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Sunshine of jazz dies at 71

PUBLISHED: 10:31 28 January 2010 | UPDATED: 17:33 25 August 2010

RHYTHM MAN: Geoff Down in the 60s.

RHYTHM MAN: Geoff Down in the 60s.

JAZZ players from across the UK and abroad have paid their respects to one of the genre s finest musicians. Geoff Down, of Eardley Road, Upper Belvedere, was one of the country s leading New Orleans-style traditional jazz drummers. Five band leaders, in

TRIBUTE: The Good Time Jazz Band with Sammy Rimington playing clarinet lead Mr Down’s funeral procession.

JAZZ players from across the UK and abroad have paid their respects to one of the genre's finest musicians.

Geoff Down, of Eardley Road, Upper Belvedere, was one of the country's leading New Orleans-style traditional jazz drummers.

Five band leaders, including Sammy Rimington, who flew in from Sweden, played at the head of the drummer's funeral procession to All Saints Church, Belvedere.

Mr Down played with the Monty Sunshine band from the 1960s for nearly 30 years, receiving invites to play with industry greats such as Lonnie Donegan, Chris Barber, Acker Bilk and George Webb from Belvedere, who attended the funeral last Tuesday.

It was with the Monty Sunshine band that he played on numerous occasions at the famous 100 Club, Oxford Street. The venue's distinguished artists since 1942 feature the likes of Glen Miller, Louis Armstrong, The Rolling Stones, The Sex Pistols and The Kinks to name a few.

The early 1960s saw an explosion in traditional or 'trad' jazz that omitted the piano and brought in the banjo, with the 100 Club seen as the Mecca for jazz on this side of the Atlantic.

Sidcup Jazz Club secretary, Dick Waterhouse, worked with the popular drummer and said: "The fact that Geoff played in a band of the calibre of Monty Sunshine for all those years says it all.

"To work with people like Lonnie Donegan, Terry Lightfoot, Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball at their invitation speaks volumes about how good he was - one of our finest."

Born in Blackheath, on April 21, 1938, he joined the Air Training Corps as a teenager where he took up the trumpet so that he could play in the band, but soon changed to side-drum.

He worked for music publisher Boosey and Hawkes whilst honing his skills as a drummer.

In 1960 he joined Norman Day's Chicagoans, then a year later Ken Sim's Vintage Jazz Band, and spent three years with Dick Charlesworth before joining the Monty Sunshine band in 1964.

One of his passions was flying, earning his pilot licence through Surrey and Kent Flying Club at Biggin Hill.

His daughter Kim Down, 47, from Thamesmead, recalled: "Dad took us to Biggin Hill, we would have been in our twenties. We went up in this skinny little plane, it was terrifying!

"Dad lived for jazz, it was his life."

It was while playing in his Crescent City Jazz Band on May 15, 1993, at a dance held by the parent and teachers association at Bexleyheath School that he suffered a massive stroke, aged just 55, ending a brilliant musical career.

Mr Waterhouse said: "It was a shock for everyone, but in true Geoff style with fighting spirit he was able to regain his mental faculties.

"His death is a great loss."

Mr Down leaves behind three children Karen, Kevin and Kim, and wife, Toni.

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