Valter Ojakäär

March 10, 1923, Pärnu - October 27, 2016, Tallinn
Member of the Estonian Composers' Union since 1956

Valter Ojakäär was a composer, instrumentalist and music publicist. His activity as an advocate of jazz music lasted more than an half of a century. He shared his wide musical knowledge with the audience through the work in the radio and television as well as innumerable articles in journalism. His contribution to the theoretical research of Estonian popular music is invaluable.

Ojakäär studied clarinet in Pärnu Music School (1940–1941) and Tallinn Conservatoire (Bernard Lukk’s class, 1942–1943). He graduated from the Tallinn State Conservatoire in composition as a student of Mart Saar and Heino Eller in 1956.

He worked long time as a concertmaster of the saxophone group of Estonian Television and Radio Variety Orchestra (1945–1970), played clarinet and saxophone also in other collectives (Theatre Endla Orchestra, John Pori’s restaurant orchestra, jazz orchestra Kuldne 7, ensemble Rütmikud). From 1964–1967 and 1975–1980, Ojakäär taught popular music history and orchestration at the Tallinn State Conservatoire. 1982–1992 he directed bigband Kalev.

Valter Ojakäär’s oeuvre consists works from symphonic music to the music for film and stage, but mainly he has written popular music from which songs (over 100) have gained larger popularity. His far-spread and beloved songs have catching melody and spellbinding lyrics written primarily by Estonian poets (Ain Kaalep, Jaan Kaplinski, Ellen Niit, Ralf Parve, Lilli Promet, Leelo Tungal, Debora Vaarandi). Time after time these songs have found place in the repertoire of present active musicians.

Many of his songs have won prizes at composition contests. „Fisherman is a peculiar man“ got consolation prize at the 1st All-Union Youth Festival (1957) and diploma at Vienna Student and Youth Festival (1959). „Babtizing“ (1962) deserved the 2nd prize at the competition organised by the Ministry of Culture. Various awards have been ascribed to his songs at concert-competitions of Estonian SSR State Philharmony („Tiina of Tihemetsa“, „Polka of friendship“, „I cannot find my song“, „Nonexistent song“, „Ride on a cloud boat“, „Dance course“) and song contests of Estonian Radio („To whom the moon belongs?“, „Woman or double bass“, „This isn’t it“, „Tricky hand organ“). Children’s song „Eye washing song“ (1974) won the 1st prize at the song contest dedicated to Child Protection Day. „Ride on a cloud boat“ was awarded the 1st prize at the 37th International Contest for Children’s Songs Zecchino d'oro in Bologna (1994) and was voted the best foreign song at the 22nd Little Singers’ International Gala (Gala Internacional dos Pequenos Cantores) in Figueira da Foz, Portugal. „In peaceful borough“ (2003) and „Haapsalu stays in my heart“ (2002) have achieved prizes at The White Lady song contest in Haapsalu. Ojakäär’s instrumental popular music also has gained prizes: Two on the See-Saw and Old Acquaintances at the philharmony concert-competition and Halliste’s Polka and Letup at competition organised by Estonian Radio.

Ojakäär’s music has been performed at Estonian Song Celebrations: songs „My mother“ (2009), „Ride on a cloud boat“ (2004), „Friends“ (1960) and Tough Musicians for wind orchestra (1960).

Stage music is comprised of musicals Summer Night at Sight (1976) and Winnetou (1990), operetta Masquerade in Ungru (1987) and opera The King Is Cold (1967) that received the 3rd prize at the inspection of USSR musical works for stage in 1968 and is translated also into Russian and German.

Beside being a musician and composer, Valter Ojakäär introduced popular and jazz music to locals for decades, foremost with successful broadcast series in the radio (Sonorous Chronicle, For Friends of Jazz Music, The Right Choice) and television (Fairy-tales in Music, About the Course of Jazz Music) and with books on Estonian popular music history (The Echo of Faded Tunes, Eesti Entsüklopeediakirjastus, 2000; Own Tunes in the Alien Army: 1940-1945, Ilo, 2003; The Sickle and the Saxophone, Ilo, 2008; We Found Our Song, Ilo, 2010). In addition to the first observation of Estonian popular music story as a historical whole, Ojakäär gave to readers the overview of world’s musical life, too, with books Jazz Music (1966) which was the first book on jazz in Soviet Union, and About Pop Music (1978, 1983). He wrote a script for Estonian Television’s first music film Sounds of a Day (Helisev päev, 1960), later for series about Estonian pop music history Old Tunes Rolling On (Vanu viise veeretades, 1996) and Nostalgia (1997) as well. In 2011, his book of Estonian composer Uno Naissoo (Uno Naissoo. Põgene, vaba laps!) was published by TEA Kirjastus (co-author Jaak Ojakäär). In 2013, an autobiography (Naeru ja nuttu pikalt eluteelt) was given out by the same publisher.

Ojakäär’s music is presented on numerous vinyl records, 2 author-CD-s has been released: Frenzied World (Meeletu maailm, Estonian Radio, 1998) and Valter Ojakäär. Songs (Tallinn City Theatre, 2009).

Valter Ojakäär has received the honarary title of Estonian SSR People’s Artist (1989), he has deserved Literature and Art Award of Young Communist League of Estonia (1968), Annual Music Award of the ESSR (1982, 1984), title of Estonian Radio’s Musician of the Year (1993), Estonian National Culture Foundation gratitude award (2001), the third class order of the White Star (2001), Open Estonia Foundation gratitude award (2001), Estonian Radio’s Golden Microphone (2002), Annual Award of the Estonian Music Council (2003), Raimond Valgre’s Heritage Award (2005), The Cultural Prize of the Republic of Estonia (2008). In 2006, Ojakäär received an honorary doctorate at Viljandi Culture Academy and title of honorary citizen of Pärnu in 2008. In 2013, festival Jazzkaar acknowledged him with the Jazz Developer award.

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