Let the feelings prevail.

Launch the video below, then kick back and enjoy some high-quality jazz and an interview with Lassi Kouvo, a young and cool pianist who’s rallying some of the best musicians in the Helsinki scene.

Hello, Lassi. Tell a bit about your background.
I’m Lassi Kouvo, jazz pianist. I was born in Vehmaa, a small village close to Turku, in 1987. There was no jazz there (smiles) but my parents listened to all kinds of music. Classical, Finnish pop (iskelma)…

Any brothers, sisters?

How did your musical education start?
I began playing classical piano: Bach, Mozart…

How old were you? Was this your own choice?
I was like seven or eight. And I think it was my mom who had the idea. I took a couple of piano lessons and I liked it a lot, so I moved on to the music school.

Usually kids at that age are more physical than intellectual. How was it for you?
I was doing physical stuff too, but it was informal, more with friends than with sport teams.

And then?
Then, after high-school (lukio) I moved to Turku to study music at the Conservatory.

But did you play during your high-school years?
Yeah, I played a lot. And I had my first encounter with jazz.

Do tell.
The great Finnish pianist Heikki Sarmanto wrote a jazz waltz called Temps Oubliée for a book for piano students. I picked it to play the song for fun, but then I felt something I’d had never experienced before. Of course I had heard jazz, but until then I was not aware of it. When I played that song, that’s when my interest in this thing called “jazz” began for me.

What was interesting about the song?
It was totally different from everything I had played before. It’s like a ballad in 3. It has a beautiful jazzy melody with modern jazz chords.

What happened then?
Then I went to a summer-of-jazz camp where Mikko Karjalainen was teaching. He’s such a great trumpet player, and he was my first jazz teacher. It was a great experience, with like a hundred people more -some of them became professional musicians later on. I made several friends, and met with them again and again in gigs, during my conscription time at the army, and at music school.

Is the musical community tight, would you say?
Yeah, it’s friendly. We support each other. And it’s not very big, there aren’t many jazz musicians in Helsinki.

So what happened after summer camp?
After that it was very difficult to find a jazz piano teacher in the Turku area. There were some players, but they already had too many students, so I was studying on my own. I listened to jazz online and bought lots of CDs. And after high-school I went to the conservatory.

Tell about your military / musical experience.
Yeah, I went into the Conscript Band of the Finnish Defense Forces. It was a great opportunity for me to perform in a kind of professional way; we had a lot of gigs.

Did you get paid? Who organized the gigs?
We were conscripted, we just did what we were told (smiles); we were a workforce. The gigs are organized by the officers, and we played mostly for the public, or at officers’ parties and army parties. It may sound a bit strange to some people, ’cause I don’t know how many countries have conscript armies… But for me, I believe I managed to get something out of it, instead of just be goofing around in the forest.

Did they give you military training?
We got a short military education, but we mostly played instruments. We traveled to France and Sweden, and we met bands from many countries. The Swedes set the rehearsals of their bagpipe band right next to the Finnish barracks where our soldiers were sleeping, and started practicing at seven in the morning…

Swedish humor. Coming from a classical training, what was exciting about jazz for you?
The music spoke to me, definitely. And also the live collaboration with other musicians. Of course that you have to practice alone for a huge amount of hours, but in the end, you play together. It’s the language, the groove, the rhythm, improvisation, communication. They are all the things that make it so interesting.

“Jazz” is an umbrella term for many things. Is there a particular flavor that you prefer?
I listen to all kinds of jazz, but I love the styles of the 50’s and 60’s the most -bebop, hardbop, modal jazz- also big-band… All of this put together and brought into the present becomes “modern mainstream”.

Is jazz for the mind or for the heart? Or both?
There are different ways to approach it. There is intellectual jazz, of course. But for me it’s about the feelings. When I play I try not to think too much, let the feelings prevail. I leave the more technical stuff for the practice sessions.

Are you aware of the interaction between brain hemispheres, when you play?
You mean the “flow”? That can happen either when I’m playing or when I’m listening. It feels like there’s this big puzzle, and that everything comes to fit perfectly. It’s great.

Who are your jazz heroes?
There are many. And I have been lucky enough to play with some of them, like Mikko Karjalainen. But piano heroes… Wynton Kelly, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner…

Brad Mehldau, who combines the legacy of classical european music with jazz. Many players attempt to do that, but he can really pull it off. I’m also following the Finnish pianist Alexi Tuomarila; he’s doing a great career for himself.

Do you have a regular ensemble?
I play a lot with several musicians, so I have semi-permanent bands with them.

Every musician has a growing arsenal of known phrases and tools to deploy. How much do you resort to that while you play?
It depends on many things, what’s going on around you, how much freedom you have at a given moment. And it’s also about the style and the tempo. There’s less time to invent stuff if everything is going really fast…

Do you see changes in the Finnish musical scene?
There are new things going on, yes. During my time living in Helsinki -seven years- I have seen a definite expansion, both in jazz and in other musical genres, with more and more clubs and musicians. Audiences may not have much money because of the recession, but they are supporting the musical scene, I think.

Plans for the future? Short term, long term?
Currently I’m playing a lot of gigs, and teaching music and piano at the Pop & Jazz Conservatory and at the Keskisen Uudenmaan Music School in Tuusula. I’ll keep working on the Papa Albert Jazz Club to develop it as much as possible. And long term… I will be recording my own compositions with some of the musicians that can be enjoyed at Albert’s.

Lassi and many other excellent musicians play at Papa Albert Jazz Club on Fridays at 20. To see a detailed lineup and dates, visit Lassi’s website and go to the “Keikat” section, or his Facebook.