“Burning with passion for her instrument and classical music” **** from The Times
“Destined, undoubtedly, for greatness” Daily Telegraph

Photo | Rob Whitrow

On Friday 3 May, Jess Gillam debuted at the top of the Official UK Classical Chart with her critically-acclaimed album ‘RISE’, released on 26 April on Decca Classics. This remarkable achievement makes Jess the youngest saxophonist ever to hit the No.1 spot of the classical charts. An instrument which is often forgotten in the classical world, the 20-year-old star has brought the saxophone into the spotlight, and back to the top of the charts. This totally unique album showcases Jess’ phenomenal talent as well as her diverse musical taste, with tracks ranging from John Williams and Shostakovich to David Bowie and Kate Bush.

On hearing of her chart success, Jess said: “If someone had told me – when I first picked up a saxophone in the Barracudas Carnival Band in Barrow-on-Furness – that I would get a classical number one for my first album release, I wouldn’t have believed them in a million years! It has been so exciting to record my debut with the team at Decca Classics, and special thanks to the producer John Harle, BBC Concert Orchestra and Miloš for being a part of ‘RISE’. Music has been such an important part of my life and the tracks included on the album are very personal to me, so it’s overwhelming that there has been such an amazing response to it so far. “

After previously making music history as the first saxophonist to reach the final of the BBC Young Musician competition in 2016, Gillam very quickly went on to make her BBC Proms debut in 2017. Following this, last year she undertook a Last Night of the Proms double-performance, starring at Proms in the Park before dashing over to the Royal Albert Hall the same night to step onto the stage in front of an international television audience. Since then, Jess has been invited to perform at such prestigious events as this year’s BAFTA ceremony – at which she brought the room to a standstill with her playing – and the National Portrait Gallery Annual Gala as well as international debuts in Finland, Switzerland, Spain, and the USA where she performed in New York as a chosen artist at the launch of WQXR’s 19 for 19 campaign.

Managing Director of Decca Classics, Dr Alexander Buhr, said: “Huge congratulations to all of the wonderful musicians who worked on this album, and first and foremost to Jess – a uniquely talented and inspiring artist. We are very proud to have her in the Decca family and I am certain she’ll be a major force on the label for years to come.”

Earlier this year, Jess wrote an open letter to The Guardian setting out her pledge to advocate for young people to continue to receive help and support in music education through local and national initiatives. Speaking up for other students, she called on politicians to support music tuition in schools as funding cuts continue to threaten opportunities for children to learn an instrument.

Making good on this pledge, in release week, Jess gave one-to-one sessions and workshops with young musicians up and down the country who are recipients of funding and tailored support from Awards for Young Musicians (AYM), a national music charity which supported Jess as she was learning her craft. Throughout the year, alongside her packed international performance schedule (details below), Jess will continue to work with schools and young people nationwide, where she hopes to pass on some of her infectious enthusiasm and passion for classical, and non-classical, music. 

This triumphant chart news comes at the end of a busy month for Jess – she launched her new BBC Radio 3 series ‘This Classical Life’ in April, as the youngest presenter in the history of the station, which features other young musicians and creatives in the industry discussing their favourite music, from Bach to Beyoncé, and has been met with glowing reviews:

“It’s a breath of fresh air for the genre, which has been labelled inaccessible and elitist – so no wonder Jess is one of its secret weapons.” – Total TV Guide, April 2019

“Hugely personable and talented, [Jess] represents this network’s determination to spotlight exciting young musicians.” – The Sunday Times, March 2019

She has proved that her stratospheric ascent is not only down to the dedication she has shown to excelling at her instrument, with playing described as “extraordinary” (The Times), but also her warm and approachable personality.

Jess Gillam has performed for Royalty and in the country’s finest concert halls, where her “dazzling” displays of musicianship have wowed the public and critics alike. However, on album release day last week she chose to launch her debut disc in her hometown of Ulverston in Cumbria at her parents’ tearooms where she grew up, which was full to bursting with local supporters.

