John Dankworth

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John Dankworth
John Dankworth performing at Buxton Opera House, 4 Nov 2002
John Dankworth performing at Buxton Opera House, 4 Nov 2002
Background information
Birth nameSir John Phillip William Dankworth
Born(1927-09-20)20 September 1927
Woodford, Essex, England
OriginHighams Park, Essex, England
Died(2010-02-06)6 February 2010
London, England
GenresCool jazz
InstrumentsClarinet, saxophone
Years active1949 – 2009

Sir John Dankworth, CBE (20 September 1927 - 6 February 2010), was an English jazz composer, saxophonist and clarinetist. He was widely thought of as Britain's most famous jazz musician. He had a very big influence in the development of jazz in Britain. He composed film music and several television theme tunes such as "The Avengers" and "Tomorrow's World". In his early career he was known as Johnny Dankworth He was the husband of jazz singer Cleo Laine.

Life[change | change source]

Early years[change | change source]

John Dankworth was born in Woodford and grew up in Highams Park, Essex. His father was a sales manager who worked for an electrical engineering firm. John soon found that he loved jazz. He played the clarinet in a jazz band when he was still at school.

In 1944 he went to study music at the Royal Academy of Music. He was playing the saxophone, too, but kept this a secret because jazz was not thought to be suitable for study at the RAM.

When Dankworth did his National Service with the army, he often played in the army dance bands. He then got a job playing jazz on the Queen Mary which sailed regularly over the Atlantic Ocean to New York. In America he heard some of the greatest jazz players, especially Charlie Parker who played bebop.

Career[change | change source]

Back in Britain Dankworth took many jobs to get experience playing in jazz bands. He was a member of a group called Club Eleven which played together for several years. He also formed a band called Johnny Dankworth Seven with Frank Holder, who played bebop in the style of Miles Davis. They started to get well-known, and in 1951 were joined by a young singer called Cleo Laine.

In 1953 the band broke up and Dankworth formed his first big band. It had eight brass instruments, five saxophones, a rhythm section and vocalists. The group was redesigned in 1956 when he put in a group of soloists instead of the saxophones. They often played on the radio and brought in guest artists who were not necessarily jazz musicians, e.g. the clarinettist Jack Brymer and the violinist Kenneth Essex as well as the music comedian and cartoonist Gerard Hoffnung.

In 1960 he gave up playing in the band to spend more time on composition. He wrote some very successful film music, e.g. The Servant, Darling, Modesty Blaise and Morgan, A Suitable Case for Treatment. He wrote the television theme for The Avengers and Tomorrow’s World, as well as lots of music for television adverts. He composed a musical version of Lysistrata together with Benny Green for the Bath Festival.

In 1958 he married Laine. He wrote many songs for her and played the beautiful accompaniments, often on the clarinet.

In 1969 they built a concert hall called The Stables in their garden in Wavendon in Milton Keynes. It became an important centre for concerts, educational programmes and cultural events.

Dankworth and Laine have two children: Alec who is a double bass player and Jacqui who is a singer. John formed a band which included Alec playing the double bass.

Dankworth set up scholarships for young musicians and often worked with young people. He encouraged educational work at The Stables. He continued to work hard until shortly before his death.

Dankworth died in hospital in London on 6 February 2010. His death was announced a few hours later by Laine, who spoke to the audience at the end of a concert in The Stables. She had told the performers before the concert began. She wanted the concert to be a celebration of his life. Alec and Jacqui were both performing in the show.[1]

Honours[change | change source]

Dankworth was made a CBE in 1974 and was given a knighthood in 2006.

References[change | change source]

•The Daily Telegraph, 8 February 2010 p. 31: Sir John Dankworth – Obituary

  1. “This one is for Johnny, gone but not forgotten” in The Daily Telegraph 8 February 2010 p.3