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Cleo Laine & John Dankworth NEWS
Sir John Dankworth: Born 20 September 1927; died 6 February 2010

There are few British musicians who were better known and respected both at home and abroad than Sir John Dankworth, who has passed away at the age of 82 following a truly astonishing career that spanned the best part of seven decades and during which he did his utmost to bring jazz and classical music together, with great success.

In the autumn of 2007, both he and his wife of over 50 years, the singer Cleo Laine, celebrated their 80th birthdays with a critically acclaimed box set - I Hear Music - on Salvo and a concert at The Barbican, during which Sir John was a constant presence on stage, either playing his saxophone or vigorously directing the extraordinary musical ensemble that had come together in their honour.

One of Britain’s major jazz (and soundtrack) composers, arrangers and musicians, Dankworth always worked at the top end of the spectrum in both the music that he wrote and with whom he chose to perform; a list that includes everyone from Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald to Craig David! His active musical career, which included many concerts and recordings with his wife, showed few signs of abating in the last years of his life as he remained a major presence on the British jazz scene.

He made his first recordings (on clarinet) in the early 1940s and was a key player in the emergence of “the new jazz” (greatly influenced by the work of Charlie “Bird” Parker) in the UK after the war, forming his own ensemble, The Johnny Dankworth Seven in late 1949.

Cleo Laine became the band’s main singer in 1951. With discs like The Very Thought of You, from March 1952, and Easy Living the following year, Cleo Laine and the Johnny Dankworth Seven made a real mark on the British music scene. They worked at venues that ranged from provincial jazz clubs in the back rooms of pubs to the Royal Festival Hall. But from early in the 1950s Cleo also began to make records in her own right, usually with beautifully crafted arrangements by John.

They were married in 1958, around the same time as John diversified into scoring movies and TV shows. Among his best known credits are the theme tune for the TV show Tomorrow’s World and the classic 60s movies Modesty Blaise and Darling.

During the following decade their desire to bring jazz to a wider audience led them to found the Wavendon Allmusic Plan at the Allmusic Centre (Allmusic being John’s term for what would become popularly known as world music) at their home just outside Milton Keynes; a venue that hosted thousands of musical events over the ensuing years.

In 2006 John (who had been honoured with a CBE in 1974) became the first jazz musician to be knighted. He is survived by Cleo and their children Alec and Jacqui.


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