“When I got the chance to record my first album, I wanted it to reflect music that I really love. Like many people, David Bowie was one of my musical heroes and with my new album Rise released on the 26th April, I’m proud to release a video single of his 2013 song ‘Where are we now?’. It was shot in Berlin (where else?) and you can view it here“.

‘Where are we now?’ is also available on Rise, released on Friday 26th April. You can pre-order via this link.

“It’s out there! I absolutely loved presenting my first ever radio show – ‘This Classical Life’ – on Saturday 6 April. It will be a weekly show on BBC Radio 3 at 12.30pm every Saturday. If you missed the first episode with drummer and television composer Ollie Howell, it’s available on BBC Sounds!”

“Our choices include Dvorak’s New World Symphony, a film score by Quincy Jones, a mesmerising piano miniature by Nadia Boulanger, and some classic Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Look out for some of my future guests including pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason, double bassist Sam Becker, and former ‘BBC Introducing’ pianist and sound artist Belle Chen. ‘This Classical Life’ is also available as a podcast on BBC Sounds and you can visit the show’s page here“.

“I really hope you enjoy it”.

A revamped Saturday schedule showcases the distinctive BBC Radio 3 musical offering and features a brand new weekly programme This Classical Life, fronted by rising star saxophonist Jess Gillam, who recently wowed audiences at the Baftas and was the highlight of the Last Night Of The BBC Proms in 2018.

The 20 year-old former BBC Young Musician finalist – who will be the youngest presenter on the station – will be joined each week by her contemporaries to select and discuss their favourite pieces from across the musical spectrum, giving an insight into the musical influences on young performers.

Confirmed guests include 22 year-old pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason, double bassist Sam Becker, former BBC Introducing pianist and sound artist Belle Chen, and film and television composer Ollie Howell. This Classical Life will immediately precede Radio 3’s popular Saturday lunchtime programme Inside Music, giving audiences the unique opportunity to hear from different musicians on Radio 3 every Saturday, all sharing their own insights and perspectives on their favourite music. The first episode of This Classical Life will air on BBC Radio 3 on Saturday 6 April and will be available as a podcast on BBC Sounds.

Jess Gillam says: “I’m so excited to be joining BBC Radio 3 as the presenter of This Classical Life. Music is such a huge part of my life, and I can’t wait to share all my latest and greatest discoveries with fellow musicians who will be joining me on the show, as well as with listeners at home.”

As part of this year’s ‘Love Classical’ festival at the Royal Albert Hall, Jess will be performing Michael Nyman’s Where the Bee Dances together with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

On Tuesday 30 April, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Rising Stars of Classical, presents the music of Mussorgsky, Rodrigo, Glinka, Dvořák, Rachmaninov, Nyman and Stravinsky, performed by some of the UK’s most brilliant young musicians.

Soprano Lauren Fagan, guitarist Sean Shibe and star of the Last Night of the Proms, saxophonist Jess Gillam are all brought together under the baton of yet another rising star, conductor Jamie Phillips.

A varied repertoire will also include arias by Rachmaninov and Stravinsky, the famous Concierto de Aranjuez, and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

This concert is one of the headline events of the Royal Albert Hall’s 2019 Love Classical season, which celebrates some of the most distinctive and original voices in classical music today.

For more information about this concert, visit the Royal Albert Hall’s website.

Jess recently wrote a letter to The Guardian newspaper on the subject of ‘giving every child the opportunity to experience music’:

Music is part of the fabric of our society; it sits at the heart of human experience and enriches so many lives. Why, then, is it not central to our education system? This is a question I recently posed to an all-party parliamentary group on music education.

I am 20 years old and began playing saxophone, aged seven, at the Barracudas Carnival Band in Barrow-in-Furness. The funding for the centre has now been cut. I took part in the primary tuition scheme, aged 11. The funding for the scheme has now been cut. It is a running theme across the country.

Music is not an add-on, a “soft” subject or a luxury – it is absolutely essential to our existence. Every child deserves the opportunity to experience its benefits.

Until music is held in the same regard as the “core” subjects of our curriculum, our society will be worse off. We need joy, empathy and hope on this planet more than ever, and depriving children of the opportunity to develop musical skills is to set ourselves up for a fall.

