After having studied piano with Matti Laukkanen for four years (1989-1993) at Jyväskylä Institute of Music, Kari Ikonen continued his studies 1994 in piano and later in composition at the Jazz Music Department of Sibelius Academy, with such teachers as Jarmo Savolainen, Jukkis Uotila, Anders Jormin, Maria Schneider, Mike Gibbs, Sonny Heinilä and Olli Kortekangas. He also spent a semester of 1996 in Rotterdam Conservatory, where he studied with Rob van Kreevelt. He got his master’s degree from Sibelius Academy in 2001.
Kari’s main instruments are piano, Fender Rhodes electric piano and analogue Moog synthesizer. In addition to his own trio and his international sextet Karikko he plays in Orchestra Nazionale della Luna, Quartet Ajaton and Trio Toffa, performing frequently in Finland and abroad. He has worked with many internationally known musicians, such as Louis Sclavis, Bob Moses, Lee Konitz, Ingrid Jensen, Jeff Denson, Ronen Itzik, Ernesto Simpson, Henry Lowther, Stan Sultzman, Ron McClure, Marc Bernstein, Vincent Courtois, Nelson Faria, Rafael Barata, Alfredo Paixao, Majid Bekkas, Per Oddvar Johansen, Mathias Eick, Jon Fält, Stefan Pasborg, Eivind Lønning, Jonas Kulhammar, Jaak Sooäär, Michala Østergaard-Nielsen, Magnus Broo, André Fernandes, Gunnar Halle, Dayna Stephens, Poogie Bell… UMO Jazz Orchestra, Juhani Aaltonen, Raoul Björkenheim, Kalle Kalima, Eero Koivistoinen, Jukka Gustavsson, Otto Donner, Manuel Dunkel, Verneri Pohjola, Teppo Mäkynen, Timo Lassy, Iro Haarla, Ulf krokfors, Jukkis Uotila and Sonny Heinilä.
Ikonen has performed in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Iceland, The Faroe Islands, France, Portugal, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Poland, Hungary, Serbia, Italy, Czech Republic, Romania, Turkey, Armenia, South Korea, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia, USA… and the Soviet Union.
His playing and/or compositions can be heard on more than 50 records.
Ikonen has composed a lot of music for different small groups and larger ensembles, e.g. UMO Jazz Orchestra, European Saxophone Ensemble, Uusinta Chamber Ensemble Tanguedia Quintet and The Norwegian Radio Orchestra. Ikonen has also done several projects for the stage, both dance and theatre. In 2000 he won the first prize at the International Julius Hemphill Composition Awards (Jazz Composers Alliance, USA). His debut cd Karikko consisting of his compositions for different ensembles, was chosen as the best Finnish jazz-cd of 2001 by the Jazz-Emma prize (Finland’s Grammy) and in 2002 he won the first prize in the ”Scrivere in Jazz” big band composition contest in Italy. His album The Helsinski Suite was nominated for a 40.000 € Teosto-prize for its compositions. In 2013 he got the Yrjö Award as the Finnish jazz musician of the year.
Ikonen has worked as a part-time professor (jazz piano, composition, ensemble, solfege etc.) at Jyväskylä Institute of Music 1993- 94, Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre 2007-2011 and Sibelius Academy Jazz Music Department since 1998.