Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Bjorkenheim, Raoul (Melvin)
Bjorkenheim, Raoul (Melvin), guitarist, composer, teacher; b. Los Angeles, CA, 11 February 1956. Born of Finnish parents, his family lived in LA while his mother, Taina Elg (b.1930), acted in films at MGM. At their divorce in 1959, Raoul went on to travel with his mother, following her work to London and Rome, together touring the USA with the national company of Irma La Douce before settling down in New York City in 1962.
During his school years he attempted to learn violin and trumpet, but didn't get serious about an instrument until discovering the guitar at age 13 while attending a boarding school in Pennsylvania. Having spent summers in Finland with his father, Carl Gustav (b.1927), Raoul moved to Helsinki in 1971 and attended a Finland-Swedish high school, graduating in 1975. During those later school years he spent summers with his mother in NYC, and took jazz guitar lessons from Mike Gari. Having played in rock bands as a teenager, he formed his first jazz combo in 1976, writing several original songs for it and playing at clubs and schools in Finland. Raoul attended the Helsinki Conservatory from 1977-78, but being more interested in improvisation, he moved to Boston to attend the Berklee College of Music, graduating in 1981. He got inspirational instruction from John Damian at Berklee, and also from Mick Goodrick, with whom he studied privately.
Attuned to the European/Scandinavian sound, Raoul moved back to Helsinki. Teaming up with like-spirited artists, he began to find his own way of making music, combining the influences of world music and rock into free-flowing improvisations. This culminated in several important years under the tutelage of the Finnish maestro of free jazz, Edward Vesala, whose uncompromising attitude and brilliant drumming were to act as a pivotal force in his development. Rehearsal sessions legendary for their intensity and gigs and recordings with Vesala's band, Sound & Fury, served as exhilarating post-graduate study.
In 1987, Raoul went out on his own to form the group Krakatau. Recording in Europe brought him to the attention of new collaborators such as Paul Schutze, Bill Laswell, Jah Wobble, Henry Kaiser, Ronald Shannon Jackson , Toshinori Kondo and Mats Gustaffson. Bjorkenheim has toured with Sound & Fury, Krakatau, Scorch Trio, Gigi, Phantom City, Ekstasis and UMO performing at festivals in LaFayette, London, Bourges, Nancy, Mulhouse, Le Mans, Moers, Salzburg, Koln, Vienna, Bern, Lisbon, Warsaw, Budapest, Vilnius, Tallinn, Den Haag, Utrecht, Copenhagen, Oslo, Helsinki, Pori and Tampere. Raoul has also appeared as a soloist with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Tampere Philharmonic and the Avanti Chamber Orchestra
Throughout the years, Bjorkenheim has fulfilled many composing commissions, resulting in three suites for big band, three pieces for symphony orchestra and an ambitious work for electric guitar orchestra. The most recent, a concerto for electric guitar, violin and Orchestra titled "Situations", premiered in 2002. Most of his composing, however, goes to creating material for small groups and his guitar. A string quintet is in the works which premiered in late 2003. Raoul moved to New York City in August, 2001, with his artist wife Paivi and son Cosmo (b.1988) who plays the drums. Since then, he has recorded and performed with the Norwegians Ingebrigt Haker Flaten and Paal Nilssen-Love as the Scorch Trio. Raoul is presently collaborating with the drummer-composer Lukas Ligeti and a host of other New York musicians.
Krakatau: Ritual (1988), Alive (1990), Volition (1992), Matinale (1994); Revelator (1998); Apocalypso (2001); Scorch Trio (2002)
Edward Vesala: Bad Luck, Good Luck (1983). Kullervo (1985), Lumi (1987); Avanti Chamber Orchestra: Rockover (1995); Paul Schutze Phantom City: Site Anubis (1996), Shiva Recoil (1997), 3rd Site (1998); UMO Big Band: Electrifying Miles (1999); Eero Koivistoinen: Helium (2001)
Films and videos:
Situations for electric guitar, violin and orchestra (TV video, 2002)
Jazzact: Raoul Bjorkenheim Triad (TV video, 2002)
Apocalypso (TV film 1996)
Absolute Guitar (TV film, 1996)
Paivi Bjorkenheim: Dangerous Kitchen (art video soundtrack, 1997)
Polkadots and Lace (film score, 1992)
Lohtu (film score, 1996)