Saxophonist Esa Pietilä biography


“The impressive tenor saxophonist Esa Pietilä”! – DownBeat / Josef Woodard

The multifaceted expression of Esa Pietilä in various musical genres

Esa Pietilä (*1964) is a well-known saxophonist operating with multiple musical genres in a creative way that recognizes no stylistic borders. He has appeared as soloist with such conductor luminaries as Esa-Pekka Salonen, Santtu Matias Rouvali & Ville Matvejeff and worked with conductors Tibor Boganyi, Hossein Piskar, Jan Söderblom and composer Magnus Lindberg. The works performed have been Pietilä’s own pieces and e.g. tenor saxophone concertos by Eero Hämeenniemi and Kalevi Aho – with works written especially for Pietilä. He has appeared as soloist with Avanti! Chamber Orchestra, Kuopio Symphony, Pori Sinfonietta, Lappeenranta City Orchestra, St. Michael Strings and others. Esa has a special mission to perform and compose new music for tenor saxophone – his own instrument. For his repertoire he also chooses exciting, already existing contemporary pieces to be edited for tenor saxophone, e.g. Magnus Lindberg´s Ablauf which Esa has performed at his profile concert at the Helsinki Music Centre (2018).

 In addition to these works Esa plays totally free improvisations at his solo concerts and performs with his own contemporary classical & jazz oriented groups and projects eg. award winning Liberty Ship quartet, Sonic Decode, Kujala-Pietilä Treatment and church organist Pétur Sakari to name a few.

Pietilä has a mission to premiere new saxophone concertos and other larger scale works for saxophone

As a composer, Esa Pietilä has broadened the image of contemporary music with jazz. He has been commissioned to write works for the Avanti! Chamber Orchestra, the Zagros Ensemble, the Tampere Raw, the St. Michael Strings, the UMO Jazz Orchestra and others.

Pietilä’s compositions include often a mixed combination of instruments and styles incorporating also a saxophone soloist. His aim has been to create new repertoire for tenor saxophone. Examples of these are his works Graffiti Play for chamber orchestra and contemporary jazz trio (2012), premiered by Esa-Pekka Salonen, Avanti! and Esa Pietilä Trio), Pulses, Waves & Dialoques (2017) for tenor saxophone and string orchestra, the newly born double concerto Kairos Ludus for violin, tenor saxophone and chamber orchestra (to be premiered TBA in 2020 with violinist Pekka Kuusisto, Pietilä & the Jyväskylä Symphony with Ville Matvejeff), Hunt! for saxophone and percussion quintet (premiered by the Osuma Ensemble and Pietilä in 2016). Combining improvisation and composed music has also always been an interest for Esa Pietilä.

Publisher Fennica Gehrman

The agreement with his publisher Fennica Gehrman covers a dozen or so works including Asterion for 8 players (2014, commissioned by the Zagros Ensemble), Hyperhelium, for chamber sextet and tenor saxophone (2016, commissioned by the Tampere Raw), Brisk, for cello & marimba (2017 commissioned by cellist Eeva Rysä & percussionist Kazutata Morita), Uirapuru (2017) for male choir and tenor saxophone (2017, commissioned by the Akademiska Sångföreningen) as well as Pulses, Waves & Dialoques (2017) for tenor saxophone and string orchestra. Among the most recent compositions by Esa Pietilä are Seven in Amazonas for recorder quartet, The Wind Wants for woodwind quintet, Blazing Flames for tenor saxophone and Kamus String Quartet, Glow for accordion, percussion and live-electronics, Fire! for solo saxophone, Fata Morgana for harpsichord solo premiered by Assi Karttunen and Three Strides of Light for piano solo premiered by Risto-Matti Marin.

Esa Pietilä´s small groups on the compound field of improv & contemporary music.

Liberty Ship quartet with Norwegians Håvard Wiik (piano), Ole-Morten Vågan (bass) and drummer Olavi Louhivuori from Finland combines sounds of contemporary classical music with freejazz in constant pursuit of creative self-expression. Their music is adventurous, mysterious,creative and unpredictable.

