Tuesday, February 9, 2010

RIP Sir John Dankworth

Although he leaves his mark primarily as a jazz man, the recent passing of Johnny Dankworth (20 September 1927 - 6 February 2010) is worthy of our notice. He was, first and foremost, a musician, a remarkable instrumentalist and bandleader. It was Dankworth who legitimized (yes, the irony is intended) British jazz. His life in music spanned the second half of the 20th century and much of the first decade of the 21st. His friendships and professional collaborations give some idea of the place he held - he played alongside Charlie Parker, Sydney Bechet, Duke Ellington, Clark Terry, Benny Goodman, Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald, to name only a few. His first inspiration to play the saxophone was hearing the lyrical playing of Johnny Hodges. Need we say more?

John Dankworth crossed paths with singer Cleo Laine in the mid-50s and they married in 1958. For the next 50+ years John Dankworth's life and career intertwined with that of Cleo Laine. Much of what they did, apart and together, stepped into that dangerous overlap of classical and jazz, dangerous because it is so often misunderstood and mis-used. It is partially the risk of genre jumping which made the collaboration of Laine, Annie Ross and Dankworth appealing when they recorded the farcical Walton/Sitwell Facade back in the 60s. This recording is well worth seeking out. Also worth hearing is Dankworth's Experiments With Mice, a short 3 1/2 minute summary of bands and arrangers. Of course, the essence of Sir John Dankworth's legacy is to be found by exploring the countless recordings he made over a distinguished life in music.

John Dankworth will live on through the substantial investment he and Cleo Laine made in educating both young and old through their Wavendon Allmusic Plan at the Allmusic Centre at their home near Milton Keynes. The project seeks to break down the barriers between various types of music - over one two year span they presented more than 150 concerts, including pop, folk, avant-garde jazz, avant-garde classical, string quartets, etc. As the name suggests, this is home for Allmusic, and there resided John Dankworth for more than 82 years.

1 comment:

Jack Fishman said...

I remember doing a Dankworth/Laine concert in Jacksonville in the early 90s and they were tremendous. It was quite unique, entertaining and amazingly musical.

Jack Fishman
San Antonio Symphony