Mikko Innanen is a saxophonist, composer and bandleader from Finland, currently residing in Helsinki. A multifaceted and open-minded musician, he thrives in settings that span jazz’s past, present and future: be it in freely improvised solos, duos or trios, small and large ensembles playing his own compositions, or working as a sideman interpreting other people’s music.

A 2022 DownBeat Rising Star, Innanen has performed in 38 countries, in five continents. The diversity of Innanen’s playing and composition is well documented, with a discography of almost 80 records. This active touring and recording allows him to continuously expand his network of collaborators, and to find further opportunities to explore the spontaneous creativity at the heart of his musical vision.

His journey through jazz and improvised music began in Loviisa, in small-town southern Finland, where the contents of his father’s comprehensive jazz record collection of jazz records led him to pursue the saxophone further. After starting out in local marching and big bands, he studied at Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy, during which time he spent a crucial exchange year at Copenhagen’s Rhythmic Music Conservatory.

In and Out and In the Moment


Innanen is fluent with all the members of the saxophone family but he describes himself as “basically an e-flat guy,” nowadays devoting his energies to the alto, baritone and sopranino. Along with the saxophone language of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, a key early influence was his first sax teacher, Bengt Ingelin, whom Innanen credits with nurturing his understanding of the importance of basic musical fundamentals.

Innanen’s own approach seamlessly links the diverse pathways the saxophone has taken through jazz. Within a single solo he can move from being deep in the melody or exploring complex chord changes to playing in free and far-out areas. He switches between horns just as fluently, incorporating special techniques, reeds from around the world and other little instruments if the situation deems it necessary. “If I find a sound I like, I use it,” he says. “I don’t want to sound like anybody else, but in the heat of the moment I might also listen to my inner Ben Webster, Sonny Rollins or Ornette Coleman.”


  • Born 28 February, 1978, Lapinjärvi, Finland
  • Saxophonist, composer, improviser, bandleader
  • Studies in Sibelius Academy and Copenhagen Rhythmic Music Conservatory (Master of Music, 2003)
  • Performed in 38 countries
  • Plays on ca. 80 records
  • Hietsu is Happening!, founding member and chairperson (2016–)
  • Fiasko Records, founding member (2000—)
  • DownBeat Critics Poll, Rising Star, baritone saxophone, 2022
  • Emma award for the Finnish jazz record of 2022, “PLOP & JUNNU”
  • Finnish State Music Prize, Hietsu is Happening!, 2021
  • Arts Promotion Center Finland, 3-year artist grant,  2010 and 2020
  • Nordic Council Music Prize, nominee, 2011
  • Yrjö award, jazz musician of the year, 2008
  • Jukka Perko saxophone competition, First Prize, 2001
  • Getxo International Jazz Contest, best soloist, 2000
  • UMO Jazz Orchestra, young soloist, 1996
  • Download CV (PDF)

Composer & improviser

Innanen’s improvising and composition spring from the same source – a dedication to melody and a strong rhythmic foundation. Yet from this base he branches out in multiple directions, from interpreting traditional swing and blues-tinged, and sometimes even schlager-esque melodic themes to setting his own texts to music, exploring more theoretical concepts or reaching for the abstract and unknown. “As in life, in music you need to find a balance between beautiful and ugly, cerebral and carnal, sacred and profane, and fun and serious.”

His explorations have ranged from small-scale settings to much larger contexts. The former include solo saxophone performances on a small raft in the middle of the River Aura in Turku, the digital solo project F60.8. and improvised sax/drum duos with Mika Kallio, Simo Laihonen, Andrew Cyrille, Han Bennink and Andrew Barker. His work in ensembles shows a similar range: Mikko Innanen Autonomus, Mikko Innanen & Innkvisitio, Gourmet, Delirium,  his “big band”  Mikko Innanen 10+ (including a full chorus for one performance), and several trio formations, such as PLOP, Innanen Pasborg Piromalli, The Curators, Mikko Innanen Trio with Joe Fonda and Lou Grassi, Mikko Innanen with William Parker and Andrew Cyrille, Innanen/Sooäär/Bennink Trio, and Triot.

Bandleader & collaborator

When leading, he works to challenge and inspire the other musicians, to give them a reason and purpose for playing his music. He strives for the maximum result in his performances yet realizes that the outcome is always unknowable: “You have to accept that it is what it is, that it couldn’t be any other way.”

Innanen is an active bandleader, but he is equally at home contributing as a sideman and a featured soloist. His skills and taste as a band member have been trusted by, among others, by Petter Eldh, Antti Lötjönen, Stefan Pasborg, Kalle Kalima, Mika Kallio, Teppo Mäkynen, Wadada Leo Smith, Henrik Otto Donner, TUMO, Adam Rudolph, Seppo Kantonen, Per Zanussi, Jori Huhtala, Triade, Ibrahim Electric, Pekka Tuppurainen, Jussi Fredriksson, Iro Haarla & Ulf Krokfors, Admiral Awesome, Espoo Big Band, UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra and Trondheim Jazz Orchestra.

Live & in the studio

In the studio or as well as on the bandstand, Innanen seeks to capture openness and take advantage of spontaneity. Though he has an extensive discography, with over more than two dozen records under his own name and a couple few dozen more as a collaborator, he particularly enjoys being in the moment of performance with others, engaging in the direct communication that emerges in front of an audience.

He has performed throughout Europe, though his touring schedule has taken him as far away as South America, Asia and North Africa. In 2008 he began making extended stays and gigging regularly in New York City. These visits culminated in two mini-festivals in Brooklyn in 2012 and 2013, featuring his collaborations with a wide range of world-class improvisers. Back home in Helsinki Innanen has co-led Hietsu is Happening!, an award-winning multi-arts performance series with Petri Kumela and Antti Lötjönen since 2016 and hosted a monthly jazz night in his neighbourhood at Bar Favela since 2015.

(text: Matthew Wuethrich 2018 & Mikko Innanen 2023)


Palkittu saksofonisti, säveltäjä ja yhtyeenjohtaja Mikko Innanen on sukupolvensa keskeisimpiä suomalaisia jazzmuusikoita. Innanen on monipuolinen ja avarakatseinen taiteilija, joka liikkuu sujuvasti vapaasti improvisoidusta musiikista täysin sävellettyyn, intiimeistä sooloista ja duoista isoihin orkestereihin. Pitkän kansainvälisen uran luonut Innanen on esiintynyt 38:ssä maassa, viidessä maanosassa, ja hänen laaja-alaista soittooan ja säveltuotantoaan on taltioitu lähes 80:lle julkaistulle äänitteelle.