Q&A with Mikko Innanen

Saxophone player Mikko Innanen is one of the most accomplished Finnish musicians on the international jazz circuit. He regularly plays abroad and frequently visits New York, where he actively collaborates with local musicians. He leads the Innkvisitio ensemble, and is also an integral part of such highly regarded groups as PLOP, Kalle Kalima & K-18 and Gourmet.

Q: What are you working on now?
A: Mikko Innanen & Innkvisitio is getting a lot of international attention after the latest album, CLUSTROPHY. I hope that soon translates into more gigs. I’m also playing actively with Delirium, PLOP, Gourmet, Mikko Innanen F60.8 (with Pekka Tuppurainen), Tonight at Noon, Kalle Kalima & K-18, Mikko Innanen & Mika Kallio Duo and Seppo Kantonen & Mikko Innanen Duo.

Q: How do you see the life of a jazz musician in Finland today?
A: I think it’s very challenging, but perhaps that’s how it should be. A musician should challenge oneself constantly, working towards continuous development. It seems that there’s a trend of making the artist an entrepreneur, and I’m worried that the artist will end up picking the bill for that.

Q: How important is it to take your music outside of Finland?
A: I think music export efforts concentrate too much on showcases, where the music is often not the central focus of action, and where musicians are usually required to perform without a fee. It is important to know where you come from, but at the same time I often find it problematic, when nationality is used as a defining aspect of music.

Q: You are working in New York as we’re doing this interview. What has working abroad as a musician brought you and your career?
A: It has been very important career-wise and in terms of challenging myself in new situations as a musician. I have had the opportunity to play with many great musicians I hadn’t encountered before, such as Andrew Cyrille, William Parker and Lou Grassi. I like New York because the atmosphere is free and approving, and there’s so much going on that you can only survive by being yourself.

Q: You are also part of the collective running Fiasko Records. How is the label doing?
A: The label was founded 12 years ago simply because we wanted an outlet for the music we were producing. I would say that the situation has pretty much remained the same, and those actively involved are the initial Fiasko gang members: Esa Onttonen, Kari Ikonen, Mika Kallio and myself.

Q: Do you think there are enough opportunities for new music on the publishing and label front in Finnish jazz?
A: All I can say is that I have been lucky to have the support of Petri Haussila’s TUM Records, who have an internationally noted back catalogue of fine releases. Being part of the TUM Records catalogue has been important for me as an artist.

Q: What is jazz?
A: I think jazz means different things to different people, and that is perhaps its greatest strength.