First knight of British jazz, Johnny Dankworth, dies

Sholto Byrnes bids farewell to a pioneer who shared the stage with Herbie Hancock and Ella Fitzgerald

Johnny Dankworth, who has died aged 82, was one of the few British musicians who not only were world-class but were recognised as such, taking to the stage on clarinet or sax with the proverbial Who's Who of jazz, from Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock to Gerry Mulligan, Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald.

On one occasion, dining with Duke Ellington at the house of the Queen's cousin, Gerald Lascelles, Dankworth even stepped in at the piano when the Duke found he'd forgotten one of his own tunes halfway through – not an act many would have been capable of, or dared to do.

With Dankworth's death we see the passing of a generation; men and women who enriched British musical life and wove jazz into the fabric of so many other art forms. One reason he will be so missed and remembered so fondly is for his commitment to share that passion. It was 40 years ago that he and his wife, Cleo Laine, established The Stables at Wavendon, a charity that has provided education and opportunities for generations of young musicians. Indeed, Cleo announced his death on Saturday evening at a gala celebrating The Stables' anniversary.

He also instigated the jazz course at the Royal Academy of Music, an area of study common in such institutions now, but highly controversial in classical circles at the time.

The coverage allotted to the passing of Johnny Dankworth may prove not quite so extensive as that after the deaths of his contemporaries, Ronnie Scott and Humphrey Lyttelton. Scott's famous Soho club and Lyttelton's hosting of radio programmes such as I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue earned them a continuing renown with a wider public which often had only a passing acquaintance with jazz.

The honours system, however, got it right for once in awarding Dankworth – actually Sir John – a knighthood in 2006. As he said at the time: "It's so nice for jazz to get something like this. As far as I know I'm the first from the jazz world to get a knighthood."

Genial, friendly and quick to smile, Dankworth was described by Philip Larkin as "dandyish, witty, occasionally tender" as far back as 1964. But the title of Dankworth's autobiography, Jazz in Revolution, points us to the fire beneath the charm.

He, Scott and others were the first British musicians to witness and then to explore the new avant-garde style of jazz, bebop, that emerged from New York after the Second World War. As Dankworth put it: "To say that jazz was divided about the validity and desirability of bebop would be seriously understating the case. It would be like saying the Americans were a tiny bit cross with the Japanese after Pearl Harbour, or that Hitler was unkind to the Jews." When Humphrey Lyttelton introduced an alto saxophonist into his line-up, a placard reading "Go home, dirty bopper" was waved at one of his gigs.

Dankworth didn't wish to be caught on either side of this divide. He always cherished the pre-war styles of clarinetists Jimmie Noone and Benny Goodman. But he was also invited to play alongside (and share a saxophone with) the high priest of bebop, Charlie Parker. Dankworth was capable of being a proper "dirty bopper" too, and did much to shake up the music scene of the Fifties where "jazz" was represented by the polite, formal stylings of the Ambrose or Ted Heath orchestras.

He, and the scat singing of his wife Cleo, were paid the compliment of being taken off in a 1983 Two Ronnies sketch – a level of recognition no jazz (as opposed to jazz/pop) musician in the country could dream of today.

The many film scores and the television themes (The Avengers, Tomorrow's World) were important in his life – the latter, in particular, a reminder that skill in composition and orchestration of these miniatures was once more highly valued than it is today, as was the employment of real musicians, rather than the synth-sampled horns and strings with which cheapskate production companies litter the soundtracks of so many contemporary shows.

But it was the jazz that really mattered. It may be hard to discern in the photographs of the distinguished-looking old gentleman in top hat and morning suit, off to be knighted by the Queen. But Sir Johnny Dankworth was also, in his own modest manner, a truly English revolutionary.

Sholto Byrnes is Contributing Editor of the New Statesman.

Sir Johnny Dankworth: A jazz great

*Born 1927. Won a place at the Royal Academy of Music aged 17, and was voted British Musician of the Year in 1949.

*Met Cleo Laine in 1950 while auditioning singers for his band. They married in 1958.

*Performed with jazz luminaries such as Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan.

*Composed film scores including Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, The Servant and Modesty Blaise, as well as theme tunes to The Avengers, right, and Tomorrow's World.

*Founded the London Symphony Orchestra's Summer Pops in 1985,as artistic director. *Made a CBE in 1974 and knighted in 2006.

*The couple converted outbuildings at their Milton Keynes home into The Stables theatre, and ran music education programmes there.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone