Karen Street is one of the UK’s most well known and respected accordionists, she is also highly regarded as a saxophonist and as a composer for both instruments.
Although she has a background in classical music she branched out into jazz and other genres early in her career and is now a highly accomplished and experienced musician. Her passion has always been to challenge people’s preconceptions of the much maligned accordion.
An Experienced Performer
Karen has played with a host of other well known performers, including Bryan Ferry, Ute Lemper, Grace Jones, Martha Wainwright, Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli. Also with institutions such as The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, The London Symphony Orchestra, The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, The RTE Orchestra, The Royal Opera House, Welsh National Opera, Opera North, The English Touring Opera, The Nash Ensemble, Chroma Ensemble, Icebreaker, the Matrix Ensemble with Willard White, Royal Shakespeare Company and Ballet Rambert, alongside many west end shows.
Karen was a member of the Strictly Come Dancing Live Tour band for three seasons and she is also called upon for many radio and film sessions.
Karen started to play the accordion at the age of seven and soon joined the local accordion band in Burton on Trent, Staffordshire. This proved a great musical grounding as the band performed all kinds of music; from classical transcriptions to arrangements of popular tunes. As a child she won many prizes on the accordion competition scene and was encouraged to play other instruments including the clarinet, piano and saxophone.
She went on to study music at Bath University, and although a first study clarinetist, she performed her final recital on the classical free bass accordion, becoming one of the first accordionists in the country to do so. She continued her accordion studies with Mario Conway at the Welsh College of Music and Drama and became the British Virtuoso Champion in 1981/2 competing in the Coupe Mondiale (World Championship) in Hamburg and Folkstone.
A move to London followed where she studied with the late Ivor Beynon, a pioneer of the classical accordion. During this time she entered the Royal Overseas League music competition but with no category for the accordion they created a special prize to recognise her success. In 2004 she was invited to play at the prestigious Chartres International Accordion Festival alongside accordionists from all over the world.
An invitation from Mike Westbrook to join his band on saxophone and accordion performing ‘Big Band Rossini’ developed Karen’s interest in jazz. Being thrown in among the cream of British jazz players proved both hugely challenging and extremely influential and she has since been involved in many of Mike Westbrook’s projects including ‘Bar Utopia’, ‘Platterback’, the Najinska Chamber’ a duo with Kate Westbrook and, most recently, a reworking of ‘Glad Day’.
Her interest was such that she returned to education completing a Post Graduate Jazz course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Here she became involved in Tim Garland’s ‘Lammas’ and in his "Made by Walking" project playing alongside Geoff Keeser, Joe Locke and Avishai Cohen. This led to other work with Phil Robson, Steve Arguelles, Martha Lewis, Julie Sassoon, Nikki Iles, Tina May and Martin Taylor. In July 2019 she appeared with the Ronnie Scott Jazz Orchestra performing the music of Maria Schneider.
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