded an astounding 400 plus solo piano works, based on the American Songbook. This massive collection of solo piano works is entitled „Piano Explosions“.
Sarmanto's discography consists of tens of albums, released primarily by EMI, SONY and WARNER during the period 1969-2016. In 2005 Heikki Sarmanto was awardes as the Jazz Legend of Finland. In 2009, Heikki Sarmanto received the `Pro Finlandia` medal from president Tarja Halonen.