Personal Chemistry – Jari Immonen

In the first installment of this series, Harri invited Jari Immonen, director of operations at the special chemistry plant in Kaipiainen, to tell us about his passion, music. Jari accepted the challenge, and we headed to Kouvola on a Tuesday evening as the autumn was beginning. Somehow, I’d imagined questioning Jari about the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle that always seems to fascinate your typical engineer: breakfasts consisting of Jack Daniels and TV sets flying out of hotel-room windows. However, the atmosphere turned out to be almost spiritual in nature. May I introduce to you Jari Immonen, our friendly bass player.

Jari Immonen’s passion is music.

Tiki’s melancholy guitar solo is enough to bend the fabric of space and time. As Riikka starts singing Simply Red’s “Stars,” we are transported away from the slightly shabby practice space – so familiar to every musician from Wagner to Sheeran – to another world. For a fleeting moment, we all have a smile on our faces. This is what the five of us in the small industrial space have just been talking about. The atmosphere is not quite spiritual enough to be likened to a trance and not carnal enough to be called ecstasy. In want of a better word, let’s use the term favored by New Age hipsters: flow. “I, I feel you. I hope you comprehend,” sings Riikka. Let’s push the rewind button and go back about half an hour.  

Jari’s musical notation for “Stars.”

We were sitting in Jari’s Beamer outside the practice room. Our conversation veered from music to Jari’s career in special chemistry and back, with Jari doing his best to explain it to me. He said that after playing the bass for a few years in the early 1970s in the style of Hurriganes, a Finnish group popular at the time, he wanted to take his playing to the next level. He said, “Just banging away at the bass was no longer enough for me, and I started actually studying the instrument.” In addition to taking private lessons, he played in several groups, and after reaching a certain level he realized that what got his heart pumping was improvisation, jazz-style. He explained, “I’ve never written songs, but playing a walking bass line where I decide what happens next is a form of composing music. It’s all about being creative, and you have to be creative to keep your brain in shape.”  

Jari and Pekka concentrate.

Jari hasn’t hesitated to step outside his comfort zone in his professional life either. Creating new solutions and improvising in work situations have given him a similar sense of achievement. Jari started his work career at Raisio’s feed plant in the early 1980s, and from there he soon moved into a supervisory position at the chemical plant in Kaipiainen, in 1985. In no time, he became known as an employee who could be relied on by both managers and his subordinates. With memories of the day in 1992 when he was put at the helm of the entire unit still vivid in his mind, Jari explained, “It was presented to me a little bit as a fait accompli. At least my supervisor remembered to inform me of my promotion before the new organization was unveiled to everyone.”

Jari sees clear similarities between management and music. Once the music lessons began to bear fruit, Jari realized he could listen to what others in the group were doing while turning the music developing within his head into sounds. This evolved into the ability to play the same song with others but differently. Interaction is what matters for Jari. This applies to work too. As he put it, “some people say things like ‘he fits in well with our team because he’s like us.’ I’m not so keen on this. It’s more rewarding to have different sorts of people working together.”  

Riikka, Timo, and the stylish practice space.

Once Jari has introduced me to the rest of the group – Riikka Pelkonen (vocals), Pekka Ronimus (keyboards), and Timo “Tiki” Heikkilä (guitar) – the practice session is ready to kick off. One person is missing from the line-up today, though. He is on the minds of his friends, and that can be sensed during some of the songs the group plays. The group, Con Tiki, plays classic jazz and groove songs, such as pieces by Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Carole King, Simply Red, and The Carpenters, all with a twist of their own. While the atmosphere of the practice session is relaxed, all the songs are played from start to finish. Occasionally, it becomes clear that the musicians are not perfectly happy with their performance, but, since I’m not expecting to be recruited by Rolling Stone any time soon, I can admit that I was totally oblivious to any mistakes. Over the course of the evening, the relaxed atmosphere and the numerous hours spent playing together give rise to something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Without drums, Jari sets the rhythm. The drums and the bass are part of the same family. Tiki’s and Pekka’s instruments also talk to one another when Riikka lets her voice ring. Zone, flow, whatever you want to call it, we are talking about the moment when the music speaks to the listener and the listener’s reaction provides a response to the band. In the words of Steven Tyler, “As good as I am, I’m nothing without my band.”

”As good as I am, I’m nothing without my band.”

Steven Tyler
A broken cymbal.

While the instruments are being packed away, it’s time to decide on our next victim. Jari says, “I like to keep fit myself, so I’d like to throw down the gauntlet to Toni Koski, a weightlifter based in Mietoinen.” So, Toni, what do you say?

“My advice to everyone at Chemigate, both new and old team members, is to be brave. While you need to know your field and have your own vision, it’s important to be open to new things.”  — Jari Immonen, musician and chemical engineer.