In the early eighties, a group of young fiddlers from the tiny village of Järvelä began making some noise in local folk music circles. JÄRVELÄN PIKKUPELIMANNIT (“Little Folk Musicians of Järvelä”) descended from a line of folk musicians going back to the late 1800s. Performing folk tunes from those villages, they attracted attention with their arrangements (most folk tunes at that time were played straight with no embellishments), their harmonies, new compositions, influences from Swedish folk music and their youth (ages 17–25). Also significant was the fact that they started to play folk tunes from all over Finland, not just from their own locale, which was the standard practice.
The first big break for the group came when they landed first prize at the Finnish Championship Competition for Folk Music Groups in Mäntsälä, Finland in 1982. At this time the band consisted of: ARTO JÄRVELÄ – fiddle, his brother JOUNI JÄRVELÄ – acoustic bass, brothers JARMO and JUHA VARILA – fiddles and TIMO ALAKOTILA – harmonium. The success at the Mäntsälä competition led to instant national fame with gigs all over Finland and soon they were playing in Sweden.
In 1983, JÄRVELÄN PIKKUPELIMANNIT financed and released their first record, an EP of eight traditional tunes from the Kaustinen area, an area long recognized as a thriving folk music center, rich in culture, tradition and talent. It was at this time that the group began to establish themselves at the annual Kaustinen Folk Music Festival, playing at dances and making their own concerts.
1984 saw the addition of two new members to the group: uncle MAUNO JÄRVELÄ – fiddle and JANNE VIRKKALA – acoustic bass. Jouni switched to fiddle, thereby making the fiddle section five strong and consequently much more powerful. By this time, word of the band’s talents had leaked to various parts of the world. Interest spread across the seas and the boys set out for tours and concets in Portugal, Egypt, Singapore, Thailand and Denmark.
Their first album was recorded in 1985 and released in February 1986 on the Olarin Musiikki label of Finland. LAITISEN MANKELISKA had a wide assortment of traditional tunes from around Finland, original compositions from Arto and Timo and pieces by legendary composers/fiddlers Konsta Jylhä and Viljami Niittykoski. 1986 was topped off when they were voted “Band of the Year” at the Kaustinen Folk Music Festival.
1987 was a momentous year for JÄRVELÄN PIKKUPELIMANNIT, starting off with their setting the world’s record at the Kaustinen Festival’s “Night Quadrille”, playing a whopping 1 hour 32 minutes, non-stop, for a massive crowd of hundreds of wild dance fanatics. This helped to solidify their reputation as an exciting live act. Also during this period, the group began work on an ambitious recording project which was to be a double album.
This outstanding work, half traditional tunes, half original compositions, was released in spring of 1988 and received instant critical acclaim, winning them the Finnish Radio Corporation “Tunnustus Prize” and the “Album of the Year” award from Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s biggest daily newspaper. JÄRVELÄN PIKKUPELIMANNIT abbreviated their name to the simpler (and more easily pronounceable!) – JPP. More international offers came in and JPP found themselves touring Switzerland, Germany and again in Sweden where their popularity continued to grow.
JPP’s first nationwide TV broadcast came in 1989, a live forty minute concert taped during the winter in Kaustinen. Following this, Finnish Radio Corporation sent them to the EBU Festival in Norway as honorable representatives of Finnish folk music. They capped off a great year in November at the annual Etnosoi! festival in Helsinki.
More tours in 1990: Germany, Norway, Sweden. Plus the release of their third album, I’VE FOUND A NEW TANGO, which boasted a spirited arrangement of the classic jazz tune “I’ve Found a New Baby” and a sprightly collection of tangos, popular among Finnish dancers in the sixties and, in fact, still very much alive today. Once again the year ended with JPP delivering a stunning performance at the Etnosoi! festival.
One should keep in mind that throughout the years, JPP’s stature and reputation at the Kaustinen Folk Music Festival has strengthened and expanded to the point where now they are top attractions every summer. Their concerts, dances and late night jams are highlights of the festival and never fail to drive their legions of devoted followers absolutely berserk.
