L’universo segreto di Bob Downes   di Claudio Bonomi

 
How did you develop your personal style of playing? I mean  you started playing with John Barry 7 and with pop singers/combo like Chris Andrews and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band but, I think you wanted quickly to move to “high culture” jazz and avantgarde territory...
I think much of my personal style is partly due to never having really exersised music scales and arpeggios which can be detected in most jazz musician's playing. I abhor them!  Kathy Berberian's unorthodox use of the voice of whom I saw “live” a couple of times in London, inspired me to use my voice in a similar way but simultaniously playing the flute. I also like to sing and hum whilst playing, not just in unison, but in harmony above or below the tones that I play, or hold a tone with the voice and play various tones on the flute at the same time and vica versa. But I like it all to have some meaning and not just effect. I think the flute more than any other instrument can give a person  the opportunity for a vast exploration of  expression. Recently I made an adaption to the bassflute by replacing the foot joint with the "U" bend of my contrabassflute and putting a cork in the end.This produces a tone far below the usual range.Then I did the same with the contrabassflute. You won't believe what the result of that is! Of course with changing the flutes in this way I'm missing several tones which are usually there, but it hasn't turned out to be a problem that I can't overcome. I can well understand, if from what I've just said, you might think that what I play sound very abstract and experimental, but on the contrary, it is very jazzy, rhythmic, blues like and sometimes "straight ahead". Now, regarding the pop scene. It was most enjoyable playing with the "John Barry 7". I liked the themes and arrangements. The “front line up” was trumpet, tenor sax and bari sax, a nice texture and colour combination. It was fun also working with Chris Andrews because Chris sang the blues real good. But what we played "live" was very much different to what the record buying public knew him for. We'd get his pop hit Yesterday Man over with early in the performance to satisfy the fans and then get "down to it". Almost every piece we played was based on a 12 bar blues and very riff like..and I had ample opportunity for solos… 
"The Earth Band" wasn't my scene, I dug Manfred's playing, but that mindless predictable rigid drumming bored me. My heart of course had belonged to jazz from the very first moment I began playing tenor sax. I had no previous knowledge of music but started improvising and composing with the sax from "day one" and even made up my own notation for the first week or so until I got down to learning to read music. Anyway I felt like a break was needed from the pop scene and actually went into the night club scene for a couple of years working in 2 different venues nightly, 6 days a week from 9 pm - 4.30 am with just a 1 hour pause. Sometimes we even played at a hotel on a Sunday but only at these gigs for something like two 1 hour spots. It felt like being on holiday compared to the night club gig.

 

 
My "big break" came unexpected with a commission from the Ballet Rambert. From then on I was able to concentrate totally on my musical activities and so I was able to pack up the night club scene. The year was 1969.

In the Seventies you have been always interested in many different kind of music: jazz, rock, contemporary, classical, electronic, oriental and so on. It seems that you have always tried to expand your spectrum of influences. 
Can you speak about your main sources of inspiration (Ornette Coleman, Severino Gazzelloni, Roland Kirk etc.)?

Miles Davis lp's of the late 50's were a big inspiration to me. I paid more attention to what he was “putting down” even though Coltrane was on the same album. I liked the Stan Kenton Orchestra but one day, I was only about 19 years of age at the time and living at home, my mother mentioned how the music depressed her, so rather than be tempted to play them while she was in earshot. 
I threw them all in the dustbin. I liked Ornette's playing but all of my jazzfan friends didn't, making stupid comments as to how he couldn't play, but that didn't deter me. At this time I heard Sonny Rollins' tune Doxy which was on an ep record. I was "caught". A few years later I heard Kirk on record and loved that nose whistle he  blew at the end of his solo statements. Compositionally perfect! In contrast I liked listening to composers such as Petrassi, Debussy and Penderecki. By the way it was John Stevens who called by with a Gazzelloni lp for me to listen to. And I did! Fascinating! 

Despite your various collaborations with a lot of musicians and composers of the British scene (Guy, Tippett, Westbrook, Russell etc.) you have always preferred to stay a bit apart from the emerging British jazz circuit and to follow your own way. Do you agree?
The jazz scene at the time fell pretty much into two categories. Bands that either played only “standards” or only “free jazz”. I was outside both of them. 
I don't dislike standards, in fact I admire most of them, especially remembering my mother singing Body and Soul, The man I love, Summertime and many others. But I don't like to be "controled" with improvising on AABA-formats.What annoys me is that jazz groups first state the theme and then ramble off into improvisations that bear no connection with it any further. Of course there are elements of free jazz in my music also. There were people that would ask me how much was improvisation and how much was composition in my solos. I like to think of what I do, when playing as "instant composition". 

Have you ever  played at the Old Place in London or at the Little Theatre Club in London?
Yes, a few times, but I needed to be apart from it and delve more into what I was searching for and not get “side tracked” by other forms of music that was going on.

 
 Interview (engl)   Interview (engl) 3