After graduating in composition at the Royal Northern College of Music, Karen discovered a love of jazz and was inspired to play the tenor sax by two giants of improvisation - Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins.
On relocating to London in 2000, Karen's career took off when she was asked to join Humphrey Lyttelton's band with whom she toured the UK and Europe for four years. During this period Karen also worked hard to establish her own band, recording the first of five albums under her own name and touring at festivals and jazz clubs. She has also toured extensively as a 'side man' with some wonderful musicians that include Tina May, Nikki Iles, Esther Miller, Jeremy Pelt, and Alan Barnes, and as a soloist working alongside Warren Vache and Harry Allen. Highlights include the Ginza Festival in Tokyo in 2006, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival and the Singapore International Jazz Festival in 2013. Karen has also performed and recorded with numerous top musicians closer to home such as John Dankworth, Mark Nightingale, Jacqui Dankworth, Ken Peplowski, Howard Alden and Scott Hamilton.
A busy and popular musician with an accessible yet distinctive style, Karen has won the tenor saxophone category of the British Jazz Awards on numerous occasions. She tours regularly with her quartet which features Nikki Iles, Dave Green and Steve Brown and she plays with numerous larger ensembles including Robert Fowler's 'Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band', Steve Waterman's Big Band and the Stan Tracey Big Band.
2015 began with a recording of Barnes/O'Higgins and the Sax Section's "Oh Gee", a project for five saxophones. During the summer Karen played with Guy Barker's big band and Clare Teal as part of the BBC Proms Season, and just last month she recorded Alan Barnes' 'A Christmas Carol', a brand new project to be toured this Christmas, in which Karen plays the part of 'Tiny Tim'!