Kenneth Wilkinson trained as a classical clarinettist at the Leeds Conservatoire, at the same time pursuing his love of jazz as a jazz saxophonist. After graduation he embarked on what might now be called a 'portfolio' career.
The classical side of his playing career involved solo recitals, performing with wind quintets and touring with opera companies; the well trodden route of most classical musicians. He joined the National Festival Orchestra, staying with that ensemble for twenty-seven years, playing regularly at major venues in the UK (including the Royal Albert Hall, Birmingham Symphony Hall, Manchester Bridgewater Hall, Philharmonic Hall, The Sage and Sheffield Arena). He has performed numerous times at the Edinburgh Festival, the Bromsgrove Festival, the Buxton International G&S Festival, and in the Opera in the Park series.
His fascination with jazz led to the pursuit of various projects alongside his classical performance work: leading a jazz quartet based on the work of the jazz clarinettist Buddy DeFranco, travelling across Europe as the alto saxophone player in the Without Words big band, and numerous performances collaborating with various jazz ensembles.
The commercial side to his career involved many hours sitting in studios playing whatever was placed in front of him, usually involving the entire saxophone family, clarinets, flutes and piccolo. Kenneth has recorded performances on the BBC, ITV and German (Nordrhein-Westfalen) television networks, and also on BBC Radio. He spent more time than he should have working in theatre orchestras around the UK (including 'The Good Old Days' theatre the City Varieties, and the London Palladium), also working with dance and drama companies including the Northern Dance Company.
He has recorded nine CDs of various genres, and worked with luminaries such as Lesley Garrett CBE and Sir Tim Rice. His recordings range from small jazz ensembles to orchestral recordings; a diverse collection of projects ranging from Bellas: a new musical theatre show, to the saxophonist on Authority (2017) by the band Mothlights. One of his most recent recordings is Nine Pieces for Five Players (2020) by saxophonist and composer Richard Ingham.
In 2012 Kenneth decided upon a complete change of direction with a view to focusing on classical saxophone. He joined the University of Huddersfield to undertake a degree in performance. He graduated with a First Class honours degree in Music Performance and Composition, also being awarded the Chancellor’s Prize for outstanding achievement, the William’s Prize for Woodwind Performance, and the Markham Award for outstanding saxophone student. During his time at the University of Huddersfield Kenneth began composing for saxophone, encouraged and inspired by Dr Richard Glover and Dr Bryn Harrison.
He went on to complete a Masters by Research degree (music), investigating the 'shared imaginings' of composers and performers. This included discussions of notational prescription and the communication of musical imagery between composer and performer, with a focus on French classical saxophone.
His new musical direction led him to perform numerous times in the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (HMCF), working with James Weekes (EXAUDI), Antoine Beuger (Wandelweiser group), Philip Corner (composer), and the Edges ensemble. He was also a member of Simon Fell's Elastic Grid Ensemble, a free improvisation group.
His renaissance continues as he focuses on saxophone performance and composition. He performs regularly, including recent recitals at the World Saxophone Congress in 2015 (Strasbourg), 2018 (Croatia), the Swindon Recital Series, and at the Greek International Saxophone Festival (2018). Kenneth’s compositions are performed internationally, including performances at the World Saxophone Congress, University Purdue Fort Wayne USA, University of Huddersfield and the Royal College of Music (London). He is a founder member of Quirk: an ensemble that explores French classical saxophone, contemporary music, jazz, and the fusion of those genres. Quirk consists of a duo (Sarah Markham and Kenneth), a quartet (adding Sarah Hind on baritone and Chris Jolly on tenor), and a quintet (featuring a guest soloist).