Blog: Jess Gillam

The 19-year-old saxophonist from Ulverston on sharing her passion for music and being a finalist in the Classic Brit Awards

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I first encountered the saxophone aged seven. It was an alto saxophone – about as big as me at the time – and I picked it up, made a sound and fell in love!

I am from Ulverston, Cumbria, a small market town on the edge of the Lake District, and I first came across the saxophone at the Barracudas Carnival Centre in Barrow. The carnival centre offered dance, stilts, percussion and saxophone workshops for free – my dad worked there as the percussion teacher – and I came to the saxophone last after trying every other option.

From the age of seven to 10, I rehearsed with the Barracudas twice a week and performed in carnivals across the country – from the Glasgow West End Festival to Ulverston Lantern Procession – almost every week during the summer months. The experience was incredible. We made music for fun. I felt so uninhibited and genuinely happy when performing and rehearsing.

I then started having more formal lessons around the age of 10 and, when I was 13, I gained a place at the Junior Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester and discovered my passion for classical music. I had so much to learn about classical music (and I don’t believe the learning ever really stops). It seemed like a whole world of its own: endless possibilities, inextricably connected with society and history and, above all, one of the deepest forms of expression. It was then that I realised I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life to performing and sharing this music.

Every child should have the opportunity to learn an instrument and be exposed to music at an early age

Aged 15, I entered BBC Young Musician of the Year and reached the woodwind final. I then re-entered in 2016, won the woodwind final and became the first saxophonist ever to reach the Final. The experience and exposure was incredible and I have since performed at the BBC Proms – this year I will perform at the Last Night – signed a record deal with Decca Classics and have begun to perform internationally.

Every single day, I feel extremely fortunate to have found my passion for music at such an early stage in my life and become increasingly determined to share music with as many people as possible. One of my aims is to reach as many young people as possible with classical music. Music is one of the deepest and strongest forms of communication – humans have expressed themselves through music since the beginning of time and I strongly believe that every child should have the opportunity to learn an instrument and be exposed to music at an early age.

Learning an instrument can be truly life enhancing. Not only does it help develop skills such as empathy and communication, it also promotes discipline and co-operation. I have learned so much through music – it has taught me, and forced me, to think about every aspect of my life much more deeply and has enabled me to understand parts of our history through emotion and expression rather than fact. For children not to have the opportunity to experience what I have been fortunate enough to experience through music would be saddening.

Performing music and sharing it with audiences is a whole other feeling – it is absolutely electrifying and there is nothing for me that comes close to comparison! In a concert hall, the outside world stops. The most important thing is the music and the feeling of being stood onstage is indescribable.

I feel very honoured to have recently been shortlisted for the Sound of Classical Poll at the Classic Brit Awards. I hope that awards like this will inspire a younger generation of young musicians. At a time when there are many amazing young performers, I feel very grateful to have been shortlisted. I’m also very excited about the record deal with Decca as this will hopefully mean that I can share music with as many people as possible.

The Classic Brit Awards takes place on 13 June at the Royal Albert Hall and airs on ITV on Sunday 17 June. For more information and tickets visit

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