Native Washingtonian Davey Yarborough's commitment to music began in the third grade with the coveted silver clarinet of his best friend. "I went home and told my dad I wanted a silver clarinet," says Yarborough. "I knew right then I wanted to be a musician." Largely self-taught until college, he developed his ear, teaching himself through experimenting with different instruments and listening to his parents diverse record collection.
A performer, bandleader, composer and arranger, and educator, Yarborough's award-winning career includes work with such jazz greats as Sir Roland Hanna, Keter Betts, Billy Eckstine, Buck Hill, Shirley Horn, Lena Horne and Joe Williams, and Wynton Marsalis. Playing at clubs and concert halls, Yarborough has also performed at major jazz festivals including the East Coast Jazz Festival and the Blues/Jazz festival of San Remo, Italy. The creator and director of the jazz orchestra "The New Washingtonians" and director of the jazz program at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts Washington, DC, Yarborough is a tireless champion for aspiring young performers. A recipient of the 1998 Mayor's Arts Award in Washington, D.C., for Excellence in Dedication to the Arts-he and his wife, Esther Williams, recently launched the Washington Jazz Arts Institute, a mentoring program for children who know at an early age they want to be artists. "This is my dream. We give them free lessons and career guidance. I had no early formal training, my parents weren't part of the music world. I understand the importance of this access."
Yarborough has traveled extensively throughout the world with his Jazz Orchestra, and looks forward to exploring the culture of Finland. "Usually, when I'm abroad cultural engagement comes through the kids when they're performing and getting them to interact with their peers. I'd like to see how Finnish youth are brought into the arts, and look at the educational process for ideas on how to enhance what we're doing here, and creating exposure for our work here."
The mission of the Sibelius Academy's Jazz Department is to provide the highest level of jazz education in Finland at undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels.
Mr Yarborough's programme will consist of visiting the department, observing the collective teaching and meeting the faculty teachers. Mr Yarborough will be invited to different concert and jam sessions with the teachers and students of the jazz and music education programmes. In addition, the programme will include familiarisation with the two other jazz degree programmes in Helsinki: one at the Helsinki Pop and Jazz Conservatory and the Jazz and Pop programme at the Metropolia University of Applied Sciences.
The stay will be hosted by Mr Jari Perkiömäki, D.Mus., Dean, Head of Jazz Studies at the Sibelius Academy.
The Sauna Seura
The Jazz concerts at The Sibelius Academy
The Wine tasting and jam session at Sibelius Academy
Sight-seeing (The Museum of Modern Art and the Rock Church)
Conversing with the education directors of the education network.
I was met at the Helsinki airport by my host for the week ”Jari“ and taken to the beautiful Haven hotel where I was checked in and freshened up. At five pm I am to experience the 1st of my traditional events at a private sauna . From there I’ll go back to the hotel for a relaxing evening. The hotel Haven is a luxury facility with the comforts of home and more. I am truly spoiled
Sauna Seura was located in a private club. Filled with the Helsinki tradition were at least four different saunas varying in intensity. Full appreciation of the tradition was stepping out from the various saunas and sitting in the yard watching the sunset over a beautiful Baltic sea backdrop for a few minutes and then walking down a 150 foot pier down the steps and taking a dip in the ice surrounded cut out of vigorously chilling sea water. After a brief dip, I reclaimed my seat watching the sunset. By then we were ready to do it all again. In between sauna stays and chilling dips we enjoyed non-alcoholic beer, fish sandwiches and salad. The final sauna stay was in a lightly heated (called the ”chill” sauna) where one could actually take a nap. Upon leaving I was given a certificate proclaiming my ritual ordeal by steam on the frozen shores of Helsinki I cannot think of a better introduction to Helsinki. Special thanks to Aki and Jari.
I visited the Sibelius Academy and toured the jazz, folk and education departments with Jari Perkiomaki. I met Jyrki Tenni (head of education program) who also teaches piano accompaniment for jazz and popular music. I had lunch at the town hall with the Deputy Mayor and Janne Murto (principal of the Pop and Jazz Conservatory) after having coffee on the Helsinki downtown waterfront restaurant ship.
In the evening I enjoyed a concert of pianist Jukkis Uotila who was one of the 1st directors of the jazz program at The Sibelius Adacemy and his quartet dedicated to the music of jazz icon McCoy Tyner. All of the musicians played with excellent skill and and talent. The presentation was wonderful with Tyner’s music spanning the 1960’s through the 1980’s. I met the musicians and had dinner with them following the concert.
At 9:30 am Mikko met me at the hotel and we took a scenic walk to the Historic Torni hotel that overlooks Helsinki with a breathtaking view over the water where you can see where the cruise ships dock and most of the historic landmarks. It’s gorgeous in the spring, I hear that it is even prettier weather breaks and the foliage greens. We had a delicious breakfast of croissants, fruit, salmon juices, a strawberry smoothie and coffee. We then stopped at one of the buildings designed by the famous artist Alvar Aalto. I took a picture of a famous door handle of his design.
