Play together, stay together

Cleo Laine and John Dankworth are leading the next generation into the Guildhall
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The Independent Culture

The doyenne of the jazz world, Dame Cleo Laine, and her jazz ambassador husband, the clarinettist and saxophonist extraordinaire, band leader and composer John Dankworth, will perform at the Guildhall Great Hall, with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) as their backing band, as part of the City of London Festival. The jazz pianist Stan Tracey, the former house pianist at Ronnie Scott's, will also appear. Although Laine will top the bill, she insists that she is merely a figurehead for the younger musicians. "I have had my glory days and time in the jazz world," Laine says graciously. "I am just satisfied that I am still asked to perform."

The doyenne of the jazz world, Dame Cleo Laine, and her jazz ambassador husband, the clarinettist and saxophonist extraordinaire, band leader and composer John Dankworth, will perform at the Guildhall Great Hall, with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) as their backing band, as part of the City of London Festival. The jazz pianist Stan Tracey, the former house pianist at Ronnie Scott's, will also appear. Although Laine will top the bill, she insists that she is merely a figurehead for the younger musicians. "I have had my glory days and time in the jazz world," Laine says graciously. "I am just satisfied that I am still asked to perform."

This year, the Worshipful Company of Musicians, a charity and former craft guild that supports young musicians by awarding prizes, scholarships and medals, is organising a concert featuring past jazz medallists with the NYJO. This 22-strong band, whose members are all under 25, has been sponsored by the charity for three years. "The Worshipful Company of Musicians may be 500 years old, but we are firmly committed to supporting this very 21st-century art form, modern jazz," says the compere of the evening, Nigel Tully. So, for two hours, the sound of jazz will fill this old and stately hall.

The first set includes a trumpet feature with Guy Barker, written by Dankworth. One of the stars of contemporary jazz, Barker, whose outfit won BBC Jazz Band of the Year last year, spent 13 years in the NYJO. For the concert finale, "Flying Home", everyone will come back on stage to play solos, one by one, with the orchestra.

Laine is still deciding what four songs she will sing. In a career spanning four decades, she is the only singer ever to receive Grammy nominations in the female jazz, popular and classical categories. Now, Laine wants to open the way for younger musicians. Does her empathy spring from her humble beginnings as a singer in English dance halls, and her own struggle to achieve recognition? "Yes and no," she says. "It was a struggle in this country because jazz at that time was minority music - but certainly when I started touring and did my first concert in New York in 1972, I had instant success," she remembers.

With a voice that can swap between a throaty whisper and high-pitched trills with ease, Laine has been singing professionally with Dankworth's band since the age of 25, recording with him during the late Fifties - she was married to him by 1958. The couple founded the All Music Plan charity, devoted to overcoming the barriers between musical forms, at their home in Wavendon, Bucks, in 1969. So, what is the secret of a successful marriage? "If I knew the answer to that, I would bottle it and become a trillionaire," she says. "But I think ours has worked out because of the fact that we are both deeply into music of the same ilk."

Jazz at the Guildhall, Gresham Street, London EC2 (0845 120 7502; www.colf.org) tomorrow evening

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