Bob Downes

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Bob Downes (born 22 July 1937 in Plymouth) is a Composer, Musician, Arranger, Songwriter, Jazz -Rock & Blues Singer (but also composes and plays meditative music). He plays about 25 instruments (his main instruments are Saxes and Flutes).

His first LP was released with Philips Records, 1969.

He was voted N°1 Jazz flautist, formed various music ensembles and also was the first to create his own independent Record Label "Openian". He played with “The John Barry 7” band (James Bond Film composer), Pop Singer Chris Andrews, "Manfred Mann’s Earth Band" and with the Jimmy Nicol Band (Stand-in Drummer of the Beatles). In 1968 Bob formed his OPEN MUSIC TRIO. Bass players that played in it were Barry Guy, Barre Philips, Jeff Clyne, Daryl Runswick, Paul Bridge, Harry Miller, Marc Meggido. Recently: Andy Cleyndert and Glen Moore.

Bob played and recorded with Ray Russell's Rock Workshop (whose artist's name by the way, was created for him by Bob), and singers such as Elke Brooks, Alex Harvey and Julie Driscoll.

In the 70..s Bob was a member of Barry Guy's London Jazz Composers Orchestra.

He also played with the Mike Westbrook Band and the Keith Tippett Band.

Bob Downes had and still has world-wide success in composing for modern dance, for example: The Royal Ballet, The London Contemporary Dance Theatre (with whom he composed and played live with between 1972 / 82) Ballet Rambert, Dance Theatre of Harlem (N.Y.), The Royal Canadian Ballet, Australian Dance Company, Miami World Ballet, Komische Oper Berlin, Staatstheater Stuttgart, Hongkong Ballet. He also composed for the Cambridge Theatre Company. He also composed for and performed with the Swiss mime group “Mummenschanz” for T.V. Productions.

Bob Downes has performed as a highlight on Poet festivals in Amsterdam, Paris and Rome with poets like William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Some outstanding recordings: On Diversions Downes played concert, alto & Chinese bamboo flutes, and tenor sax. Five of the eight pieces are trios with double bass (Barry Guy and Jeff Clyne) and drums (Denis Smith). The other three pieces are solos: on "Samurai" Downes played concert and alto flutes into a piano with the sustain pedal pressed down to give a tuned resonance, and on "The Dream" a slow disjunct melody reminiscent of the interwar Viennese school on concert flute over an eerie white noise rich VCS3 synthesiser soundscape played by Laurie Baker. The trios have the texture of (then) modern jazz, but the improvisation is melodic rather than harmonic and both the flute and (particularly Barry Guy's) double bass veer off into European Classical avant garde territory. In 2007 Diversions was re-released by Vocalion.

Hells Angels, on its original LP release, had a long big-band piece on side one (the title track), with a set of trio pieces on side 2. Downes plays mainly sax on this record (tenor and alto). The most striking piece on the record is the last track, "Blue Sheets": he plays alto over a four-note double bass loop and cymbal pulse in a spacious field of reverb and, building patterns from only a handful of notes, produces a beautiful and hauntingly atmospheric motific miniature.

After moving to Germany in the late 1970s, Downes released several further records, including Solos (c. 1984), an LP of solo flute improvisations (concert, alto and bass) set in a spacious natural reverb - picking up on the basic idea of "Blue Sheets" and "The Dream". The second side of the LP had a series of metrical riff pieces for bass flute where Downes used overblowing and articulation to change the harmonic content and timbre of the loops - an approach similar in effect to the use of dynamic filter changes in more recent sequenced electronic music.

Bob Downes & The Alphorn Brothers - Now who on Earth would think of the Alphorn, an instrument with a limited range of natural tones used in ancient times “for communication in most mountainous regions of Europe, from the French Alps to the Carpathians” (Wikipedia) in a jazz context? After all the answer is not that astonishing – Bob Downes. And with this project it is the composer Downes we have to admire before anything else. To write for three somewhat clumsy, over-sized open wood pipes with no lateral openings to finger out more tones set against a set of sophisticated saxophones, flutes and the human voice asks for a thorough analysis of what the material at hand can actually be utilized for, and on 'Pink Elephants' the three alphorns even venture into free jazz.



  1. ^ Carr, Ian; Digby Fairweather; Brian Priestley (1995). Jazz: The Rough Guide. The Rough Guides. p. 179. ISBN 1-85828-137-7. 

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