Concordia University

Wray Downes

Part-time Instructor, Music


Born in Toronto, Wray Downes was the first Canadian to receive the British Empire
Scholarship to the Trinity College of Music in London England. He studied there with
Kinloch Anderson and at the Paris Conservatory with Lazare Lévy and Henri Lauth.
Turning in 1953 to jazz, Downes studied harmony with Dizzy Gillespie and worked until
1956 in Europe with such leading US musicians as Sidney Bechet, Buck Clayton, and
Bill Coleman. He later studied piano with Oscar Peterson and composition with Neil
Chotem in Montreal, and attended Peterson's Advanced School of Contemporary Music
in Toronto.
He worked for CBC TV as music director in Halifax ('Music Hop' 1965-6), St. John's and
other Newfoundland centers, and Ottawa ('Segué' 1969). In Toronto he was music
director 1966-8 in turn for CBC TV's 'Show of Shows' and 'Umbrella.
Downes served as a sideman to US jazz musicians at the Town Tavern (1960s),
Bourbon Street (1970s, 1980s) and elsewhere. In the latter capacity he accompanied
Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Buddy Tate, Clark Terry, Eddie (Cleanhead) Vinson,
Lester Young, and Ben Webster. He toured in the USA with Terry in 1980. Downes' duo
with the bassist Dave Young, established in 1976, has toured Canada several times.
Downes has also worked over the years with the Archie Alleyne-Frank Wright Quartet,
Moe Koffman, the drummer Pete Magadini, the saxophonist Don Thompson, etc.
In 1990 he began teaching jazz piano at Concordia University and in 1994 at McGill
University. He has been featured on several Sackville recordings, released a CD under
his name with Justin Times and in 2008 released a CD entitled Eclipse with singer
Madeleine Thériault.
His forceful, vigorously physical style allies to the Peterson influence a strong grounding
in bebop and a deep feeling for the blues.

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