Interview: Kit Downes

Kit Downes may not have won the Mercury but for the musician, who grew up in Norwich, it was being there that counted. ABIGAIL SALTMARSH reports.

When it comes to the Mercury Prize, the victory isn't in the winning it's in the nomination, according to Norwich jazz man Kit Downes.

The 24 year-old and his trio were among the contenders for the coveted prize and found out last week that they had lost out to The xx.

'The music we play is one of the few non-commercial markets – you just don't get the saleability or marketability that you get with other types of music. What is important for us is to be cutting edge and progressive,' he said.

'With that in mind, it is nice to have the opportunity to market your music to more people, which is not something we would even consider when actually making the music.

'But being nominated for The Mercury has done that. The award incorporates lots of different things but is still very media driven and what it does very effectively is to bring a spotlight, through its nomination process, on to artists who would not normally be recognised.

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'Really, the victory is in the nomination process and the fact that we all have good fun listening to each other.'

Kit, who was born in Norwich, and brought up in Wicklewood, and then in the city, discovered his love of music while at school.

'I went to the Norwich School and really got into it when I joined the Cathedral choir and was singing six days a week. I heard a lot of organ music too at that time and then learned to play it myself,' he remembered

'When my mother heard me starting to improvise, she bought me an Oscar Peterson CD.'

He went on to study at the Purcell School of Music and the Royal Academy of Music, before exploding on to the British jazz scene playing with the band Empirical, which took him through Europe and America, and saw the release of a self-titled album was produced by British jazz legend Courtney Pine.

Kit later played with Troyka, Fraud and Acoustic Ladyland before forming his own trio in 2005. The band, which also features two of his Royal Academy colleagues, Calum Gourlay, on bass, and James Maddren, on drums, has always been interested in making its music accessible, while not sacrificing any of its intellect, said Kit.

Their music concentrates on walking the fine line between improvisation and composition through an eclectic mix of influences.

'With a piano bass and drums, we have a traditional jazz line-up and I guess that what we play is jazz in the sense that we improvise.

'But we do have a lot of influences, including classical music, and what we do is quite eclectic,' he said.

And those influences range from Bela Bartok to Rufus Wainwright, he added.

Although still only 24, Kit has already achieved a significant number of successes. He won the BBC Rising Star Award in 2008 and was nominated for a British Jazz Award in both 2008 and 2009. He also won one of Yamaha Jazz Scolarship Awards in 2009.

He has performed at the London Jazz Festival, Ronnie Scott's British Jazz Festival, the Glasgow Jazz Festival, the Cheltenham Jazz Festival and on a BBC Radio 3 live broadcast.

In November, 2009, the Kit Downes Trio released their first album, Golden, on Basho Records, for which they received the Mercury nomination.

Now they are working on a second one, which has the working title of Quiet Tiger, due to be released in April.

'I only want to make short goals for myself at the moment,' said Kit. 'I want to make the most of any opportunities that come my way, making sure the album and everything that goes with it goes well.'

And he added: 'I do get back to Norfolk from time to time, to see my parents who live at Sea Palling now. And I will be coming back to play at the Norwich Arts Centre next April.'

The Kit Downes Trio play Norwich Arts Centre on April 6, 2011.

Golden is out now.

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