JPP travelled abroad again in 1991, with bookings at WOMAD and the Sidmouth Festival in England, plus another tour of Germany.
Early ’92 the boys hit the USA for a three week tour of the west coast, organized by the Finnish-American community. Fourth album PIRUN POLSKA was released, then a summer gig at WOMAD Toronto. The big event, however, was the release of the first JPP video, PUIKKORISTIKKO, making its premiere at the Kaustinen Folk Festival. The eight minute film has since been broadcast on French and German television and has won a Special Prize in Video Competition at the 23rd International Short Film Festival in Tampere, Finland.
Violinists Matti Mäkelä and Tommi Pyykönen become official members, replacing Jouni and the Varila brothers on tours. Then it’s a busy ’93 with gigs at Rudolstadt Tanz & Folkfest in Germany, Pori Jazz Fest and Kaustinen Fest in Finland and Champlain Valley Festival, Vermont. Another highlight was the world premiere of Timo Alakotila’s four part work “FOLKMOODS WEST”, performed by JPP and Vaasa Big Band at Vaasan Spelit festival.
In January 1994, JPP’s fourth album DEVIL’S POLSKA was released in USA on Green Linnet’s pioneering Xenophile label, simultaneously with MARIA KALANIEMI’s brilliant debut CD which featues Arto and Timo. European activities took them on a short tour of Switzerland, followed by the release of JPP’s fifth album KAUSTINEN RHAPSODY, a dramatic and magnificent leap in artistic progress, an album that establishes them as serious contemporary composers, arrangers and players of the highest order, beyond all classification. In July, JPP and Näppärit (fiddling students of Mauno) hit the states for a two week tour, including the ISME Convention in Tampa, Florida, followed by dates in Seattle and the Bay Area. In August, KAUSTINEN RHAPSODY was rush released in USA on the Xenophile label (from Green Linnet) to coincide with the FINNISH FEVER tour, which took JPP and MARIA KALANIEMI group through the midwest and northeast. Sold out shows in Chicago, Minneapolis and New York were complimented by live radio broadcasts on WNYC, NY and MPR in Minnesota. Solid press coverage in Billboard and New York Times among many others. Back to Europe for a JPP showcase performance at the 1994 WOMEX Convention in Berlin in October followed by more Swedish dates in November.
1995: JPP participated in the “Out of the Cool” program at Vienna Festival in April, appeared at Råfinskt Festival in Stockholm, more dates in Switzerland, then returned to USA in July for a short tour of the Northeast highlighted by concerts at the Central Park Summer Stage concert series in New York City, with Altan and Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys and at the World Financial Center. Following that, JPP went to Belgium for the Dranouter Festival, sharing the bill with Los Lobos, Kate and Anna McGarrigle and Julio Pereira. October 1995: festival appearances in San SEbastian and Irun in the Basque region of Spain.
1996: Third tour of Switzerland in November. JPP Orchestra and UMO Big Band perform Timo Alakotila’s ambitious composition “Folk Moods West” to a sold out crowd in Helsinki, gathering rave reviews.
1997: Timo Myllykangas (from the bands Folkkarit and Troka) replaces Janne Virkkala on bass. JPP showcase performance at SXSW Convention in March in Austin, Texas. Spring tour of Switzerland. Festival appearances: Telemark, Norway, Östersund, Sweden and their 15th Anniversary Concert in the Kaustinen festival. November appearance at Valo Finnish festival in London.
1998: Lillehammer festival in Norway and an NRK TV broadcast. US tour in April including the Knitting Factory in New York and the Old Settlers Festival in Austin, Texas with Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Tony Rice, Mollie O’Brien, Rick Danko, Shawn Colvin and more. New album, STRING TEASE, recorded in May, summer release in Finland on Rocakadillo Records and a North American release on the North Side label later in 1998.
