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John Dankworth

Sir John Phillip William Dankworth, known in his early career as Johnny Dankworth, was an English jazz composer, saxophonist and clarinetist. He was the husband of jazz singer Cleo Laine.

Born in Woodford, Essex, he grew up, within a family of musicians, in Walthamstow in its suburb of Highams Park and attended Sir George Monoux Grammar School in Walthamstow. He had violin and piano lessons before settling eventually on the clarinet at the age of 16, after hearing a record of the Benny Goodman Quartet. Soon afterwards, inspired by Johnny Hodges, he learned to play the alto saxophone.

After studying at London’s Royal Academy of Music (where his jazz interests were frowned upon) and then national service in the army, he began a career on the British jazz scene. In 1949 he attended the Paris Jazz Festival and played with Charlie Parker. Parker's comments about Dankworth led to the engagement of the young British jazzman for a short tour of Sweden with the soprano-saxophonist Sidney Bechet. Dankworth was voted Musician of the Year in 1949.

In 1950, Dankworth formed a small group, the Dankworth Seven, as a vehicle for his writing activities as well as a showcase for several young jazz players, including himself (alto sax), Jimmy Deuchar (trumpet), Eddie Harvey (trombone), Don Rendell (tenor sax), Bill Le Sage (piano), Eric Dawson (bass) and Tony Kinsey (drums). After three successful years, the group was wound up, although it re-formed for several reunions over the years. Dankworth formed his big band in 1953.

The band was soon earning plaudits from the critics and was invited to the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival. The New York Times critic said of this appearance "... Mr. Dankworth’s group ... showed the underlying merit that made big bands successful many years ago - the swinging drive, the harmonic colour and the support in depth for soloists that is possible when a disciplined, imaginatively directed band has worked together for a long time. This English group has a flowing, unforced, rhythmic drive that has virtually disappeared from American bands."

The band performed at the Birdland jazz club in New York and shortly afterwards shared the stage with the Duke Ellington Orchestra for a number of concerts. Dankworth’s band also performed at a jazz event at New York’s Lewisohn stadium where Louis Armstrong joined them for a set. By now, Cleo Laine's singing was a regular feature of Dankworth's recordings and public appearances and they married in 1958.

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Album Discography

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

John Dankworth: What...

Dutton Vocalion
2012

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Big Band, 1920s-1970s

Challenge Jazz
2004

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Symphonic Fusions

Challenge Jazz
1986

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Fair Oak Fusions

Challenge Jazz
1982

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And London...

Challenge Jazz
1973

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Johnny Dankworth /...

Challenge Jazz
1972

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