Lembit Saarsalu - saxophonist


Saxophonist Lembit Saarsalu is a leading figure in Estonian jazz. He has performed on international stages for over 40 years and has received recognizing titles as “The King of Saxophone”, “Estonian Jazz Business Card” and “Jazz Gem”. Before the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Saarsalu was repeatedly voted the best tenor saxophonist in various polls. For his diverse activity, Lembit Saarsalu has been given many awards: annual Prize of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia for high-level introducing of Estonian jazz on the interpretation award “Maestro of Estonian jazz” by Estonian Music Council (2018).

Lembit Saarsalu has taken part from hundreds of jazz festivals over the world, including reputable North Sea Jazz Festival in Hague and Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in the USA. Saarsalu has performed with several jazz stars, including legendary vibe player Lionel Hampton and his New York Big Band, Elvin Jones, John Stowell, Eve Cornelious, Lewis Nash, Cristian Mcbride, Kevin Mahogany and many others. In cooperation with symphony orchestras he has performed several major jazz-symphonic works in Estonia, Finland, Sweden and the USA. His clinic appearances have taken place in USA, Germany and in Finland, including the Utah State University, Weber State University, Brigham Young University, Lionel Hampton Music School, Idaho University.

Lembit Saarsalu became interested in jazz in teenage as a result of the international Tallinn Jazz Festival. Soon, under the conditions of Soviet regime he had a chance to perform in Hungary, Bulgaria, and Cuba, bringing back with him impressions of musical traditions of different nations. During the eighties Lembit Saarsalu has led several local and international groups. His duo with Russian awarded pianist Leonid Vintskevich, called Jazz For Two, has successfully existed since 1984. Saarsalu-Vintskevich – they were the first jazz artists from the former Soviet Union to visit the United States at the Lionel Hampton Festival by invitation in 1989. The harmonious and fascinating combination of the traditional and avant-garde jazz, Russian symphony music, Estonian and Russian folk music form the basis of the unusual style of music played by Vintskevich and Saarsalu, which draws attention of the listeners and jazz critics all over the world.

“Their great artistry and powerful message of love to the world with these tunes will unlock the hearts and souls of all who listen. They don’t speak any English, but they speak the language of jazz. Their recordings are very finest you could imagine in terms of performance skills.” (The Associated Press / Dr. Lynn J. Skinner, executive Director of the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, 1989)

 “Saarsalu has wonderful mastery of his instrument. He creates full rhythm and has wonderful dynamics. He is a true jazz musician who seems to know tricks of his instrument. He produces beautiful louds and mellow softs and a whole range of sounds from his horn.” (Argonaut / Donna Prisbrey “Soviet duo jams with Hampton in unexpected debut”, 1989)

Lembit Saarsalu has participated in numerous recordings on CDs, made more than 200 recordings for the Estonian Radio. Saarsalu has released many LP, CD and DVD albums with Estonian, Russian, American, Sweden, German musicians.

CDs: 2x Rustic Waltz (1980), Jazz Quartet Tallinn (1983), On a Baltic Trip (1984), Two Playing Jazz (1986), Blues for the Night (1991), Maa-Land-Zemlja (1994), Jazz for two LIVE - Not so bad (1995), Jazz Quintet Tallinn and Silvi Vrait (1995), Trinity - Unity The Moscow Session (1997), I love you (1998), Peak Performance (2001), Listen To The Message! A Happy Memory to Lionel Hampton (2004), Sarsaparill (2009), Lembit Saarsalu Quartet (2010), Special occasion (2013), “Sunday” (2017).

Lembit Saarsalu is playing a Selmer-saxophone, which is a personal gift from the Lionel Hampton Festival.