At noon Janne Murto, the head of the Pop and Jazz conservatory picked me up at the hotel and we toured the conservatory where students from the University of Arts and Design Helsinki documented on film my introduction to the facility and a meeting with the heads of the educational arts network in Helsinki. What is very interesting is that the Pop and Jazz conservatory has programs that practically begin at childbirth and make available continued development of children who achieve throughout college and graduate school through the Sibelius Academy. For the most part this educational process comes tuition free. The Pop and Jazz conservatory has approximately 80 classrooms on one campus dedicated to music performance, theory, media and technology. They have a fully operational theatre where performances are held and recorded through a state of the art studio (one of a few on campus) several computer labs, rehearsal halls, technique studios for lessons equipped with audio-visual and recording equipment and instruments with backline. The music studied is varied including ethnic, folk popular, rock, jazz. Students can choose to major in performance or education and are encouraged to study performance and composition on more than one instrument.
After the tour of the conservatory and meeting with the educational network departmental heads sat down with Marta Schmidt and discussed many possibilities of collaboration with Duke Ellington school of the arts and The conservatory program.
The evening brought me back to the University to attend a reception, dinner and wine tasting presented by William Tarvainen (a student who is recently back from London where he received his 2nd masters degree. By the way he is a phenomenal bassist who performed with the quartet heard on the 25th). I learned a lot about selecting wines and how to get the most out its taste. The wine tasting was followed by a jam session in the practice studio with faculty, students and yours truly. A great time was had by all.
This morning I sat in on two doctoral candidate auditions The audition panel consisted of faculty members , The principal of the University, A national music treasure and the current head of jazz studies. Following the performance, the candidates discussed their desired dissertation projects and ambitions. After the candidates were dismissed, the panel discussed each audition at length. In the end both candidates were accepted.
My host Jari introduced me to his wife who teaches folk music at the University and we had lunch in the café. After lunch I took my first solo walk through downtown Helsinki window shopping and being a real tourist. I actually found to musical instrument shops.
(no real difference from those at home) and picked up some gingerbread and chocolate at the farmers market that seemed to have everything including a sushi bar. There were vendors with reindeer skins (a first for me) and other furs and an assortment of tourist items. I stopped in a gift shop and saw trinkets to designer tableware (beautiful stuff). I continued on my quest and stumbled on a noted design shop called “Artek”. There I found more information on Alvar Aalto. His work is still futuristic today. I saw a lot of awesome structure designs old and new.
Well it’s back to the hotel to freshen up for events for the evening. I attended an outstanding concert dedicated to the guitar legend Grant Green by a Graduate student of the Sibelius Academy. The leader and guitarist was Sami Linna. In the setting of a quintet with bass, percussion, saxophone and piano supporting. Mr. Green would have been proud, although the jury panel will probably note the absence of a ballad. My favorites were “My Favorite Things” (with no sax) and Grant’s Tune.
My host and his wife escorted me to dinner at The “ Storyville” nightclub where a 1st year vocal student was performing music of Nat King Cole accompanied by a trio of other students directed by once again William Tarvainen on bass. (Watch out for this young giant.). I can’t believe there is only one day left. I have truly been inspired and look forward to seeing the full exhibit of all of the 12 Washingtonians’ experiences in DC at The Finnish Embassy in May.
This last day is my opportunity to see whatever I choose. After breakfast I am met by Susanna and guided through the shopping district where I pick up a few Finnish gifts to share with family. I collected brochures from some of the designer shops to share for future shopping as well. We walked to the Rock Church (a landmark and beautiful structure carved through stone and adorned with copper ceiling and trim). A young lady was playing the french horn quite informally. The sound was most pleasing although the audience was quite modest. I took my 1st tram ride (reminding me of my younger days in DC) to the Museum of modern Art where we saw an exhibit of works dedicated to several religions complete with background music and filmed discussions of the works.
We walked (by the way It’s been snowing today for the first time since I arrived. Everyone knows fresh snow is always beautiful falling) to the Ateneum Art Museum and met Jari, his lovely wife and two beautiful daughters and witnessed an exhibit surrounding stories and images of “The Kalevala” as well as a concert complete with Finnish folk music with musicians performing on indigenous and modern instruments while slides of the artwork were projected onstage. The audience was pin drop silent and I felt as if I became a part of the artwork. After a brief walk back to the hotel, I prepared for our last event for my last day on this trip. My hosts arranged for dinner at an 80 year old Finnish restaurant called “Kosmos”. I had an appetizer of snails au gratin, an entrée of Grilled white fish with boiled potatoes, red and white wines, fresh breads, great discussions with Mikko, Susanna, Jari, Hilkka, and our newly arrived Washingtonian Mark.
This has been a most enlightening, inspiring and enjoyable beginning to what I hope to be a growing, developing and lasting collaboration between the lives and cultures of two cities that I have grown to love. Helsinki and Washington, DC. Many thanks to the whole ”My Helsinki” project team for allowing me to participate.