Norma Winstone & Kit Downes

Norma Winstone & Kit Downes




New Album: Norma Winstone & Kit Downes – OUTPOST OF DREAMS
(Release: July 5, 2024)

On Tour – available dates

Concert requests possible for 2024 and the first half of 2025

Norma Winstone & Kit Downes

Her first ECM recording in six years finds Norma Winstone in a new duo with pianist Kit Downes. A unique artist as both jazz vocalist and lyricist, here Norma brings her poetic sensibilities to new pieces by Downes as well as compositions by Carla Bley, Ralph Towner, and John Taylor. The programme is completed with fresh perspectives on two traditional tunes, “Black Is The Colour” and “Rowing Home.”

The duo, Norma says, was “a chance thing”, a musical unit formed almost accidentally. Winstone’s regular pianist for work in Britain, Nikki Iles, was unavailable for a gig in London, “so I booked Kit. I’d never played with him before. And of course, he could play everything immediately, and amazingly. So we did a few more concerts, and I found I responded to the sense of adventure in his playing. You never know quite what is going to happen, and I love that quality.” When London Jazz News collected a round-up of greetings for Norma’s 80th birthday, she recalls, Downes wrote: “Can’t wait to jump off musical cliffs together again in the near future.” She laughs: “That’s the way we both think of it. We’ll see where the project takes us. “ For Winstone, adding words to music has most often been a matter of living with a composition until it yields up its inner message. “I feel I’m looking for words that are already in the music. Always. That’s how I work. And if the words do come, it’s as if they were always there.”

Outpost of Dreams, recorded at Udine’s Artesuono Studio in April 2023, and mixed at Munich’s Bavaria Studio in January 2024, was produced by Manfred Eicher.

Biography Norma Winstone 

Norma Winstone was born in London and first attracted attention in the late sixties when she performed at Ronnie Scott’s Club with Roland Kirk. Although she was initially known for developing her own wordless approach to improvisation, her versatility means that she is also at home in the standard repertoire and performs with small groups, orchestras and big bands.

She has performed with Mike Westbrook and Michael Garrick, sung with John Surman, Kenny Wheeler, Mike Gibbs and John Taylor and worked extensively with many big European names and American guest musicians. In 1971 she was voted best female vocalist in the Melody Maker Jazz Poll and subsequently recorded her own album Edge of Time for Decca, which, although long since deleted, has now been re-released on CD by the Dusk Fire label. In the late seventies, together with pianist John Taylor and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, she founded the group Azimuth, described by Richard Williams of The Times as “one of the most imaginatively conceived and finely balanced contemporary chamber jazz groups”. Within this framework, she combines the instrumental use of the voice with lyrics, most of which she writes herself. Azimuth has recorded several albums on the ECM label (the first three of which have been re-released as a CD box set). Her CD How It Was Then… Never Again was released in May 1995 and received four stars in Down Beat Magazine. Her own legendary album Somewhere Called Home on the ECM label is widely regarded as a classic.

In recent years she has made a name for herself as an outstanding writer, penning lyrics to compositions by Ralph Towner and Brazilian composers Egberto Gismonti and Ivan Lins (who recorded her English lyrics to his song ‘Vieste’). She has a particular affinity with the music of Steve Swallow and has written lyrics to many of his compositions, most notably ‘Ladies in Mercedes’, which has become a standard. Her voice has become an important part of the sound of Kenny Wheeler’s big band and can be heard in this context on the ECM double CD Music for Large and Small Ensembles, which also features John Abercrombie, Dave Holland, Peter Erskine and John Taylor. Her CD Well Kept Secret, which she recorded with the legendary American pianist Jimmy Rowles, George Mraz on bass and Joe La Barbera on drums, was awarded four stars by Down Beat magazine. Here Norma sings a selection of rare jazz standards, including Jimmy’s famous piece “The Peacocks”, for which she wrote lyrics and renamed it “A Timeless Place”. This piece has since been recorded by other artists, including jazz singer Mark Murphy and the Swingle Singers.
A CD of duo performances with pianist John Taylor entitled Like Song, Like Weather on the Enodoc label was described by Don Heckman of the Los Angeles Times as “…an outstanding example of modern, imaginative, virtually indefinable singing”. With the American pianist Fred Hersch, she recorded a CD with Fred’s compositions and her lyrics: Songs and Lullabies, which is available in the USA on Sunnyside and in England on the Enodoc label. The violist Gary Burton makes a guest appearance on three tracks.

She was one of the stars of Gilles Peterson’s acclaimed programme “Jazz Britannia”, which was broadcast on BBC 2 at the Barbican and featured influential British jazz musicians from the sixties and seventies as well as contemporary jazz artists. With Italian pianist Glauco Venier and German saxophonist/bass clarinetist Klaus Gesing, she has recorded four albums for the ECM label, the first of which, Distances, was nominated for a Grammy. Her latest recording, Descansado, consists of new arrangements of film music and is accompanied by the Italian cellist Mario Brunello and the Norwegian percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken.

Biography Kit Downes

British pianist Kit Downes has been honoured with the BBC Jazz Award and nominated for the Mercury Music Award. The sensitive, versatile pianist and organist has written commissioned works for the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, the Cologne Philharmonic and the London Contemporary Orchestra. His musical world tours have taken him to the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, Lausanne Cathedral, the Royal Albert Hall in London, the Memorial Church in Berlin and St Olaf’s Minneapolis (USA).

He holds a scholarship from the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he studied and now teaches. He was twice awarded 1st place in the Downbeat Magazine Critics Poll in the categories Rising Star Organ and Keyboard, and his ECM records “Obsidian”, “Dreamlife of Debris” and “Vermillion” were highly praised by critics.

“One of the finest pianists of his generation” – Jazzwise

“Kit Downes is the most impressive jazz pianist from England since John Taylor.” (Hamburger Abendblatt)

In a duo with pianist Kit Downes, the great English jazz vocalist Norma Winstone sang her own pieces and others so delicately that the guest performance seemed at times like a classical song recital – only one with improvisation parts and songs from the jazz and folk repertoire.


Right now, she is at the peak of her form… there is no jazz singer in the country to touch her.


The exquisite conclusion to the Friday block was provided by the magnificent Norma Winstone, who celebrated a kind of classical song cycle in jazz guise with Kit Downes at the piano. With a timeless sense of phrasing, timing and the shaping of her lyrics, the singer laid bare the essence of the songs, which were written by Carla Bley, Ralph Towner, John Taylor and Downes himself, among others. The pianist’s accompaniment was as delicately restrained as his preludes, interludes and postludes were incisive. It was also marvellous to observe how he kept his hands ready for a final note or chord at some of the endings, only to simply play nothing more. The fine art of omission.


… also on the big theatre stage this duo spoiled the audience with sensitivity, timing and creative power.


Norma Winstone’s instrument: an unfettered intelligence spinning tales with language… or without