And all that jazz

Jazz bassist Kaisa Mäensivu is fascinated by the open environment in New York City; it inspires her to compose and travel there again and again.
Laura Heikkinen
Vesa Tyni

Henkilokuva_600x370I just returned from a month-long trip to New York, and I was there also as an exchange student last winter. Some of the gigs I played had been organised in advance, while others were arranged through people I knew only after I arrived in the city. The gigs are often arranged at the last minute, spontaneously. I also went to a lot of gigs myself. The jazz scene in New York is in a class of its own, and I wish Helsinki had the same kind of culture of jam sessions. Even though we have a good music scene here, a bit of spontaneity would liven it up and bring out more energy. Sometimes Helsinki feels like a ghost town.

Manhattan School of Music was the obvious choice for my exchange year, even though the application process was a lot of work. It was hard at first and it took some time to adjust to the new culture, but after a while I started to get less home sick. The school is primarily of the same level as the Sibelius Academy, only bigger and more international. You have to work hard, and there are a lot of homework assignments. They encourage individuality more, and finding your own voice and composing your own music. I went all out and focused on my studies.

Music has always been a part of my life. I started playing the piano when I was six. I graduated from the Sibelius Upper Secondary School, and during my time there I realised that I wanted to become a professional musician. I studied at the Helsinki Pop & Jazz Conservatory and I applied to the Sibelius Academy several times before getting in. Double bass felt like a natural choice for me because I wanted to play jazz. So it was the style of music that picked out the instrument for me.

What fascinates me about New York is the lifestyle and the energy, although living as a musician there is a real challenge: the competition is hard, and the gigs don’t pay well. Despite all that, you have to give it your all and be confident in what you’re doing. You also have to be social, interactive, and open, which felt hard at first and made me recognise my Finnish roots and background. After a while I gained more confidence and became more determined. After I came back, people I play with said that I sound different.

This upcoming winter I will study, complete my Bachelor’s thesis, and play and perform as a freelancer in different ensembles. I just recorded an album with Sointi Jazz Orchestra. I’m also about to put together my own quartet because I want to play and record my own music and be more in charge of the overall project and content. This is a big challenge for me and a step in the direction where I want to go as a musician.

Next spring I hope to travel to New York again – the city has a strong pull on me. Even though the instruction at the Sibelius Academy is of a high standard and I’m going to complete a master’s degree here, I also want to spend time in New York and complete master’s studies there, as well. That costs a lot of money and requires funding through scholarships.

Even though living as a musician in New York can sound wonderful, the reality may sometimes turn out to be more brutal. You can see how things develop only after living there for enough time.

       Kaisa Mäensivu

  • 25 years, born in Hämeenlinna.
  • Instrument: double bass.
  • Studies in the Department of Jazz at the Sibelius Academy.
  • Will graduate with a Bachelor of Music degree in spring 2016
  • Hobbies: music and travelling.