Despite the many brilliant schemes and initiatives to encourage young musicians (Every Child a Musician, Awards for Young Musicians and Sistema, to name but a few), we are reaching a crisis point. We are in danger of crushing creativity, innovation and expression.

Learning an instrument can teach and develop so many fundamental life skills. It promotes discipline, empathy, determination and cooperation as well as providing a sense of community and worth.

Music has changed my life. It is a huge part of who I am. I have learned so much about the world through music and the inspiring figures I have met through it. I feel I have a duty to help ensure that others can benefit from its magic. Let us make it available to every single child.

Jess Gillam
Ulverston, Cumbria

If you agree with Jess’ sentiments perhaps you would consider sharing the letter by visiting The Guardian’s website, or by writing to your local MP.

Saxophonist Jess Gillam has been selected as one of WQXR’s ’19 for 19′, celebrating outstanding talent in the field of classical music. Anyone that’s been following Jess’ social media recently will know that last month she popped over to America. This included a performance at the launch of New York’s WQXR classical music radio station’s ’19 for 19′, “an annual list of the most exciting classical artists on the planet”.

’19 for 19′, is described by WQXR as “a group of artists we love that includes long-time heroes, established favorites and newcomers set for stardom”. You can read more about ’19 for 19 and the artists selected here.

After her sensational performance at last night’s BAFTAs, inspiring young classical saxophonist Jess Gillam announces the release of her debut album ‘Rise’ on 26th April on Decca Classics. It is a collection of pieces which showcase her phenomenal talent and diverse musical taste, ranging from Marcello and Shostakovich to David Bowie and Kate Bush. Fans can also relive her BAFTA performance as she releases ‘Theme from Love Story’ as a brand new digital single (out now) – watch the music video HERE. You can follow this link to preorder now.

20 year-old Jess says: “To record an album has been a huge ambition of mine for a very long time so I can’t believe it’s actually happening! I’ve learned a lot through the recording process and the whole album consists of music I love so I am very excited to share it; I really hope you enjoy listening!”

Jess Gillam is not only renowned for her musicianship, but also her passion for music education. Yesterday, she wrote an open letter in The Guardian, calling on politicians to support music tuition in schools, as funding cuts continue to threaten the opportunities for children to learn an instrument and develop a greater understanding of the arts. “Music has changed my life,” wrote Jess. “I feel I have a duty to help ensure that others can benefit from its magic.”

Jess Gillam’s new album ‘Rise’ reflects her own musical journey and the pieces which have inspired her in her career. She recorded it with the BBC Concert Orchestra and chamber musicians, as well as celebrated guitarist MILOŠ, who features on the track ‘Flow My Tears’ – a transcription of the familiar Renaissance lute song by John Dowland.

The album includes beautiful cover versions of songs by two of Jess’s biggest heroes: Kate Bush’s ballad ‘This Woman’s Work’ and David Bowie’s timeless ‘Where Are We Now?’. There are also familiar hits from the world of film, such as ‘Closing In’ by John Williams (as featured in Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film Catch Me If You Can), Michael Nyman’s ‘If’ (from The Diary of Anne Frank) and the bonus track, Francis Lai’s ‘Theme from Love Story’.

The recording also features two of Jess’ signature pieces: ‘Pequeña Czarda’ by Pedro Iturralde, which she played in BBC Young Musician 2016 wind category final, and Darius Milhaud’s ‘Brazileira’ from Scaramouche, which she performed to great acclaim at the Last Night of the Proms – described by BBC News as the “indisputable highlight” of last year’s spectacular event at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

There is a brand new commission on the album from Jess’ teacher and mentor, acclaimed saxophonist John Harle, who also produced the recording. He has written a new piece for Jess called ‘RANT!’ which is based on traditional folk tunes from her home county, Cumbria. John says: “‘RANT!’ is a portrait of Jess Gillam – her energy, her sound and her presence, painted in music from her own part of England. A ‘rant’ in the tradition of English Folk music is an energetic dance, and means ‘to make merry’, which is exactly what Jess does, both in her fearless live performances and in the exuberance she has brought to the recording studio for this album. Jess is a completely unique phenomenon on the music scene, and ‘RANT!’ is an endeavour to try to capture some of her power, panache and pizzazz at this very early stage of what will surely be a glittering career.”

