Heikki Sarmanto began his career in 1961, winning a prize for his composition, Opuscule, at the International Festival of Jazz Composition in Minneapolis. In 1968, Mr Sarmanto received a scholarship to study at The Berklee School of Music (now Berklee College of Music) in Boston, where he formed The Serious Music Ensemble in 1970. A year later, Mr. Sarmanto won the prize for Best Pianist in a competition at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.
Mr. Sarmanto started to collaborate with saxophonist Sonny Rollinsin 1972, in New York. In 1977, Sarmanto was commissioned to compose a mass, which he entitled New Hope Jazz Mass. It was dedicated to Duke Ellington and John Coltrane and was the inaugural work performed at the opening of the new Saint Peters Church in Manhattan. Due to the success of the premier, New Hope Jazz Mass was performed the following year at The New York Jazz Festival by The Long Island Symphonic Choral Association, with Gregg Smith conducting.
In 1988, Sarmanto's Suomi, A Symphonic Poem for Orchestra, was premiered to public and critical acclaim at Carnegie Hall, with Skitch Henderson conducting The New York Pops Orchestra featuring The Heikki Sarmanto Ensemble. In the early 80s, Sarmanto initiated a collaboration with Sonny Rollins on a major project. It resulted in the creation of Concerto for Tenor Saxophone and Symphony Orchestra, a massive 80-minute opus composed by Sonny Rollins, and arranged and orchestrated by Heikki Sarmanto. The work was premiered in Tokyo with great success in 1987, and was thereafter performed in Ravenna and Parma, Italy.
In the early 90s, Mr. Sarmanto started a collaboration with New York based Opera Ebony and composed the oratorio, Perfect Harmony (libretto and lyrics by Gregory Allan Freelon). This work premiered at The Savonlinna Opera Festival, in 1994. Perfect Harmony was later performed (and televised) at the Worlds Largest Snow Castle in Kemi, Finland. Later in the 90s, Sarmanto worked in Paris creating new songs with the beloved (late) French poet Allain Leprest and signed a publishing contract with French publisher, Éditions Alphonse Leduc. Around that time Sarmanto visited South Africa and performed his New Hope Jazz Mass at The Grahamstown Festival. In 1997, The University of Minnesota arranged The Heikki Sarmanto Festival, a week of Sarmanto's music and master classes. At that time, the university established the Heikki Sarmanto Fund to give grants to budding American composers.
Since 1991, Sarmanto has been working closely with New York based lyricist/librettist Kim Rich, creating hundreds of songs and several larger musical theater works and dramas, such as Carnival of Shadows, Manon in Manhattan, Foxfire Fable, Winter War, The Bridge of Dreams and the Birth of the World. Sarmanto's oratorio, John the Baptist (libretto and lyrics by Kim Rich) will be premiered in Helsinki, in November 2016.
Sarmanto did a major solo piano project during a three year period between 2011-13, where he recorded an astounding 400 plus solo piano works. The material is based on the American Songbook. He uses the material as a source for his improvisations, in many cases creating entirely new works. Sarmanto crystallizes:´This is my homage to the great American Songbook.It is also a study of myself, of my musical development´. This massive collection of solo piano works is entitled ´PIANO EXPLOSIONS´( available through www.sarmantoshop.com ).
Sarmanto's discography consists of tens of albums, released primarily by EMI, SONY and WARNER during the period 1969-2016. In 2009, Heikki Sarmanto, a native of Finland, received the PRO FINLANDIA medal from president Tarja Halonen.
"Heikki Sarmanto, a musician of outstanding versatility and merit, is undoubtedly the most eminent ambassador for Finnish jazz today." - Hannu Lahtonen More