Cleo Laine and John Dankworth - Double Top

Dame Cleo Laine and Sir John Dankworth both turned 80 recently, a milestone for the couple who for many years have personified British jazz internationally, receiving acclaim and honours frequently along the way. Still active on the scene they look back on a remarkable career with Stuart Nicholson, to the days when bebop was a new music heard at first hand by Dankworth in New York and to the days when he shared a stage with Charlie Parker and toured with Duke Ellington. Cleo Laine and John Dankworth - Double Top
Reflecting on his long and distinguished career at The Stables, his home in Wavendon which he shares with his wife and singer Dame Cleo Laine, Sir John Dankworth is a natural raconteur who delights in serving well polished anecdotes from his remarkable musical past with a twinkle in his eye and a ready laugh. If anyone is after the secret of eternal youth, then they could do no better than drop in at the Stables to ask how it’s done. Both Dankworth and Laine may be celebrating their 80th birthday this year but you’d never guess it by looking at them. It’s as if, well, not quite eternal youth, but the gift of looking eternally fifty-something has been bestowed upon them.

Sitting in a large red armchair framed by an impressive stone mantelpiece in the lounge of his country retreat, Dankworth switches with ease from events in his still unfolding present to his past in another Britain and another lifetime. Often self-effacing and always modest, his natural authority makes it easy to see how he was once “the man” in British jazz. Back in the 50s as a young and gifted saxophonist and composer/arranger, he was the epitome of jazz-cool in a drab post-war London. With his trademark fedora he looked half Mafioso Don and half Jack-the-Lad.

After winning the Melody Maker “Musician of the Year” award in 1949, he emerged as a key mover and shaker in a London jazz scene picking up the pieces after the devastation of World War II. What he did and what he said was news, eagerly written up in the music press – want a quote on the value of the Anglo-American band exchange? Ask Dankworth and it makes front page news in Melody Maker.

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