Esa Onttonen

Composer and guitarist from Helsinki, Finland.


Older projects

This page describes some of my older music projects.

Big band music

I wrote a bunch of big band compositions in the early 2000’s, including the 40-minute suite About Five Pieces for Saxophone and Big Band, which was premiered by Mikko Innanen and UMO Jazz Orchestra in 2001, and Keko, premiered by Tomasz Stanko and commissioned by UMO in 2002. These were followed by multiple commissions from Jyväskylä Big Band (A Face You Can Trust, Hobo Ways, The Known Soldier) and others (Apokryfi, Nuovo Mondo, 1913).

In addition to my own compositions for big band I arranged two larger entities in 2004–2005, the first one for saxophonist Jukka Perko and the latter for organist Jukka Gustavson. Both of these were played by UMO, and the Gustavson project was revisited in 2016. For Gustavson I also (re-)composed three originals, Coronation II, Jubilee II and Olivier II.

For a more comprehensive list of big band (and other) music see my Music Finland Composer Profile.


Gnomus is/was a group that I formed with Mika Kallio (drums) and Kari Ikonen (keyboards) in 1998. We played circa 50 concerts of completely improvised music in Finland, Czech Republic, France, Germany and Russia, and released four albums on Fiasko Records: Gnomus (2000), II (2004), 28 août 2005 (2005) and Diagnosis (2007).

The band hasn’t formally disbanded but on the other hand, we haven’t played a single gig since 2011.

Historical bands

My main group before Gourmet and Gnomus was Big Brother (1996–1999) which evolved from a John Scofield tribute band to a group playing original material written by me and organist Mikko Helevä. The other members of the group were Joonatan Rautio (tenor sax), Janne Antikainen (double bass) and Mika Kallio (drums). Apart from a single track on a compilation album Big Brother didn’t release any albums.

At the turn of the millennium I was employed by vocalists Mirja Mäkelä (1998–2000) and Jenny Robson (2001–2004) and I recorded an album with each of them. During that time I also played in violinist Ari Poutiainen’s many bands with an album released by NoneAlike in 2003.