John Dankworth dies at 82; British jazz musician

Times Staff And Wire Reports

Sir John Dankworth, the British jazz composer, saxophonist and bandleader and husband of jazz singer Dame Cleo Laine, has died. He was 82.

Dankworth died Saturday at a London hospital after a long illness, the Associated Press reported.

Laine announced Dankworth’s death before the finale of an anniversary concert at the Stables, the theater they founded together.

Monica Ferguson, the theater’s chief executive, said Sunday that Laine had told the artists before the concert, “ ‘I’ll go on and I’ll have a lump in my throat, and I might crack.’ But she didn’t crack.”

John Phillip William Dankworth was born Sept. 20, 1927, in London. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music from 1944 to 1946.

According to “The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz” by Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler, Dankworth from 1947 to 1948 played with ships’ bands making transatlantic crossings and visited clubs to “reinforce his interest in modern jazz and Charlie Parker’s strong influence.”

Dankworth explained on the CBS show “Sunday Morning” in 1990 how those trips influenced jazz in postwar England.

“We used to go back and remember all the licks we could and take them back,” he said. “Very lucky to be there at the right place and the right time.”

He led the John Dankworth Seven from 1950 to 1953, then formed a big band that played regularly, including at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1959. According to “The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz,” his large jazz orchestra featured a three-piece saxophone section and Laine as the featured singer.

Dankworth, who worked with such jazz greats as Nat “King” Cole and Ella Fitzgerald, became musical director for Laine in 1971 and scaled down the band’s size. During the 1980s, he toured with his own quintet. In the early 1990s, he and his son, Alec, formed the Dankworth Generation Band.

Dankworth, who also played the clarinet, might be best known for his appearances touring with Laine, but he also was a composer and conductor.

The films he scored include “Modesty Blaise,” and he wrote the theme of the television show “The Avengers.”

In 1969, Dankworth and Laine founded the Wavendon Allmusic Plan, a musical education charity, and established a theater in the old stable block on their property about 50 miles north of London.

Laine was made a dame in 1997, and Dankworth was knighted in 2006 by Queen Elizabeth II for service to music.

Along with Laine, whom he married in 1958, and their son, his survivors include their daughter, Jacqui.

Alec and Jacqui both performed during the anniversary concert.

Services are pending.