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29 October 2014
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Picture: Kit Downes 09 August 2004 1709 BST

Kit Downes

A member of the Royal Academy Junior Jazz Ensemble, 18-year-old pianist Kit Downes is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with in the world of jazz music.

Kit Downes didn't start playing the piano until he was 10 years old.

After playing through the works of Bach and Beethoven, it was whilst listening to a CD by the great jazz pianist Oscar Peterson that inspiration struck.

Now a student at The Purcell School Of Music in London, Kit has performed on the South Bank, at the Royal Albert Hall and in Covent Garden.

Closer to his Norfolk home, Kit has also performed extensively in the county with gigs at the John Innes Centre, The King of Hearts, St Andrew's Hall and the Assembly House.

Kit will be showcasing his skills as a solo pianist with a concert during the Norfolk and Norwich Festival 2004. He's been speaking to BBC Norfolk's Stephen Bumfrey.

SB: Is playing the piano something you need a great deal of discipline for?

KD: I probably should have a lot of discipline. [laughs] But, yeah. It helps a lot.

If you really love it you listen to a lot and you transcribe a lot. If you like it, then it makes it much easier.

SB: Is 10 a late start for playing the piano?

KD: At the school I go to in London, a lot of the people there have been playing since they were a foetus. [laughs]

There are some just absolute wizards who are about six years old, so yeah, I guess 10 is quite old.

I've only been playing jazz for about three years. I wasn't so serious about the piano before then. Previously I was playing classical piano and cello, particularly badly I might add. [laughs]

The cello was one of my favourite instruments, but sadly I massacred everything that I played on it.

SB: So what finally drew you to the piano?

KD: I started listening to an Oscar Peterson album. I listen to it and tried to emulate some of the stuff I heard on it, doing it by ear.

Gradually my ear got better, my tastes developed to include jazz musicians Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett and I really started to love it.

SB: What will you be performing during your solo gig at the festival?

KD: I'll be doing some popular stuff and some not so well known - including Nardis by Bill Evans and they'll be a great township song that I got from one of my friends at school.

Listen to Kit in action and get a quick music lesson

SB: Do you have to look after your hands?

KD: Yeah, you definitely have to keep your fingers in good nick.

I try and keep my hands warm before playing and I've got a pair of fingerless mittens. It sounds a bit pre-madonnaish, but it makes a difference when you get up.

If you've got freezing cold hands, as well as being physically disadvantageous, it's actually quite demoralising too as you can't play what you want and it gets really frustrating.

One of the stupidest things I ever done, I was playing a cricket match on a Saturday before a concert at The Festival Hall on the Sunday.

I play wicket keeper and I managed to fracture my little fingers so I really struggled through the whole gig!

SB: You've performed in many of the top venues in London...

KD: Well, I've played in them - but I haven't played what I want to play in them yet.

It's an amazing opportunity to play in places like say Covent Garden, but the stuff I've been playing is very much through school and stuff I've been prepared to play.

What I'd really love to do is just go there with a programme of my own, but that's the kind of stuff that you work 60 years to get. [laughs]

SB: I think you're being very modest. What about other musicians. Are you all of the same mentality or some people very, very different?

KD: [laughs] I'm one of four jazz musicians at my school, were' not very many in number. The rest are all classical musicians.

I'm not trying to stereotype between classical and jazz, it's the same music with a different label - but some of the people performing classical, sometimes because they've been living with praise all their lives - especially some from countries without top flight musicians - they end up perhaps being a bit too forward sometimes.

SB: Very discretely put. So, big ambitions - you've already said you want to be in a concert hall with your own programme, where would that be?

KD: My ultimate dream would be to play the Barbican with a jazz trio, but I'm quite happy to be living in a scummy flat playing jazz venues for the rest of my life in London.

I know it sounds a bit naff, but I am quite happy doing it. I'm sure when I get a family and I'll need some money, things will change.

Graphic: Don't miss

Read more about the Norfolk and Norwich Festival

Archive: Guy Johnston

BBC Blast: Music

Graphic: Internet links

Norfolk & Norwich Festival

Oscar Peterson website


BBC Music: Jazz


Royal Academy of Music: Junior Academy

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

Picture: Kit Downes.

Picture: Kit Downes.

Picture: Kit Downes.

Hear Kit in action as he performs extracts from his solo concert during the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, not to mention giving Stephen a quick music lesson!

Kit Downes talks and plays for BBC Norfolk

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