Newly born Sonic Decode with guitar wizard Raoul Björkenheim and drummer & percussionist Janne Tuomi creates composed, both structurally and non-structurally improvised music echoes of Zappa combined with the sound worlds of Oliver Méssiaen and the atmospheres of György Ligeti

The duo Pietilä & Sakari with organ maestro Pétur Sakari presents composed music from Pietilä, J.S. Bach & Astor Piazzolla plus improvised genre-defying journeys without any musical borders. The duo Kujala- Pietilä Treatment with accordionist Veli Kujala in which they both include live-electronics in their improvised & composed duo context. Another duo Unprecedented with kantele artist Eija Kankaanranta is also a set-up with contemporary music & improvisation.

In 2007 Pietilä started a series of  totally improvised solo saxophone concerts

The solo concerts will continue annually in Finland & abroad. They have been numbered over 100 already. The music is documented in 2009 released album Karhea and in 2017 released Times & Spaces


Along performing at international festivals, Esa Pietilä finds time to give masterclasses on improvisation and saxophone which he has done in Boston, Berklee Music school of Music, Louisville, Kentucky “Jamey Aebersold Jazz Program Studies”, Laval University in Montreal, Privatiuniversitet Wien, Graz University Jazz Department, Luzern Musichochschule in Switzerland, Malmö Royal Academy of music (Sweden), Reykjavik FUI Music School, Conservatory Giuseppi Tartini in Trieste, Italy, Conservatory Antonio Scrontino in Trapani, Sicily etc.

Pietilä was the artistic director of 2014 born Helsinki Free Fall festival that presents many kinds of new music on the fields of contemporary music, contemporary jazz, new music & improvisation.

Quotes, artists & venues etc.

Pietilä´s playing and recordings has been thanked by such internationally well-known critics, reviewers and editors like Stuart Nicholson (UK), Laurence Donohue-Greene (AllAboutJazz-New York), Henning Bolte (The Netherlands), Don Williamson (, Robert Spencer (Cadence USA), Matthew Wuethrich (ALL ABOUT JAZZ) etc. His Liberty Ship Quartet´s album “Approaching” was nominated as an ” ALBUM OF THE YEAR – Best new releases 2013″ by The New York City Jazz Record magazine.

reviews can be found here

Esa´s groups & projects has stabilized his position performing on the national / international circuit, and have led him to play in USA, Canada, Japan, Italy, Germany, Norway, Sweden, France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Iceland, England, USA, Australia, New Zeeland, Brazil and Cuba. He has performed with the names like Paal Nilssen-Love, Michael Jefry Stevens, Harvey Sorgen, Heiri Kaenzig, Jeff Siegel, Karl Berger, Mark Helias, John Esposito, Mathias Eick, Iro Haarla, Franziska Baumann, Christoph Baumann, Banz Oester, Mike Nock, Claudio Fasoli, Anders Begcrantz, Odean Pope, Raoul Björkenheim, Brian Melvin, Markku Ounaskari, Uffe Krokfors, Olavi Louhivuori, Aki Rissanen, Antti Lötjönen, Veli Kujala, Eija Kankaanranta, Lasse Marhaug, Tommi Keränen, Eivin Lonning, Simo laihonen, Oyvind Storesund, Ville Rauhala, Jari Hongisto, Sami Sippola, Stine Janvind Motland, Filip Augustson, Hilmar Jensson, Arthur Kell, Otto Gardner, Johannes Mössinger, Kjartan Valdemarsson, Fabian Kuratli, Jarmo Savolainen, Mika Kallio, Mikko Innanen, Seppo Kantonen, Ville Herrala and Erling Kroner. Esa has also stood on stage with many global jazz luminaries, e.g. Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner, Carla Bley, David Liebman, Vince Mendoza, Maria Schneider, Ray Anderson…