‘Rise’ also features virtuosic encores and popular classical works, such a saxophone version of Marcello’s Adagio from his well-known oboe concerto, Wiedoeft’s charming Valse vanité and a new arrangement of Shostakovich’s Waltz No.2 from his second jazz suite – as featured in Stanley Kubrick’s 1999 film Eyes Wide Shut. Plus there are two popular songs: the traditional Russian folk tune ‘Dark Eyes’ in a new version by John Harle; and Kurt Weill’s impassioned Je ne t’aime pas.

Hailing from Ulverston in Cumbria, Jess Gillam is blazing a trail in the music world with her outstanding talent and infectious personality. She is the first saxophone player to sign an exclusive recording deal with Decca Classics and has already released a series of digital singles on the label.

Jess first caught the public eye during BBC Young Musician 2016 when, at the age of 17, she made history as the first saxophonist to reach the final of the competition. She made her BBC Proms debut at the Royal Albert Hall in 2017 and returned the following year as part of the BBC Young Musician 40th Anniversary Prom. She also performed at Proms in the Park in Hyde Park before dashing across to the Royal Albert Hall to perform in the Last Night of the Proms.

Jess’ concert career continues to go from strength to strength. She started 2019 by making her US debut in Washington DC and was also named one of WQXR’s ‘19 for 19’ Artists to Watch, playing at the launch event in New York. Her international dates include performances with Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (Sweden), L’Auditori Barcelona (Spain), Argovia Philharmonic (Switzerland), Tampere Philharmonic (Finland) and the Lucerne Festival. She also appears extensively in recital throughout the UK and performs with orchestras including the BBC Philharmonic, BBC Concert Orchestra, Royal Northern Sinfonia and Manchester Camerata. She is a champion of new music for saxophone and there will be a number of new commissions written for her over the coming years.

Hooked on saxophone from a young age, Jess is keen to give people from all backgrounds access to classical music and has set up her own concert series in Ulverston, bringing world-renowned musicians from across the world to her hometown. She is also a patron for Awards for Young Musicians, a charity which offers promising young performers support to progress their musical talent. Jess continues to be mentored by internationally-renowned saxophonist and producer John Harle.

Jess talks eloquently about music and has already made a number of high profile media appearances in the UK. She contributes to programming and presenting on TV and radio, and hosts the BBC Young Musician podcast alongside bassist Sam Becker and pianist Zeynep Özsuca. She also featured in a TV documentary celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the BBC Young Musician competition. Throughout the 2018 Proms season, Jess appeared in a weekly slot on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme alongside broadcaster James Naughtie, and she has presented an episode of Saturday Classics on BBC Radio 3.

A free spirit in style and character, Jess Gillam is constantly seeking new opportunities for the saxophone and is always pushing musical boundaries. With her debut album ‘Rise’, there looks to be no stopping this bright and adventurous young musician as she reaches the latest milestone in her flourishing career.

Rise track listing:

  1. Pedro Iturralde – Pequeña Czarda
  2. Kate Bush – This Woman’s Work *
  3. Alessandro Marcello – Adagio (from Oboe Concerto in D Minor) *
  4. Darius Milhaud – Brazileira (from Scaramouche)
  5. John Williams – Escapades I. Closing In (From Catch Me If You Can) *
  6. Michael Nyman – If (from The Diary of Anne Frank) *
  7. John Harle – RANT! *
  8. David Bowie – Where Are We Now? *
  9. Kurt Weill – Je ne t’aime pas
  10. John Dowland – Flow, my tears (feat. MILOŠ)
  11. Rudy Wiedoeft – Valse vanité
  12. Dmitri Shostakovich – Waltz No.2 (from Jazz Suite No.2)
  13. Trad. – Dark Eyes
  14. BONUS: Francis Lai – Theme from Love Story

* BBC Concert Orchestra play on the following tracks: 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8

Click here for a copy of this press release.