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UMO Jazz Orchestra – the only one of its kind in Finland

Big band music was performed in Finland already in December 1934, when the Rhythm Boys played live for a radio show at the Finnish Broadcasting Company’s studio on Helsinki’s Fabianinkatu. But it was another 40 years before the professional big band sound really took hold. This was in the mid-1970s, when jazz musicians achieved their common wish to play together in a large ensemble, resulting in the Finnish Jazz Music Workshop. Leading figures in the Workshop were Heikki Sarmanto and Esko Linnavalli. In 1975 the Workshop became the New Music Orchestra, named by its founder member the trumpeter Markku Johansson (12 years later, as UMO’s artistic director, Johansson also took up the name UMO Jazz Orchestra, now its official title). From the outset, the big band’s artistic level was rated highly, and it invited international guest soloists to perform with it. But there was a continual shortage of cash to support the band’s work.

1980 marked a new beginning for the band, when Dizzy Gillespie starred at an UMO concert. This was the first joint project between UMO and the City of Helsinki, the Finnish Broadcasting Company and the Ministry of Education. In 1984 UMO became a fulltime professional orchestra, a move made possible under a joint agreement with these three bodies, of which the City of Helsinki is UMO’s main financial backer.

Nowadays UMO (Finnish acronym for "New Music Orchestra") is considered as one of the world’s leading big bands. Its focus is on promoting Finnish music both at home and abroad. By commissioning and performing as much new material as possible, it both stimulates and supports the Finnish jazz and modern concert music production. UMO has so far released 22 albums and appeared on numerous other recordings. The orchestra also collaborates regularly with other orchestras, provides music education and actively participates in current music export projects.

UMO's repertoire comprehends over 2.200 compositions and this unique collection keeps on growing year by year. Most of the pieces are from Finnish contemporary composers and visiting conductors and soloists from all over the world. Legendary artists, such as Thad Jones, Dizzy Gillespie and Gil Evans, have worked with this remarkable orchestra, and its recent productions have combined elements from different art forms and genres, like new circus, theatre, electronic & world music. Since 2003 UMO has been a member of the Association of Finnish Symphony Orchestras.

At present UMO’s administrative home is the Helsinki Week Foundation, while its main funding continues to come from the City of Helsinki, the Ministry of Education and the Finnish Broadcasting Company. Since spring 2002, UMO’s managing director has been Annamaija Saarela.

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