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Jazz Guitar in Finland and Beyond

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JGT contributor Joe Barth talks with Finnish guitarist and composer Niklas Winter.

Above Photo Tuomas-Eronen

Niklas Winter’s early guitar influences were John Scofield and Pat Metheny but also studied the music of Sonny Rollins, Keith Jarrett, and John Coltrane.  He is quite active performing in the Scandinavian countries and abroad.  

JB:  Talk about when you started to play guitar and what inspired you to play jazz guitar.

NW:  I started to play the guitar at the age of six with my older sister’s acoustic guitar. I started with classical music but I also right away I started to write my own compositions. What inspired me to play jazz was the sound of the complex chords and harmonies of the jazz style. 

JB:  Talk about the things you appreciated most about your studies at Turku Conservatory in Finland and later at Berklee College in Boston.

NW:  At the time I didn’t really see how much I would benefit from my classical studies. My classical training has greatly helped me in developing my own style of playing, improvising, and writing music. In the classical environment, I learned to be one with the guitar and to feel okay in a solo guitar situation.

I also enjoyed the new sounds and harmonies of many classical guitar pieces.

As a student at Berklee, I was stimulated by the atmosphere of the school. I also appreciated all the workshops that were available. I tried to go to listen to all the visiting musicians that came, and not only guitar players. While there, I found good teachers and a healthy environment that inspired me to practice and learn. I would also like to mention the networking I did there which has proven very helpful and important in expanding my career.

Niklas Winter. Photo by Tatu Kawano

JB:  To you, what are three of the most influential jazz guitar albums and why? 

NW: All Pat Metheny albums:

1. Still Life (Talking)

2. Letter From Home

Both mind-blowing music and playing. The compositions play an equally big role as the guitar playing. I think this is something I strive toward all the time when recording albums or playing live.

Question and Answer

This album was a little harder for me at first to get into. But over the years I have started to enjoy it more and more. 

JB:  You see John Scofield and Pat Metheny as influencing you.  Tell us how.

NW:  Two fantastic and very different musicians. I would have loved to continue the list above with Meant to Be by Scofield and Time on My Hands to name a few.

I love Pat Metheny’s tunes and melodic side. John Scofield has a bluesyness and roughness that I really like. Both have a very different groove or time feel.

JB:  Tell us about your goals in making your most recent album Graduale.

NW:  It is music for guitar, cello, vibraphone, trumpet, and choir, released in September of 2023.  My goal on that album was to create a concept album and I’m quite happy with the result. My goal was to perform this material globally and I actually just came back from the EFG London Jazz Festival where I played the whole album from the beginning to the end. It was very enjoyable!

The album also has solo guitar tracks solo choir tracks and everything in between. I have to say that I’m happy with the quality of my compositions and that makes it more interesting in my performing. 


JB:  You have performed and recorded with guitarist John Stowell.  Talk about John’s impact on your playing.

NW:  I think our playing works very well together. He and I have a natural relaxed feeling and we both listen to what each other is doing, which is the most important part of performing. To be honest, I think that both of us are just relaxed in our playing.  For me as a player, it is very inspiring to listen to John’s harmonic conceptions and chordal work.


JB:  Tell us about the Ibanez guitar you play.

NW:  It’s an old GB-10, my workhorse guitar that I love! I have always traveled a lot and I need a guitar that doesn’t give me any hassle and still is very personal to me. I’ve played mostly this guitar since the late 1990s. I have tried many other guitars but always end up coming back and playing and recording with my Ibanez.

JB:  What amp do you use?

NW:  At the moment I use a Polytone Mini Brute 2 amp. 

JB:  With such a mass of talent coming out of the music colleges each year, what’s the best piece of advice you’d give these guys for building an international career?

NW:  Work hard and play as many gigs as you can, in any style of music. Also, develop your teaching skills by teaching.   At the same time, save enough time to develop your own writing and playing style. This takes time and you have to be the person to find it.


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