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Kit Downes

17 January 2005 1322 GMT

Jazz Tête-à-tête

Talented jazz pianist Kit Downes has performed a special concert to help raise funds for Norwich Cathedral, the spiritual birthplace of his interest in music.

Former Norwich Cathedral chorister Kit Downes teamed up with fellow young musicians to host a fund-raising jazz concert to help build a new song school for the present day choir.

We caught up with him before the big event.

Kit, aged 18, was part of the cathedral choir before leaving Norwich to further his musical studies at Hertfordshire's Purcell School.

"I was a chorister from around 9 to 12 years old and that's was really what got me into music," he said.

"Michael Nicholas, who was the director at the time, kindly let me in with my awful voice. From there I learnt about sight reading, ensemble playing and all the basics of musical understanding.

"That paved the way for me to start jazz and improvisation, which eventually led me to going to Purcell," he added.

The line-up

Kit and 18-year-old saxophonist George Crowley will bring together a six-strong jazz band for the concert to raise funds for the cathedral's £10m Inspiration For The Future project.

They'll be joined by drummer Josh Blackmore, bassist Luke Hellebronth, percussionist Paul Gregory and trumpeter Freddie Gavita, who is the second ex-cathedral chorister in the line-up.

"Freddie and I were cathedral choristers so we're all aware of the need to raise funds," said Kit.

"We thought this would be a nice way to get all the people we know from the cathedral together and raise some money in the process."

Apart from Josh, the musicians all come from Norwich, and previously played together in the Norwich Students' Jazz Orchestra.

The gig is billed as an evening of jazz and promises a wide range of works from many composers.

"It's deceivingly billed as Jazz Tête-à-tête. It could come across as cabaret or show tunes, but it's not just that," said Kit.

"It's got show tunes in it, but that's not all it is at all. The fact it's played by young people stops that straight away as you tend to reflect the music you grow up with.

"As 18-year-old boys we've grown up with lots of different things than just show tunes.

"We'll be bringing things into the mix like Otis Reading, Booker T and the MGs, along with jazz standards including works from composers John Pattituci, Jimmy Van Huesen and Dave Douglas," he added.

Kit Downes
Kit Downes talks to Martin Barber and performs extracts from Jazz Tête-à-tête

Farewell gig

Kit has performed at numerous private functions in Norfolk, but this is the first major public engagement for the band and possibly their last.

The gig is likely to be an emotional evening as it is something of a farewell gig for the six friends.

"It's a real last thing. We're the first people of our generation in Norwich to play jazz, through the students' jazz orchestra which is where we all started," said Kit.

"We've all grown up playing together around Norwich, but now we're all going off to our separate music colleges, this will probably be the last time this line-up plays.

"It's especially poignant because George is going off to Cambridge do a completely different subject.

"I'm sure it won't be the last jazz he plays, but it's probably the last time he'll play with us lot. It will be quite emotional, but fun at the same time."

Reality TV

But for a young musician working hard at his craft, what does Kit think of the wave of reality music shows like the X-Factor and Fame Academy that thrust the competitors into the limelight?

"It's all a game, isn't it. Fair enough, if people want to make that kind of music. It's not what I'm into.

"Often the success that follows causes much more damage than it would ever do good.

"One thing I learnt from my summer, which I spent with many great musicians, was that you don't have to be well-known to be successful.

Caroline, Alistair and Alex from Fame Academy 2003
Reality pop stars? Caroline, Alistair and Alex from the Fame Academy class of 2003

"You don't have to be well-known to be influential - it's just depends on the connections you forge and it's just as much about the person as the music itself.

"When you get thrust up on a pedestal like these reality TV shows, you get very little time to have something to say for yourself and let your music speak - it [the music] becomes irrelevant after a while, but that's just my opinion," he added.

Kit and the future

Since performing at last year's Norfolk and Norwich Festival, Kit has been working hard on his studies to secure a place at the coveted Royal Academy of Music.

After finishing his A-levels this summer, he begins his course at the academy in September.

"They've offered me a place on the four-year undergrad course which will be amazing. I'm thrilled," he said.

"After that - you cross your fingers and hope somebody will give you some work and you can afford to live as is the musician's life," he added.

Jazz Tête-à-tête featuring Kit Downes took place at The Playhouse, Norwich, on Thursday 13 January, 2005.

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Kit Downes plays at Norfolk & Norwich Festival '04

Alistair Griffin on BBC Radio Norfolk

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Cloisters at Norwich Cathedral by Alois Kaelin
Stained glass window by Alois Kaelin
Norwich Cathedral spire

Kit Downes talks to Martin Barber and performs extracts from Jazz Tête-à-tête

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