August 1998: JPP’s sixth album, STRING TEASE, is released in Finland on the Rockadillo label, home of artists such as Pekka Pohjola, Wimme, Slobo Horo and Piirpauke. STRING TEASE features new compositions from Arto Järvelä, Mauno Järvelä and Timo Alakotila, as well as a few trad pieces. Highlights include Mauno’s “Hale-Bopp”, Arto’s epic “Wedding Suite” and Timo’s complex but catchy “Engel”. STRING TEASE features the expanded JPP String Orchestra string section: Annu Järvelä, Antti Järvelä, Siiri Järvelä, Ville Kangas, Tuija Myllykangas, Jarmo Varila and Mika Virkkala. Swedish guest stars Väsen make appearances on two tracks, both trad Swedish pieces that JPP and Väsen have performed on stage together several times. An historic event and the result is astonishing!
In February 1999, JPP travelled again to USA for concerts at Mountain Stage national radio program, Iota Cafe in Arlington and Folk Alliance convention in Albuquerque. They returned again one month later for a tour with Väsen, including the Nordic Fiddle Festival show at Symphony Space in NYC with Norwegian hardanger fiddler, Annbjørg Lien and a headline sold out appearance at the Nordic Roots Festival in Minneapolis. Other dates for 1999 include Lisbon, Wien, Nibe, Helsinki, Switzerland, Sweden and more.
2000: Return to USA in April for the Nordic Nights tour with Väsen and Annbjørg Lien. Performance at Ruisrock festival in Turku Finland with Wigwam and Piirpauke. Festival appearance in Scotland.
2001: Kaustinen Festival commisions JPP to record their “Night Quadrille” famous dance music set which they perform every year at midnight at the Kaustinen Festival. Often this show lasts 75–90 minutes, but for this recording, the duration is 30 minutes. Perhaps one of the best folk-dance albums ever, it’s almost as good as being there.
JPP goes to Moscow for four concerts in the “Art Goes Kapakka” series, the first time this concert series goes outside Helsinki.
In preparation: a documentary film about JPP is being made in conjunction with Finnish TV and British producers.
2002: JPP performed at the Umeå Festival in Sweden. They make a tour of Germany in summer.
Broadcast this year in six countries, the feature film JPP: The Incredible Finn Band, a documentary film written and directed by Mirja Metsola, part of the EBU World Music Series “European Roots”
2003: performances in UK: Edinburgh and Stirling, Scotland and Swaledale Festival plus Kuopio, Finland and the Kaustinen festival.
2004: A busier year with new bassist Antti Järvelä replacing Timo Myllykangas. Festival performances in Kaustinen (Finland), Viljandi (Estonia), Folkest (Spilimbergo, Italy).
Highlight of the year is the appearance at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, on September 30, with the BBC Concert Orchestra and guest soloist Maria Kalaniemi. The program is called Nordic Adventures, presented by Fiona Talkington and features a JPP set, a new composition by Timo Alakotila performed by JPP with the orchestra and Maria Kalaniemi and a Kalanemi / Alakotila duo set.
In November JPP embark on another tour of Switzerland.
Simultaneous with JPP activities, all members are active in many outside projects.
Arto, previously involved with folk groups Niekku, Tallari, Ampron Prunni and Koinurit Salamakannel and Pinnin Pojat now works with Maria Kalaniemi’s Ice Fishers and Helsinki Mandoliners as well as having taught at Sibelius Academy Folk Music Department. He also released three solo albums, POLSKA DIFFERENTE with special guests, the truly solo ARTO JÄRVELÄ PLAYS VIOLIN and the latest entitled ARTO JÄRVELÄ FAR IN! featuring all instruments played by the maestro himself.
Timo has taught at Helsinki Pop & Jazz Conservatory and at Sibelius Academy Folk Music Department and has established himself as one of the countrie’s top and most in-demand composers and arrangers. He works actively today with Maria Kalaniemi and Troka and countless other projects.
Mauno teaches fiddle to a couple hundred youngsters in Kaustinen and leads them in their own groups Järvelän Näppärit and Mulukka.
Matti plays and composes with Troka.
Bassist Antti Järvelä plays with Troka and new band Frigg.