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Toronto-based Mike Downes has earned a reputation as one of Canada’s finest jazz artists. He has been active as a bassist, composer, arranger and educator in the Canadian music scene since the early 1980s.
His musicality, emotional depth and melodic approach to the bass have thrilled audiences throughout Europe, Japan, South Korea, Brazil, Mexico, Iceland, the United States and Canada. In addition to leading his own groups, Mike has performed with virtually all of Canada’s top jazz musicians, including Oliver Jones, Diana Krall, PJ Perry, Renee Rosnes, Don Thompson, Kirk MacDonald, Terry Clarke, Guido Basso and Pat LaBarbera. He has been in demand to perform with visiting jazz artists such as Chris Potter, Michael Brecker, John Abercrombie, Peter Erskine, Kenny Wheeler, John Taylor, Paquito D’Rivera, Dave Liebman, Billy Hart, Phil Woods and many others.
Mike’s extensive discography highlights his work as a bassist, composer and arranger. Recordings include Molly Johnson’s 2009 Juno award-winning Lucky and Juno-nominated recordings Lorne Lofsky’s Bill Please, Ranee Lee’s Dark Divas and Maple Groove and Molly Johnson’s Another Day and Messin’ Around.
He has released three recordings as a leader – Forces, Then and The Winds of Change.
Mike began playing bass at the age of eight, encouraged by his bass-playing father. He also played and studied trombone and piano and was quickly recognized as a upcoming talent. He began performing as a teenager in Winnipeg, Canada, where he played in diverse settings from rock bands to big bands and from corporate functions to television and radio shows. After being named “Jazz Musician of the Year” in Silver Heights Collegiate, a high school reputed for its music program, he was offered a full scholarship to study bass and trombone at St. F. X. University in Nova Scotia. After two years at St. F.X. he completed a Bachelor of Music degree at McGill University in Montreal. He was already balancing a professional career with his studies, missing the first three weeks of classes on a cross-Canada tour and performing regularly in Montreal.
After graduating he was awarded a Canada Council Grant to study with bassists Dave Holland and John Clayton. Mike moved to Toronto in 1990, and later completed a Masters degree in Music Composition at York University.
In 1994 Mike formed the Mike Downes Quartet, featuring saxophonist Phil Dwyer, pianist Dave Restivo and drummer Ted Warren. That group performed regularly in Toronto and recorded Forces in 1995.
As part of a cross-Canada tour the band recorded for two days in CBC studios in Winnipeg. That recording was later released as Then. In 2004 Mike’s trio recorded The Winds of Change. The recording, chosen as one of the year’s top CDs by Jazz FM features a heartfelt, spacious and melodic approach to trio playing from three of Canada’s top jazz musicians.
Helping to mentor and inspire young musicians is an important component of his career. He has been the Bass Department Head at prestigious Humber College in Toronto since 2000. He has also been featured as a Yamaha artist/clinician throughout Canada, at the Paekche Institute in Seoul, South Korea and the infamous Conservatoire de Paris. Mike is the author of The Jazz Bass Line Book published by Advance Music of Germany. The book is receiving world-wide acclaim as one of the most informative books available on the subject. He is also co-author of Jazz and Contemporary Music Theory.
He has been called “…one of Canada’s immensely talented young giants” (Jazz Report), “…as strong a player as he is a composer” (Calgary Herald), “…wonderfully resourceful… a huge tone and a prodigious technique” (Winnipeg Free Press), and that “…his time playing is delightfully inventive and his intonation is absolutely impeccable…his lines are clear, hip, and agile.” (Jazz Player).