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Saturday, February 06, 2010


To say I'm shocked and saddened at hearing of the death of Johnny Dankworth is an understatement.
His music and I go back a long way and, even now, 60 years later, I have to be honest and admit that I've still not got around to thinking of him as Sir John or even plain and simple John. To me, and just about every modern jazz fan of a certain age, he will always be Johnny Dankworth.
In the 1950s the Johnny Dankworth Seven were frequent visitors to Newcastle and I recall seeing the band many times at the Odeon Cinema - in those days live music was allowed on a Sunday but the latest films weren't so the Odeon and the Essoldo featured Band Shows by all the top bands of the day.
The Seven also appeared at the City Hall and, believe it or not, the Memorial Hall (The Mem) in Wallsend.
The Dankworth Seven would be high on any list I drew up of the best British bands.
When the small group folded Johnny introduced the first of his many big bands. I seem to recall his was the first band where each section wore different, very bright, coloured jackets.
Although he was a forward thinker the Dankworth bands always swung and bore comparison with any band anywhere.
Other memories I recall were of a Festival Hall concert with the London Philharmonic Orchestra where he, and the band, performed a work by himself and Mattius Seiber 'Improvisations For Jazz Band & Symphony Orchestra'.
Another time at the Festival Hall the band backed the phenomenal trumpet player Maynard Ferguson whilst back in Newcastle he did the business at the City Hall behind Anita O'Day.
In the 1980s he fronted a quintet for a Channel 4 broadcast that included son Alec on bass. This was recorded at Newcastle University Theatre and was split with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers.
There were other concerts I attended although, unfortunately, I missed his last appearance at the Sage Gateshead Jazz Festival 2 years ago.
He was one of those people, like Ronnie Scott and Humph, who you think will be with us for ever but although he's gone the music will live on. I'm already reaching for some vinyl of those Esquire tracks by the Seven.
Sincere condolences to Dame Cleo, Jacqui and Alec Dankworth.
Sir John Dankworth died today (Feb 6) in hospital aged 82.


Liz said...

How sad, my special memory of John was when we went to their home Wavendon & to their theatre in the grounds, called the Stables. It was a Sondheim special & he & Cleo were hosting it. What a place that is! Of course I too remember the band shows (as we called them) on Sunday nights at the Rialto, York, owned & run by Jack Prendergast father of Barry, aka John Barry

Lance said...

What is even more poignant Liz is that tonight was the 40th anniversary of the Stables and a special concert was arranged for this evening.
I don't know if it went ahead.

Russell said...

Hi Lance

Like Liz I visited Wavendon (very nice too - quite a set-up!) and heard Dankworth play alongside the likes of Barney Kessel and 'Lockjaw Davis' with support from Allan Ganley, Dave Green and on one occasion a young Alec Dankworth. Closer to home, in fact just up the road, I too, like Lance, heard Dankworth in an amazing double bill with Blakey's Messengers. It was in the Gulbenkian Studio at the back of the then University Theatre.


Russell said...

Hi Lance

The Dankworth's website - - has published a press release. Click on Tour Info then click on The Stables 40th Anniversary Celebrations.


Laurie Brown said...

John was also a good bass player!I played the Cindy-ella show at the New Arts Theatre in London. It was a black take off of Cinderella with Cleo Laine Cy Grant Liz Welch and Gearge Browne (1963 wow!!)
Looking around for some reason I saw John Gunn our bassist sitting
in the front row he should have been standing behind me instead there was John Dankworth happily
plucking away unknown by the band!

Lance said...

My favourite Dankworth story goes back to the 1960s when he was charged with speeding.
Sir John's defence was that he couldn't have been speeding as the engine was running in the key of Ab which told him he was in third gear doing about 30 mph.
He was found guilty and fined £10.
So I suppose his defence was a less than perfect pitch.

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