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DAME CLEO LAINE AND SIR JOHN DANKWORTH

THE 'DANKWORTH DYNASTY' COLLECTION AT THE JAZZ CENTRE UK

Between them, Sir John Dankworth and Dame Cleo Laine were the only British jazz duo to achieve longterm worldwide success from the l970's onward. Alto saxophonist-clarinettist John had been a founder-member of the legendary ‘Club Eleven’ which brought the bebop music of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie to Britain between l948-50. Known as ‘Johnny’ at the time he formed his immensely successful ‘Seven’ in l950 (with singer Cleo Laine) before branching out to lead his big band in l953.

Dame Cleo has been an avid supporter and patron of The Jazz Centre UK since we opened in 2016.

Sir John Dankworth Piano

SIR JOHN DANKWORTH'S FIRST PIANO

A BRIEF HISTORY OF BRITISH JAZZ' POWER COUPLE

The Johnny Dankworth Orchestra hit the charts in l956 with their recording of ‘Experiments with Mice’, triumphed at the American Newport Jazz Festival in l959 and also played at Birdland, Lewisohn Stadium (with their guest Louis Armstrong) and in concerts opposite Duke Ellington.

 

In l957 John had married Cleo whose singing had become an integral part of his projects. But from the late 1950s she began a parallel solo career as both singer and actress starring in ‘Flesh to a Tiger’ (Royal Court Theatre (l958), ‘Valmouth’ (l959) and other roles culminating in her show-stopping performance as Julie LaVerne in Wendy Toye's production of ‘Show Boat’ at London’s Adelphi Theatre 1971.

Meantime, John had continued to record with his orchestra and write prolifically for films but the couple continued to combine in concerts and recordings, including their acclaimed ‘Shakespeare and all that jazz’ in l964. In l970 they founded their ‘Stables Theatre’ in Wavendon which hosted 44 presentations in its first year, and contemporaneously their ‘Wavendon All-Music Plan’ which set up Summer schools and camps for young performers and continues to flourish today as the ‘Laine-Dankworth’ Theatre. In l973 however, Cleo’s concert with John at New York’s Lincoln Centre created a sensation and led on to more at New York’s Carnegie Hall establishing the duo as a starring act in the USA, Australia and Europe for the next twenty-five years.

In the 2006 New Year’s Honours list the ever-likeable John was made a Knight

Bachelor; in l997 the equally well-loved Laine was awarded the title of Dame Cleo.

 

DBE. Sir John died on February 6th 2010 at the age of 82 separating, after half a

century, the only two British partners to be thus recognized anywhere in jazz music.

SIR JOHN DANKWORTH'S FIRST PIANO

One of our key exhibition items at The Jazz Centre UK is the first piano of Britain's first jazz Knight.

The old upright piano was probably built in the early years of the twentieth century by J.C.Browne, 154 Brecknock Road, Camden Road London, and it’s possible that Sir John’s mother - a dedicated singer and choir mistress with several relations who were professional musicians - may have bought it new, or nearly so. “As far back as I can recall,” wrote Sir John in his autobiography ‘Jazz in Revolution (Constable, 1998)” - I was expected to look over her shoulder at the piano music stand and keep my end up.

I struggled manfully to sight-read unfamiliar notes, coupling them with unfamiliar words which were nowhere near the notes at the bottom of the page” (Such early and tough training may begin to explain why - later on - Sir John could write a complete score by torchlight at the back of the band-bus or correct apart by reading it upside-down on a musician’s stand!).

Over the years to come— long after Sir John and Dame Cleo would have stipulated (at the very least) a Steinway Grand in their contracts in concert halls all around the world - the piano stayed patiently in their home at The Old Rectory in Wavendon, the pretty village near Milton Keynes. But finally, its long-term lodgings came to an end. The Wavendon Foundation couldn’t find new ones, so finally it was rescued by daughter Jacqui. “ I had it at home for a while,” she says “- and actually used to play it when I was younger”. But then she passed it on to brother Alec who kept it for a while; ”before” as he says “ - we hauled it over the road to give it to my neighbour. And in due time he put it on E-bay”.

That’s how it came to the attention of The Jazz Centre UK when Digby Fairweather had a call from Terry Cheney, the editor of Britain’s invaluable monthly ‘Jazz Guide’. “Sir John Dankworth’s first piano is on E-bay,” he said and: “fine,” said Fairweather “ - but surely we could never afford it?” “I think you might,” said Cheney “ - the starting bid is £5.00!” So the deal was sealed at the reasonable settlement of £10.00 “ and in due course, the piano was trundled into the basement space of our Centre.

Sir John Dankworth's piano has been beautifully refurbished by the Centre’s restorer Tim Basket. Due to its wooden frame, it was decided that - at least for now - the piano should remain silent. We do hope to restore it back to its full playing capability again in the future via a funded project. It is now presented within our Heritage Centre alongside the Humphrey Lyttelton collection, Louis Armstrong’s very own trumpet and endless other priceless artefacts. “The nicest things,” says Fairweather “ - begin in the strangest places”.

CELEBRATING DAME CLEO LAINE AND SIR JOHN DANKWORTH

When we can we hold further exhibitions and live events to celebrate the Dankworth Dynasty. In June 2019 we organised a whole afternoon of events dedicated to Dame Cleo Laine. Jacqui Dankworth and Charlie Wood performed a 2 hour concert for ticket holders leading up to the great public unveiling of the Dame Cleo Laine portrait painted by Duncan Shoosmith for the Sky Art's TV Show 'Portrait Artist of the Year'. 

Click the images to the right to see highlights from the day or click the banner below to find out more about the Dame Cleo Laine portrait on display at The Jazz Centre UK.

Dame Cleo Laine Painting Eyes

THE DAME CLEO LAINE PORTRAIT

Humphrey Lyttelton Desk
Volunteer Team from Pixabay
Vasillis Xenopoulos
Southend-on-sea - The Jazz Centre UK - P