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Johnny Dankworth & His Orchestra



Sir John Dankworth (better known as Johnny) (1927-2010) was one of the British jazz scene’s leading lights.

Born in London in 1927, the young Dankworth had violin and piano lessons before taking up the clarinet and alto saxophone.

By the age of 17 he had won a place at the Royal Academy of Music. After years of studying, interrupted by a short spell in the Army, he was voted British Musician of the Year in 1949.

The same year he attended the Paris Jazz Festival, where he played with the legendary Charlie Parker - the man who had inspired him to take up the saxophone.

In 1950 he formed the Dankworth Seven, meeting his future wife, Dame Cleo Laine, while auditioning for singers.

The couple married in 1958, by which time he had swapped his seven-piece for a big band orchestra.

On a trip that included an appearance at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival, it went on a bill at New York’s Birdland jazz club with the celebrated Duke Ellington Orchestra.

Louis Armstrong also joined them for a set at New York’s Lewisohn stadium.

The ensemble had two top 10 hits - Experiments with Mice in 1956 and African Waltz in 1961 - and played numerous engagements in the US. A 1959 visit saw them sharing the bill with jazz giant Duke Ellington.

In the 1960s Dankworth composed the scores for films such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, The Servant and Modesty Blaise.

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