Poster Organist Kit Downes
Kit Downes will be making his Minnesota debut at St. Olaf Catholic Church on June 30.
Alex Bonney

Jazz organist Kit Downes makes his Minnesota debut

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I'm always on the lookout for interesting ways in which the pipe organ reveals its many possible personalities and I happened upon an ECM Records release featuring a young British keyboard player named Kit Downes, who has been making quite a name for himself in jazz circles internationally in recent years. Though Kit has been involved primarily as a pianist, he played the organ as a youngster, and 'rediscovered' it in a project for ECM which caught my ear.

One thing led to another, and Kit Downes will make his Minnesota debut as an organist playing at St. Olaf Catholic Church (215 South Eight Street) in the heart of downtown Minneapolis, on Sunday, June 30, 2019 at 7 p.m. The organ at St. Olaf, built by the east-coast firm of Lively-Fulcher, with 55 ranks of pipes, though capable of a huge, powerful sound, also features many lovely individual voices which, under Kit's hands, will take on new characters.

The interesting back-story, as detailed by Steve Lake in his notes for the ECM album, reveals that Kit Downes grew up singing in the choir at Norwich Cathedral in England, took organ lessons there, and even played occasionally for services where his ability to improvise hymn accompaniments fit right in. That was until he discovered an Oscar Peterson LP that led him into 'jazz', the direction in which he has been travelling for much of the past decade. Kit has earned a BBC Jazz Award and was twice nominated in the Rising Star category of Downbeat Magazine, all for his work as a pianist.

But Kit returned to the pipe organ in some experimental projects with a saxophone-playing colleague, and became again fascinated with the organ's non-traditional potential, particularly in the blending of individual stops in more intricate, intimate ways. On his ECM album, "Obsidian", he uses three quite different pipe organs. One, made by his father Paul Downes, allowed him control over the wind pressure and made possible a manipulation of the pipe's tone quality — not possible on the instrument Kit will play in Minneapolis. But the other featured instruments, including a large Father Willis organ at London's Union Chapel, proved adaptable to the nuanced phrases and carefully chosen colors that characterize all of Kit's performances, and similar resources will be beautifully revealed via the Lively-Fulcher's tone palette in Minneapolis.

The program, co-sponsored by St. Olaf Church and American Public Media's PIPEDREAMS, is the final event in the celebrations of Michael Barone's 50 year at Minnesota Public Radio and the 35th anniversary of continuous national syndication of PIPEDREAMS. The program is open to all, with free admission/donation.

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