Jazz legend Johnny Dankworth dies

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The Independent Culture

Tributes were paid today to British jazz legend Sir John Dankworth after he died aged 82.

The saxophonist, whose career spanned more more than half a century, died yesterday in King Edward VII hospital, London. He had been ill for several months.

His death was announced last night by his jazz singer wife, Dame Cleo Laine, during a star-studded concert marking the 40th anniversary of the entertainment venue they set up together at their Buckinghamshire home.

Better known as Johnny Dankworth before he was knighted in 2006, Sir John started his own jazz orchestra in the 1950s and went on to work with the likes of Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald.

He was also a prolific composer, writing the theme tune for TV shows The Avengers and Tomorrow's World, and films including Modesty Blaise, The Servant and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.

Jazz star Jamie Cullum paid tribute to the musician on his Twitter page, calling him a genius.

He added: "Sir John Dankworth - a great man and one of our finest musicians and composers has died. Rest in peace sir."

Jazzwise magazine hailed the performer as "one of the totemic figures of British jazz" and the country's "first major jazz musician".

His agent Jim Murtha also told the BBC: "For British jazz and jazz around the world, I believe John has become such an international figure, particularly since he became Sir John Dankworth a few years ago."

A concert marking the 40th anniversary of The Stables, which is in the grounds of Sir John's home in Wavendon, Bucks, went ahead last night as planned.

It featured performances from Dame Cleo, his jazz musician children Alec and Jacqui, as well as stars including Paul O'Grady, Prunella Scales, Maureen Lipman, Timothy West and Victoria Wood.

Stephen Clarke, chairman of the charity that now owns the venue, said: "It is a fitting tribute that on the day of Sir John's death that we celebrated on stage the 40th anniversary of The Stables with some of the many artists who have performed with Sir John at The Stables."

Sir John was born in Woodford, Essex, in 1927 and showed early proficiency on the clarinet.

After falling in love with the music of legendary US saxophonist Charlie Parker, he took up the same instrument.

He won a place at the Royal Academy of Music aged 17, and after a short spell in the Army, was voted British Musician of the Year in 1949.

Sir John met his wife in 1950 while auditioning singers for his band, the Dankworth Seven. They married in 1958.

That decade also saw him tour the states with his jazz orchestra, sharing the bill with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. He also served as musical director to jazz greats like Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald.

During the next decade he turned his attention to the film world, going on to compose scores for films including Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, The Servant and Accident.

The musician worked with directors like Karel Reisz, Sir Peter Hall, John Schlesinger, Joseph Losey and Henry Hathaway.

In 1985 Sir John founded the London Symphony Orchestra's Summer Pops, continuing to work with it as artistic director until 1990.

In October last year he was taken ill at the end of a US tour with his wife.

The couple cancelled a number of UK concert dates for the following month, although the saxophonist did return to the concert stage at the London Jazz Festival, playing his saxophone from his wheelchair at the Royal Festival Hall.